What is the difference between depreciation and amortization?

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Depreciation and amortization are two accounting terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings and applications. In this article, we will explore the differences between depreciation and amortization, and how they are used in accounting.


Definition: Depreciation refers to the systematic allocation of the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life. It represents the decrease in value of an asset due to wear and tear, obsolescence, or other factors.

Application: Depreciation is typically applied to assets such as buildings, vehicles, machinery, and equipment. It allows businesses to spread the cost of these assets over their useful lives, rather than recognizing the full expense in the year of purchase.

Methods: There are several methods of calculating depreciation, including straight-line depreciation, declining balance depreciation, and units of production depreciation. Each method allocates the cost of the asset differently over its useful life.


Definition: Amortization, on the other hand, refers to the systematic allocation of the cost of an intangible asset over its useful life. Intangible assets are non-physical assets that provide future economic benefits, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, and goodwill.

Application: Amortization is used to account for the cost of intangible assets that have a limited lifespan. It allows businesses to recognize the expense of acquiring these assets over time, rather than all at once.

Methods: Similar to depreciation, there are different methods of calculating amortization. The most common method is straight-line amortization, where the cost of the intangible asset is evenly allocated over its useful life.

Key Differences

While both depreciation and amortization involve the allocation of costs over time, there are a few key differences between the two:

Type of Asset: Depreciation is used for tangible assets, while amortization is used for intangible assets.

Nature of Expense: Depreciation represents the wear and tear or decrease in value of a physical asset, while amortization represents the expense of acquiring an intangible asset.

Useful Life: Tangible assets typically have longer useful lives compared to intangible assets. As a result, the period of depreciation is generally longer than the period of amortization.


In summary, depreciation and amortization are both methods of allocating costs over time, but they are used for different types of assets. Depreciation applies to tangible assets, while amortization applies to intangible assets. Understanding the distinction between these two accounting terms is crucial for accurate financial reporting.


– Investopedia: www.investopedia.com
– AccountingTools: www.accountingtools.com
– Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB): www.fasb.org