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The depreciation method that you use for any particular asset is fixed at the time you first place that asset into service. Whatever rules or tables are in effect for that year must be followed as long as you own the property. Since Congress has changed the depreciation rules many times over the years, you may have to use a number of different depreciation methods if you've owned business property for a long time.
Since Congress has changed the depreciation rules many times over the years, you may have to use a number of different depreciation methods if you've owned business property for a long time.
For most business property placed in service after 1986, if you don't claim the equipment expensing deduction for the full cost of the item, the IRS requires you to depreciate the asset using a method called "MACRS," which stands for Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System. This method categorizes all business assets into classes and specifies the time period over which you can write off assets in each class. The most commonly used items are classified as shown in the chart below..
|MACRS Recovery Period||Items Included|
|3-year property||Tractor units, racehorses over two years old placed in service after 2013, racehorses of any age placed in service after 2008 but before 2014, horses over 12 years old when placed in service, and assets used in hog breeding.|
|5-year property||Automobiles, taxis, buses, trucks, computers and peripheral equipment, office machinery (faxes, copiers, calculators etc.), and any property used in research and experimentation. Also includes breeding and dairy cattle, goats and sheep.|
|7-year property||Office furniture and fixtures, grain storage assets, and any property that has not been designated as belonging to another class.|
|10-year property||Single-purpose agricultural or horticultural structures, trees or vines bearing fruit or nuts, and assets used in printing.|
|15-year property||Depreciable improvements to land such as shrubbery, fences, roads, and bridges.|
|20-year property||Farm buildings that are not agricultural or horticultural structures.|
|27.5-year property||Residential rental property.|
|39-year property||Nonresidential real estate, including home offices. (Note that the value of land may not be depreciated.)|
Some assets are not eligible for MACRS depreciation, including intangible assets such as patents, trademarks, and business goodwill. Generally these must be amortized (written off in equal amounts) over a 15-year period, beginning in the month of acquisition.
Once you know the classification and the tax basis of the asset you need to depreciate, you can use a special table provided by the IRS to determine the percentage of the item's tax basis that can be deducted each year. MACRS provides for a slightly larger write-off in the earlier years of the cost recovery period. The full set of depreciation tables showing the MACRS percentages are available in the IRS's free publication 946, How to Depreciate Property, available on the Internet at the IRS web site or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM.
Some special variations of MACRS, or other depreciation methods, are available (or even mandatory) in certain situations.