Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets
In this article, we will discuss the amortization of intangible assets. Intangible assets refer to assets of a company that are not physical in nature. They include trademarks, customer lists, goodwill, etc. Hence, they are not composed of parts or materials with a defined benefit or life span, which can be objectively determined.
This creates difficulties in properly estimating a periodic charge for these intangible assets. To such an end, the International Accounting Standards Board’s IAS 38 sets out rules on how intangibles should be amortized.
Classification of Intangibles
Intangible assets can be broadly classified into two categories:
1. Definite life
Definite-life intangible assets refer to assets with a finite life. For example, a license to produce a certain product for ten years. Here, the asset is given an identifiable contract life of ten years. These types of intangible assets are typically subject to asset amortization. They may also become impaired over time, at which point the company will recognize an impairment expense and reduce the value of the asset on its balance sheet.
2. Indefinite life
The life of such assets is unknown at inception. They may generate or contribute to revenue in perpetuity – for example, broadcasting rights that may be continuously renewed without much cost to the holder. Goodwill is another example of an indefinite-life intangible asset. These types of intangible assets are not typically subject to amortization but are subject to annual impairment tests.
Intangible assets refer to assets of a company that are not physical in nature. They include trademarks, customer lists, goodwill, etc.
Intangible assets are classified into two different categories: definite life and indefinite life. Definite-life intangible assets are typically subject to amortization, whereas indefinite-life intangible assets are only subject to annual impairment tests (or when the impairment is determined).
Amortization is typically calculated on a straight-line basis.
Determination of Life
The IAS 38 underlines certain factors that can be used to determine the life of an intangible asset, such as:
1. Expected usage
The length that the asset is expected to produce benefits for the business. it can also be the length of the contract that allows for the use of the intangible asset. For example, a copyright will take on a legal life of 50 years, but it is expected to be useful only for 10 years. The appropriate useful life for amortization then is 10 years.
Some intangibles may be product-specific and should not have a life longer than that of the associated products.
3. Technical obsolescence
Any intangible asset associated with a product that is now technically obsolete should be considered impaired and amortized accordingly. For example, a patent on a mechanical watch would be considered obsolete, but a trademark might still possess some value due to the unique quality of the brand.
4. Competitor action
Some competitor actions can make the incumbent product obsolete, in which case IAS 38 requires that the incumbent business impair and amortize associated intangibles. For example, any intangibles related to the manufacturing or distribution of old-style tungsten light bulbs are rendered worthless in the accounting sense with the introduction of more efficient forms of lighting like LEDs.
5. Maintenance expenditure
Some intangibles require an amount of expenditure, such as a renewal fee, to keep them operational. If the maintenance expenditure is high enough that a business can no longer afford to pay, then the business may be required to write down or write off the asset.
The most common example of such an intangible is broadcasting rights. If broadcasting rights can be renewed easily, then they can be reported as an intangible asset with an indefinite life.
IAS 38 provides general guidelines as to how intangible assets should be amortized:
1. The amortization of an asset should only start when the asset is brought into actual use, and not before, even if the requisite intangible asset has been acquired.
2. The level of amortization should be appropriate so that the book value of an asset is not under or overstated.
The method of amortization used should be commensurate with the use of the asset. If no method is determinable, then the asset must be amortized on a straight-line basis.
In line with the guidelines, revenue-based amortization aims to amortize the intangible in accordance with its contributions to the revenue. It leads to a variable amortization schedule. However, IAS 38 argues against the use of revenue-based methods because it is hard to quantify the contribution of an intangible to revenue. The standard recommends the use of the straight-line method in place of revenue-based amortization.
Indefinite Life Assets
Assets with an indefinite life, like goodwill, are not typically amortized in regular fashion as finite-life assets. Instead, every year the company conducts an impairment test on indefinite-life assets. If the asset is found to be impaired, the company will record an impairment expense on its income statement and a resulting reduction in the asset’s value on the balance sheet. However, some jurisdictions (like the United States), do allow goodwill to be amortized if the company is privately owned.
Under the straight-line method (SLM), an asset is amortized to zero or its residual value. The amount of amortization every year is given by:
Amortization = (Book Value – Residual Value) / Useful Life
The following table illustrates the straight-line method:
Learn accounting fundamentals and how to read financial statements with CFI’s free online accounting classes.
These courses will give the confidence you need to perform world-class financial analyst work. Start now!
Building confidence in your accounting skills is easy with CFI courses! Enroll now for FREE to start advancing your career!
Share this article
Get Certified for Financial Modeling (FMVA)®
Gain in-demand industry knowledge and hands-on practice that will help you stand out from the competition and become a world-class financial analyst.
Take your learning and productivity to the next level with our Premium Templates.
Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs.
Already have a Self-Study or Full-Immersion membership? Log in
Access Exclusive Templates
Gain unlimited access to more than 250 productivity Templates, CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs, hundreds of resources, expert reviews and support, the chance to work with real-world finance and research tools, and more.