Maximize Your Tax Savings with Alternative Depreciation System


The IRS has mandated an alternative depreciation system (ADS) as a method for calculating depreciation on business assets. It offers a longer recovery period, better aligning with an asset’s income streams. This article delves into the use and implications of ADS, helping businesses make informed decisions to optimize depreciation expenses and lower taxes.

What is an alternative depreciation system (ADS)?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses an alternative depreciation system (ADS) as a method to calculate the depreciation of corporate assets. It deviates from alternative depreciation systems and is essential for organizations seeking to precisely calculate depreciation costs in order to maximize tax advantages. ADS, in comparison to the decreasing balance depreciation technique, provides a depreciation schedule that has a more extended recovery period, often aligning more effectively with the income generated by the asset.

Understanding depreciation

Depreciation is an accounting practice used by businesses to spread out the expense of a physical asset over its predetermined useful life, often a number of years. This useful life is an estimation of the number of years that a business believes the asset will help generate money. Furthermore, the IRS permits companies to write off a variety of assets, such as computers, furnishings for offices, cars, and machinery used in production.

Additionally, taxpayers may elect to use the alternative depreciation scheme if they think it offers a better depreciation schedule that better fits their business assets’ revenue streams. As opposed to this, the ADS usually results in lower yearly depreciation expenses even if it increases the number of years over which an asset can be depreciated. Depreciation amounts are specifically spread equally over the years, with the exception of the first and last, which have lower amounts because their twelve-month periods aren’t complete.

Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) vs. General Depreciation System (GDS)

For assets placed in service after 1986, the IRS mandates the use of the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) for depreciation. MACRS comprises two methods: the general depreciation system (GDS) and the alternative depreciation system (ADS).

ADS provides depreciation over a longer timeframe than GDS, which employs a declining balance method. GDS is commonly used for assets that tend to become obsolete rapidly and are frequently replaced with newer versions, such as computers and phone equipment. Under GDS, depreciation is front-loaded, meaning higher depreciation occurs in the asset’s early years and decreases over time.

Special considerations

The choice between ADS and GDS can significantly impact a company’s profitability. Tax implications are a crucial aspect that business owners need to consider. Since ADS offers depreciation over a more extended period, annual depreciation deductions are typically smaller than under GDS. Taxpayers who opt for the ADS schedule must apply it consistently to all property of the same class placed in service within the taxable year.

However, taxpayers have the flexibility to select the ADS schedule for real estate on a property-by-property basis. The specific recovery schedule for ADS is detailed in IRS Publication 946.

Example Scenario

Jane’s modest manufacturing business makes industrial machinery to order. Specifically, for $100,000, she bought a cutting-edge CNC machine. This CNC machine typically lasts about 10 years.

Jane can depreciate the CNC machine using GDS or ADS.

In the first option, GDS, Jane will front-load depreciation with GDS’s decreasing balance approach. During the early years, she can write off more of the machine’s cost.

For instance, Jane could depreciate the CNC machine using GDS:

In Year 1: $20,000 (20% of $100,000) In Year 2: $16,000 (20% of $80,000) In Year 3: $12,800 (20% of $64,000 remainder) And so on…

On the other hand, in the second option, Alternative Depreciation System (ADS), if Jane chooses ADS, she will utilize a straight-line technique to evenly depreciate the item over its useful life. Notably, this strategy equalizes annual deductions.

For example, Jane would depreciate the CNC machine with ADS:

In the first year: $10,000 (10% of $100,000) In Year 2: $10,000 (10% of $90,000) In Year 3: $10,000 (10% of $80,000) And so on…

GDS provides extensive early deductions, reducing taxable income immediately. However, this may not match machine wear and tear. In contrast, ADS equalizes depreciation over the asset’s useful life, making it more stable and predictable.

For instance, Jane chooses the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) for her CNC machine because it better reflects its income-generating capabilities. As a result, her deductions will be the same each year, but she likes the simplicity and steadiness of her business’s financial planning.

Weigh the Risks and Benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Extended depreciation period for assets.
  • Better alignment of depreciation with asset income streams.
  • May result in lower annual depreciation expenses.
  • Smaller annual depreciation deductions compared to the general depreciation system.
  • Requirement to apply ADS consistently to all property of the same class for the taxable year.

Frequently asked questions

1. Can I switch between the alternative depreciation system (ADS) and the general depreciation system (GDS) for the same asset?

No, once a taxpayer selects the alternative depreciation system (ADS) for an asset, they cannot switch back to the general depreciation system (GDS) for that asset.

2. Are there specific assets that are more suitable for ADS compared to GDS?

Yes, assets with a longer useful life or those generating income over an extended period may be better suited for ADS. However, it’s essential to assess the specifics of each asset and its impact on your business’s finances.

3. How do I find the recovery schedule for the alternative depreciation system (ADS)?

The recovery schedule for ADS can be found in IRS Publication 946, which provides comprehensive guidelines for tax depreciation.

Key takeaways

  • The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is an IRS-mandated method for calculating depreciation on business assets.
  • Depreciation spreads the cost of an asset over its estimated useful life.
  • ADS offers an extended depreciation period and can align better with an asset’s income generation.
  • ADS may result in lower annual depreciation expenses.
  • Choosing between ADS and GDS requires careful consideration of tax implications and asset characteristics.
View article sources
  1. How to Depreciate Property – IRS Publication
  2. Depreciation Methods – SuperMoney
  3. Alternative Depreciation Patterns and the Recording of a Wasting Asset – Lard Bucket