capitalized software


Capitalized software refers to the practice of treating software development costs as an asset on a company’s balance sheet, rather than as an expense. This approach allows businesses to spread out the costs of software development over time, providing a more accurate representation of the value it brings to the organization. In this guide, we will delve into the concept of capitalized software, explore the benefits it offers, discuss the accounting standards surrounding it, and provide best practices for businesses looking to capitalize their software development costs. 


what is capitalized software

The term “capitalized software” describes recognizing software development costs as an asset rather than an expense. This means that instead of immediately deducting the costs from the company’s income statement, the company records the costs as an asset on the balance sheet and amortizes them over the useful life of the software. By capitalizing software, businesses can align their financial statements with the economic benefits derived from the software over time. 

What Software Can be Capitalized? 

Generally, the company can capitalize costs directly associated with creating or obtaining software that has future economic benefits and meets certain criteria. For example, you can capitalize costs incurred during the application development stage, such as coding and testing. On the other hand, you typically expense costs related to data conversion, training, maintenance, and general administration as incurred.

Benefits of Capitalizing Software Development Costs 

Capitalizing software development costs offers several benefits to businesses. Firstly, it allows for a more accurate representation of the value of software on a company’s financial statements. By financing the costs, businesses can match the expenses with the revenue generated from the software over its useful life. This provides a clearer picture of the software’s true financial impact on the organization. 

Additionally, capitalizing software can improve a company’s financial ratios and key performance indicators. By spreading out the costs over time, the impact on profitability and cash flow in any given period is reduced. This can be particularly beneficial for companies that have large upfront software development costs but expect a steady stream of revenue over the software’s useful life. 

Accounting Standards for Capitalized Software 

Specific accounting standards, such as the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), govern the accounting treatment of capitalized software. These standards provide guidelines on when to capitalize software development costs and how to record them on the financial statements.

Under GAAP, companies can only capitalize software development costs if they meet certain criteria. These criteria include determining technological feasibility, which is the point at which the software is ready for its intended use. Once the company establishes technological feasibility, it can capitalize costs incurred from that point forward. However, it must expense costs incurred prior to technological feasibility as they are incurred.

Is Capitalized Software Part of CapEx? 

Companies consider capitalized software as part of their capital expenditures (CapEx). A company makes capital expenditures to acquire, upgrade, or improve long-term assets. These assets, such as property, plant, and equipment, are expected to generate future economic benefits. Since capitalized software represents an investment in a long-term asset, it is classified as part of CapEx. 

Including capitalized software in the CapEx category allows businesses to track and analyze their investments in software development alongside other long-term assets. This provides a comprehensive view of the company’s overall capital expenditure and helps in making informed financial decisions. 

capitalized software

How to Determine if Software Development Costs Should be Capitalized 

Determining whether to capitalize or expense software development costs can entail a complex process. It requires careful evaluation of various factors, including the nature of the costs, the stage of the software development, and the accounting standards applicable to the company. 

One key factor to consider is the stage of software development. Companies typically expense costs incurred during the preliminary project stage, such as research and planning. However, once the project reaches the application development stage, it can capitalize costs incurred from that point forward. It is important to consult the relevant accounting standards and seek professional advice to ensure compliance and accurate accounting treatment of software development costs. 

The Process of Capitalizing Software Costs 

The process of capitalizing software costs involves several steps to accurately record and account for the expenses. Firstly, identify and separate the costs that meet the capitalization criteria from the expenses that should be expensed. Then, record the identified costs as an asset on the balance sheet.

Next, the company amortizes the capitalized software costs over the software’s useful life. Amortization involves allocating the financed costs over time to reflect the consumption of the software’s economic benefits. Typically, the company uses a systematic approach, such as straight-line amortization, to evenly spread the costs over the useful life.

The company records the amortization expense on the income statement. This reduces the value of the capitalized software asset over time. This reflects the utilization of the software’s economic benefits and provides a more accurate representation of the software’s value on the company’s financial statements.

Managing Capitalized Software Assets 

Once businesses capitalize software development costs, they must effectively manage and track their assets. This involves maintaining accurate records of the capitalized costs, tracking the amortization expenses, and ensuring compliance with accounting standards.

Regular reviews and assessments of the software’s useful life are also necessary to determine if any impairment has occurred. If the software’s value has been impaired, the company may need to recognize an impairment loss. This adjustment would involve adjusting the asset’s carrying value accordingly.

Additionally, businesses should establish internal controls to monitor and safeguard their capitalized software assets. This includes implementing procedures for the approval and monitoring of software development projects, as well as maintaining documentation and supporting evidence to substantiate the capitalization of costs. 

Common Challenges 

While capitalizing software development costs offers numerous benefits, businesses may encounter challenges during the process. One common challenge is the determination of technological feasibility, which can be subjective and require careful judgment. It may be necessary to involve technical experts or consultants to provide input on the software’s readiness for its intended use. 

Another challenge is the accurate estimation of the software’s useful life. The useful life affects the amortization period and the amount of amortization expense recorded each period. It is important to consider factors such as technological advancements, market changes, and the expected duration of the software’s usefulness when estimating the useful life. 

Lastly, businesses may face challenges related to compliance with accounting standards and regulations. It is crucial to stay updated with the latest accounting pronouncements and seek professional guidance to ensure accurate and compliant capitalization of software development costs. 

What is an Example of a Capitalized Software? 

An example of capitalized software is a custom-built enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Suppose a company invests significant resources in designing, developing, and implementing an ERP system tailored to its specific business needs. The costs incurred during the application development stage, such as coding, testing, and integration, meet the capitalization criteria and companies can capitalize them.

Once the company considers the ERP system technologically feasible and ready for its intended use, it capitalizes the costs incurred from that point forward as an asset. Then, it amortizes the capitalized software costs over the useful life of the ERP system, reflecting the consumption of its economic benefits over time.

code rot

Best Practices

To ensure the successful capitalization of software development costs, businesses should follow best practices. Firstly, it is essential to establish clear and consistent policies and procedures for identifying, evaluating, and capitalizing software development costs. This helps maintain consistency in accounting treatment and ensures compliance with accounting standards. 

Secondly, regular communication and collaboration between finance and IT departments are crucial. Collaboration allows for a better understanding of the software development process and facilitates the identification of capitalizable costs. It also ensures accurate recording and reporting of software assets.

Additionally, keeping detailed records and documentation of all software development costs is essential. This includes invoices, contracts, time sheets, and other supporting evidence that substantiate the capitalization of costs. These records not only provide a clear audit trail but also facilitate future assessments and reviews of the software’s useful life and potential impairments. 


Capitalized software presents businesses with a valuable opportunity to accurately reflect the value of software development costs on their financial statements. By capitalizing costs, businesses can align their financial reporting with the economic benefits derived from the software over its useful life. Understanding the concept of capitalized software, complying with accounting standards, and following best practices are essential for successful capitalization. By doing so, businesses can effectively manage their software assets, improve financial analysis, and make informed decisions regarding their software development investments.


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