Accounting for Overhead Costs

07 Dec Accounting for Overhead Costs

Accurate overhead allocations are essential to understanding financial performance and making informed pricing decisions. Here is guidance on how to estimate overhead rates to allocate these indirect costs to your products and how to adjust for variances that may occur.

What is included in overhead?

Overhead costs are a part of every business. These accounts frequently serve as catch-alls for any expense that cannot be directly allocated to production, including:

  • Equipment maintenance & depreciation
  • Factory & warehouse rent
  • Building maintenance
  • Administrative & executive salaries
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Utilities

Generally, such indirect costs of production are fixed, meaning they will not change appreciably whether production increases or diminishes.

How are overhead rates calculated?

The challenge comes in deciding how to allocate these costs to products using an overhead rate. The rate is typically determined by dividing estimated overhead expenses by estimated totals in the allocation base (for example, direct labor hours) for a future period of time. Then you multiply the rate by the actual number of direct labor hours for each product (or batch of products) to establish the amount of overhead that should be applied.

In some organizations, the rate is applied companywide, across all products. This is particularly appropriate for organizations that make single, standard products — such as bricks — over long periods of time. If your product mix is more complex and customized, you may use multiple overhead rates to allocate costs more accurately. If one department is machine-intensive and another is labor-intensive, for example, multiple rates may be appropriate.

How do you handle variances from actual costs?

There is one problem with accounting for overhead costs: variances are almost certain. There are likely to be more variances if you use a simple companywide overhead rate, but even the most carefully thought-out multiple rates will not always be 100 percent accurate.

The result? Large accounts that many managers do not understand and that require constant adjustment. This situation creates opportunities for errors and for dishonest people to commit fraud. Fortunately, you can reduce the chance of overhead anomalies with strong internal control procedures, such as:

  • Conducting independent reviews of all adjustments to overhead & inventory accounts
  • Studying significant overhead adjustments over different periods of time to spot anomalies
  • Discussing complaints about high product costs with nonaccounting managers
  • Evaluating your existing overhead allocation & making adjustments as necessary

Allocating costs more accurately will not guarantee that you make a profit. To do that, you have to make prudent pricing decisions based on the production costs and market conditions and then sell what you produce.

Need help?

Cost accounting can be complex, and indirect overhead costs can be difficult to trace. We can help you understand how to reduce the guesswork in accounting for overhead and identify when it is time to adjust your allocation rates. Our accountants also can suggest ways to monitor cost allocations to prevent errors and mismanagement.