Capitalization policy

A capitalization policy is used by a company to set a threshold, above which qualifying expenditures are recorded as fixed assets, and below which they are charged to expense as incurred. The policy is typically set by senior management or even the board of directors.

The threshold level set by a capitalization policy can vary considerably. A smaller business with few expenditures may be willing to accept a low capitalization threshold of just $1,000, whereas a larger business that may be overwhelmed by the recordation requirements of fixed assets may prefer a very high limit, such as $50,000. Nonprofits may prefer a low capitalization limit, so that they can keep close track of their assets. Many businesses find that a capitalization threshold of about $5,000 balances the offsetting issues of avoiding excessive record keeping and avoiding charging large items to expense as incurred.

The capitalization policy also governs whether certain expenditures are accounted for as separate assets, or as part of a larger asset. For example, the policy could state that the roof of a building be classified separately from the rest of the structure, on the grounds that the roof may be replaced several times over the life of the building.

Another criterion for separate classification as a fixed asset is when an item has significantly different maintenance requirements from those of nearby assets. Thus, the capitalization policy could state that a group of machines clustered on an assembly line be classified as a single asset if they share common maintenance requirements, but as separate assets if they have significantly different maintenance requirements.

The policy may also state the circumstances under which leased assets are to be recorded as fixed assets, as well as the circumstances under which interest costs are to be capitalized into the fixed assets with which they are associated. The requirements for doing so are stated under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and International Financial Reporting Standards.

In some industries, such as non-profits and first responders, it is necessary to keep close track of lower-cost assets, in order to impose a higher level of record keeping than would otherwise be the case. For example, an ambulance company may capitalize oxygen delivery units that would normally be charged to expense, just to have more accurate records of where the units are located.

A non-profit may have special rules for the recordation of certain fixed assets that are never encountered by for-profit entities, such as donated assets, artwork, and historical treasures.

Some elements of a capitalization policy may be driven by common practice within an industry. If competitors capitalize their assets in a certain manner, a business may want to follow suit, in order to provide financial statements to the investment community that are comparable to those issued by competitors.