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# Activity Based

September 8, 2023
Bill Kimball

It then assigns the cost of those activities only to the products that are actually demanding the activities. A per unit cost is calculated by dividing the total dollars in each activity cost pool by the number of units of the activity cost drivers. As an example to calculate the per unit cost for the purchasing department, the total costs of the purchasing department are divided by the number of purchase orders. Once the per unit costs are all calculated, they are added together, and the total cost per unit is multiplied by the number of units to assign the overhead costs to the units. Accountants estimated the overhead and the volume of events for each activity.

## Chapter 4: Activity

For example, if Batch X consists of 5,000 units of product, the setup cost per unit is \$0.10 (\$500 divided by 5,000 units). If Batch Y is 50,000 units, the cost per unit for setup will be \$0.01 (\$500 divided by 50,000 units). For simplicity, let’s assume that the remaining \$1,800,000 of manufacturing overhead is caused by the production activities that correlate with the company’s 100,000 machine hours. Let’s discuss activity based costing by looking at two products manufactured by the same company.

Activity based costing will overcome this shortcoming by assigning overhead on more than the one activity, running the machine. Activity‐based costing assumes that the steps or activities that must be followed to manufacture a product are what determine the overhead costs incurred. Each overhead cost, whether variable or fixed, is assigned to a category of costs. Cost drivers are the actual activities that cause the total cost in an activity cost pool to increase. The number of times materials are ordered, the number of production lines in a factory, and the number of shipments made to customers are all examples of activities that impact the costs a company incurs.

An overhead percentage tells you how much your business spends on overhead and how much is spent making a product or service. For example, suppose students in biology classes are messier than students in history classes. As a result, the university does more maintenance per square foot in biology classrooms and labs than in history classrooms. Further, it is possible to keep track of the time maintenance people spend cleaning classrooms and labs.

ABC requires identifying the activities involved in the production process and assigning costs to these activities . This provides management with a better view of the detailed activities involved and the cost of each activity.

However, management must be willing to use the ABC information to benefit the company. Companies like Chrysler Group LLC have been known to try ABC, only to meet resistance from their managers.

Using the plantwide allocation method, calculate the predetermined overhead rate and determine the overhead cost per unit for the inkjet and laser products. Overhead costs are allocated to products by multiplying the predetermined overhead rate for each activity by the level of cost driver activity used by the product. Traditional costing adds an average overhead rate to the direct costs of manufacturing products. The overhead rate gets applied on the basis of a cost driver, such as number of labor hours required to make a product. Figure 3.9 “The Three Methods of Overhead Allocation” presents the three allocation methods, using SailRite as an example. Notice that the three pie charts in the illustration are of equal size, representing the \$8,000,000 total overhead costs incurred by SailRite.

## Learn How Fixed Costs And Variable Costs Affect Gross Profit

Overhead is typically a general expense, meaning it applies to the company’s operations as a whole. It is commonly accumulated as a lump sum, at which point it may then be allocated to a specific project or department based on certain cost drivers. For example, using activity-based costing, a service-based business may allocate overhead expenses based on the activities completed within each department, such as printing or office supplies. We will assume that a company has annual manufacturing overhead costs of \$2,000,000—of which \$200,000 is directly involved in setting up the production machines.

For example, a retailer’s overhead costs will be widely different from a freelancer. Estimated Base This formula applies to all indirect costs, whether manufacturing overhead, administrative costs, distribution costs, selling costs, or any other indirect cost. BuyGasCo Corporation, a privately owned chain of gas stations based in Florida, was taken to court for selling regular grade gasoline below cost, and an injunction was issued. Florida law prohibits selling gasoline below refinery cost if doing so injures competition. Using a plantwide approach of allocating costs to products, the plaintiff’s costing expert was able to support the allegation of predatory pricing.

Companies that manufacture a large number of different products prefer an activity-based system because it gives more accurate costs of each product. With activity-based allocation of overhead costs, it is easier to identify areas where expenses are being wasted on unprofitable products.

• An overhead percentage tells you how much your business spends on overhead and how much is spent making a product or service.
• Assign costs to products by multiplying the cost driver rate times the volume of cost driver units consumed by the product.
• These activities were purchasing materials, setting up machines when a new product was started, inspecting products, and operating machines.
• This explains the need for a refined overhead allocation system such as activity-based costing.

