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What is the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System MACRS?
MACRS Depreciation Explation, Definition, Meaning, and Usage

The US Congress acted in 1981 and 1986 to encourage investment in certain classes of depreciable assets, by allowing US taxpayers to use a form of depreciation known now as the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

What is MACRS depreciation?

(US Only) The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) is a form of accelerated depreciation enacted by the US Congress in 1981 and 1986.

The depreciation system was introduced in 1981 as the Accelerated Cost Recovery System (ACRS). The intent of Congress was to encourage investment in depreciable assets by allowing accelerated depreciation—and thus larger tax savings in the early years of depreciable life. ACRS schedules were used for depreciating assets placed in service between 1980 and 1987.

ACRS was modified in the United States Tax Reform Act of 1986 and has been known since then as the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). MACRS is currently applied by US taxpayers to classes of assets that includes computing equipment, office furniture, automobiles, construction assets, and many others. 

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What does the MACRS depreciation schedule look like?

"MACRS depreciation schedule" is usually understood to refer to a special forms of another well known accelerated depreciation schedule, the double declining balance DDB method. Aaccelerated depreciation schedules by definition allow owners to claim relatively more depreciation expense early in the depreciable life, and relatively less later in the depreciable life when compared to straight line depreciation. During this life, depreciation is applied as a non-cash expense that lowers owner tax liability by reducing reported earnings. Under accelerated depreciation, moreover, tax savings are greater early in depreciable life, but less in later in depreciable life. This, the US Congress thought in 1981, would incent businesses to make investments and in assets, improving the health of the national economy by improving productivity, creating jobs, and increasing trade.

The DDB-based MACRS schedule differs from the normal DDB schedule in two aspects:

  • MACRS rules prescribe starting depreciation at the midpoint of the asset's first year on the Balance sheet. A five year MACRS schedule thus contributes depreciation expense in 6 tax years, running from the midpoint of year 1 to the midpoint of year 6. The impact of starting depreciation in th emiddle of Year 1 is apparent in Exchibit 1, below, seen as the Year 2 "peak" in the schedule profile.
  • MACRS permits changing from the DDB method to straight line depreciation, once depreciation benefits have been optimized. This impact is also apparent in Exhibit 1, below, where the MACRS "curve" sits alongside th enormal DDB curve.
  • Asset residual values (salvage values) are disregarded under the MACRS schedule, as they are also disregarded under normal DDB depreciation. Under MACRS and normal DDB, depreciation schedule percentages are applied against the full asset cost. In other words, under MACRS and DDB, depreciable cost = full asset cost.

Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System depreciation schedules and rules for applying them to different classes of assets appear in US Government IRS Publication 946, "How to Depreciate Property." Information technology (IT) systems, for instance, are covered in the the five-year depreciable life category, which also includes other kinds of office equipment and automobiles. Under MACRS, assets in these classes thus have 60-month depreciable lives.

How does MACRS depreciation compare to other depreciation schedules: straight line SL, Double declining balance DDB, and Sum of the Years Digits SOYD?

Exhibit 1 compares the profiles, or shapes, of four commonly used depreciation schedules, when the prescribed depreciable life is five years. Table 1, below, shows the prescried depreciation expenses for these curves as a percentage of depreciable value. Schedules compared include:

  1. Straight line SL
  2. Modified accelerated cost recovery system MACRS
  3. Double Declining Balance DDB
  4. Sum of the years digits SOYD




Exhibit 1. Four depreciation schedules compared across depreciable lives of 5-years: (1) Straight line SL (2) MACRS (3) Double Declining Balance DDB, (4) Sum of the Years Digits SOYD.

ScheduleYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Year 6
 Straight Line    20.00%    20.00%   20.00%   20.00%   20.00     —     
 MACRS    20.00%    32.00%   19.20%   11.52%   11.52   5.76%
 Double Decl. Bal.    40.00%    24.00%   14.40%    8.64%    5.18    —   
 Sum of Years Digits    33.33%    26.67%   20.00%   13.33%    6.67    —   

Table 1. Depreciation expense each year of depreciable life, expressed as a percentage of either depreciable cost (SL and SOYD schedules) or full asset cost (MACRS and DDB schedules).

Varieties of MACRS schedules: Which schedule for an asset class?

The discussion above presented MACRS as a relatively simple adjustment to the familiar DDB schedule, where "Regular MACRS" calls for (1) starting depreciation at the midpoint of Year 1, and (2) depreciation changes from DDB to straight line once the depreciation benefits have been optimized. In reality, however, MACRS and US IRS Tax rules in fact provide multiple possible schedules for different assets, depending on several factors including asset class, the purpose of acquisition, the timing of the acquisition, and source of funding for the acquisition.

Moreover within a single asset class (e.g., Office Equipment), the actual schedule used may be one of these four possiblties:

  1. Regular MACRS, as described above.
  2. Double Declining Balance Method. This method is also called 200% DDB, because calculation includes figures that are doubled.
  3. 150% Double Declining Balance Method. This is a form of accelerated depreciation that is moderately "less acccelerated" than the normal 200% DDB method, above.
  4. Straight Line depreciation.

The specific MACRS depreciable life for an asset may also depend on and the owners choice between sets of tables called (1) General Schedules (GDS) which are most frequently used, and (2) Alternative Depreceiation Schedule (ADS) which may be used in some cases. A few of the GDS and ADS schedules Include, for example:

Office Furniture: GDS 7 Years, ADS 10 Years
Computers: GDS 5 Years, ADS 6 Years
Construction Assets: GDS 5 Years, ADS 6 Years
Railroad cars & Locomotives: GDS 7 Years, ADS 15 Years

In brief, the MACRS tax rules are complex. For complete guidance on which MACRS schedule applies to a specific asset, the best approach is to consult the 100+ page government source, US IRS publication 946 "How to Depreciate Property."

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