Tag Archive | Fixed asset

How are assets classified in accounting?

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In my previous post, I introduced assets. Now let’s see how assets are classified in accounting.

There are two major asset classifications 1) non-current and current, 2) tangible and intangible. Let’s have a brief look at each.

Non-current versus current assets

A non-current assets is one which typically cannot be converted into cash within one year. The classic example of a non-current asset is plant, property and equipment. Current assets normally convert into cash within one year e.g. receivables from customers, inventories. This non-current and current classification is used in the financial statements of most organisations.

Tangible versus intangible assets

This one is a little more tricky to understand, and it is something not normally seen on financial statements. As you might guess, a tangible asset is one which you can see and touch i.e it physically exists. Typically examples are again, plant, property and equipment, but also inventories are a tangible asset. Money due from customers is also arguably a tangible asset, as it does exist as money albeit somewhere outside the business. Intangible assets are those which do not physically exist, but yet have a value. This value may arise from intellectual or legal rights. For example, trademarks, patents, in-house software or knowledge built up through research and development are intangible assets. The accounting standard which governs intangible assets is IAS 38, and it gives some examples:

  • computer software
  • patents
  • copyrights
  • motion picture films
  • customer lists
  • mortgage servicing rights
  • licenses
  • import quotas
  • franchises
  • customer and supplier relationships
  • marketing rights.


What is an asset?

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The next few posts will provide some basic accounting terms and definitions – concentrating mainly on assets.

So what is an asset? If I look at a dictionary, I might see something like “a useful thing” or a “desirable quality”. This may be correct in a general sense, but in accounting we need to get a bit more specific. But before we do that, would you regard something which is useful or desirable as having some value to you? I’ d hope you say yes. Now keep that in mind.

If I look to some accounting rules such as the IASB Framework I get the following:

” An asset is a resource controlled by the entity as a result of past events and from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity”

Let’s break that down:

  • It is controlled –  does this mean you must own an asset. Simply, no, as you can control something, but not legally own it
  • It as a result of past events – this means you bought it or somehow acquired it or rights to use it in the past
  • Future economic benefits  will flow – this means it will be something which directly or indirectly allows the business to make money. For example, an office building does not sell anything (usually) or deliver goods, but without on the business cannot carry on its work to bring in those economic benefits i.e. cash and profits.

So, going back to the general idea I introduced at the start, if you want a very basic tip to identify an asset, think of it as something of value to a business – a truck, a machine, a building, customers you owe money etc,


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