Using the activity-based costing approach, the defendant‘s expert formed three activity cost pools—labor, kiosk, and gas dispensing. The first two cost pools allocated costs using gallons of gas sold and therefore were allocated as they would be with the plantwide approach . The third cost pool allocated costs equally to each grade of fuel (i.e., one-third of costs to each grade of fuel). The gas dispensing pool included costs for storage tanks, all of which were the same size, as well as gas pumps and signs. Expenses related to overhead appear on a company’s income statement, and they directly affect the overall profitability of the business.

Your friend has to set the machines each time a new flavor is produced. Although both of you produce the same total volume of ice cream, it is not hard to imagine that your friend’s overhead costs would be considerably higher. As the tables above illustrate, with activity based costing the cost per unit decreases from \$0.46 to \$0.37 because the cost of the setup activity is spread over 50,000 units instead of 5,000 units. Without ABC, the cost per unit is \$0.40 regardless of the number of units in each batch. If companies base their selling prices on costs, a company not using an ABC approach might lose the large batch work to a competitor who bids a lower price based on the lower, more accurate overhead cost of \$0.37.

The goal is to understand all the activities required to make the company’s products. This requires interviewing and meeting with personnel throughout the organization. Companies that use activity-based costing, such as Hewlett Packard and IBM, may identify hundreds of activities required to make their products. The most challenging part of this step is narrowing down the activities to those that have the biggest impact on overhead costs. Traditional costing adds an average overhead rate to the direct costs of manufacturing products and is best used when the overhead of a company is low compared to the direct costs of production. Activity-based costing identifies all of the specific overhead operations related to the manufacture of each product.

Such businesses include distributors, parcel delivery services, landscaping, transport services, and equipment leasing. The overhead expenses vary depending on the nature of the business and the industry it operates in. Product‐line activities are those activities that support an entire product line but not necessarily each individual unit. Examples of product‐line activities are engineering changes made in the assembly line, product design changes, and warehousing and storage costs for each product line. If product X requires 50 hours, you must allocate \$166.5 worth of overhead (50 hours x \$3.33) to this product. Some costs that cannot be linked to products based on causality or benefits received are assigned on the basis of reasonableness.

Variable overhead expenses include costs that may fluctuate over time such as shipping costs. Variable overheads are expenses that vary with business activity levels, and they can increase or decrease with different levels of business activity.

This was done to avoid complicating the example with overapplied and underapplied overhead. However, a more realistic scenario would provide actual activity levels that are different than estimated activity levels, thereby creating overapplied and underapplied overhead for each activity.

As a senior management consultant and owner, he used his technical expertise to conduct an analysis of a company’s operational, financial and business management issues. James has been writing business and finance related topics for work.chron, bizfluent.com, smallbusiness.chron.com and e-commerce websites since 2007. He graduated from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and received an MBA from Columbia University. Non cash expenses appear on an income statement because accounting principles require them to be recorded despite not actually being paid for with cash. Insurance is a cost incurred by a business to protect itself from financial loss. There are various types of insurance coverage, depending on the risk that may cause loss to the business. For example, a business may purchase property insurance to protect its property or business premises from certain risks such as flood, damage, or theft.

One of the lessons of activity-based costing has been that the more complex the business, the higher the indirect costs. Imagine that each month you produce 100,000 gallons of vanilla ice cream and your friend produces 100,000 gallons of 39 different flavors of ice cream. Further, assume your ice cream is sold only in one liter containers, while your friend sells ice cream in various containers. Your friend has more complicated ordering, storage, product testing , and packing in containers. Presumably, you can set the machinery to one setting to obtain the desired product quality and taste.

It is important that businesses monitor their overhead costs as they can drain business funds unnecessarily when not properly controlled. As they are not directly related to income, these expenses can become a larger share of the total costs and burden a business. Once you’ve categorized the expenses, add all the overhead costs for the accounting period to get the total overhead cost. Overhead costs can include fixed monthly and annual expenses such as rent, salaries and insurance or variable costs such as advertising expenses that can vary month-on-month based on the level of business activity. You can see from this analysis that the Deluxe boat consumes four times the machine hours of the Basic boat.

The next step is to find an allocation base that drives the cost of each activity. A business should set its long-term product prices at levels that account for both its overhead costs and direct costs. However, it is is possible to ignore overhead costs for the pricing of special one-time deals, where the minimum price point only has to exceed the relevant direct costs. For example, most businesses categorize legal expenses as overhead costs. However, if you own a law firm, these expenses directly contribute to production and hence are part of your direct costs. Businesses have to take into account both overhead costs as well as the direct expenses to calculate the long-term product and service prices. Activity based costing recognizes that the special engineering, special testing, machine setups, and others are activities that cause costs—they cause the company to consume resources.