Depreciation 101: Calculating and Recording for Swiss Freelancers



As a freelancer in Switzerland, managing your finances effectively is crucial for the success and longevity of your business. One important aspect of financial management that often gets overlooked is depreciation. Depreciation allows you to spread out the cost of assets over their useful life, which can have significant tax implications and help you better understand your business's true financial performance.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive deep into everything Swiss freelancers need to know about depreciation. We'll start by clearly defining what depreciation is and why it's so important. Then we'll explore the different types of assets you can depreciate, the various depreciation methods available, and how to calculate depreciation step-by-step. You'll also learn how to properly record depreciation in your financial statements and understand its impact on your taxes. By the end, you'll have a solid grasp of depreciation fundamentals and best practices to optimize your finances.

Understanding Depreciation

In simple terms, depreciation is an accounting method that allows businesses to allocate the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life. Rather than expensing the full cost of an asset in the year it's purchased, depreciation lets you spread that cost over the asset's lifespan to better match the expense with the revenue the asset helps generate.

For freelancers, depreciation is important for several reasons:

  1. Tax deductions: Depreciation expense is tax-deductible, lowering your taxable income and tax liability.

  2. Accurate financial statements: By matching asset costs with revenue generated, depreciation provides a more accurate picture of your business's financial performance.

  3. Better budgeting and planning: Understanding how your assets depreciate helps you plan for their eventual replacement.

  4. Pricing strategy: Including depreciation in your cost calculations ensures your prices cover the full cost of doing business.

Swiss tax law allows businesses to depreciate certain assets according to specified methods and rates. The Federal Tax Administration publishes guidelines on accepted depreciation practices. Generally, assets expected to be used in the business for more than a year and that lose value over time can be depreciated.

Types of Assets to Depreciate

Freelancers may use a variety of assets in their businesses that are eligible for depreciation. These can be divided into two main categories:

  1. Tangible assets: Physical property used in your business, such as:
  • Computer equipment
  • Office furniture
  • Vehicles
  • Machinery and tools
  1. Intangible assets: Non-physical assets that provide long-term value, such as:
  • Patents
  • Copyrights
  • Software

Not all assets can be depreciated. For example, land is not depreciated because it is not expected to wear out or become obsolete. Inventory is also not depreciated, as it is expected to be sold within a year.

Examples of depreciable assets common for freelancers include:

  • Laptops and computer equipment
  • Office desks and chairs
  • Professional camera gear (for photographers)
  • Design software (for graphic designers)
  • Specialized tools (for tradespeople)

Depreciation Methods Explained

There are several methods businesses can use to depreciate their assets. The most common are:

  1. Straight-line depreciation: The simplest method, where the asset's cost (minus any expected salvage value) is divided evenly over its useful life. For example, a CHF 1,000 laptop expected to last 5 years would have an annual depreciation expense of CHF 200.

  2. Declining balance depreciation: Accelerates depreciation by applying a fixed percentage rate to the asset's remaining book value each year. This results in higher depreciation expenses in the early years and lower expenses later. For instance, a CHF 1,000 laptop depreciated at 40% would have depreciation expenses of CHF 400 in year 1, CHF 240 in year 2, CHF 144 in year 3, etc.

  3. Units of production depreciation: Ties depreciation to actual usage rather than just the passage of time. The depreciation rate is based on the asset's expected lifetime production. This method is more common in manufacturing but could apply to freelancers who use equipment with measurable output (e.g. a specialized printer).

Here's a comparison of the straight-line and declining balance methods for a CHF 1,000 laptop over 5 years:

Year Straight-Line Declining Balance (40%)
1 200 400
2 200 240
3 200 144
4 200 86
5 200 52

Swiss tax law allows both straight-line and declining balance methods in most cases. The Federal Tax Administration publishes maximum allowed declining balance rates for different asset types.

Calculating Depreciation

To calculate depreciation for an asset, you'll need the following information:

  1. Cost basis: The asset's original cost, including any fees, taxes, shipping, and installation expenses. If you've made improvements that extend the asset's life, those costs are also added to the basis.

  2. Useful life: An estimate of how long the asset will be usable in your business. This is often based on industry standards, personal experience, or manufacturer guidance.

  3. Depreciation method: Straight-line, declining balance, or another allowable method.

  4. Salvage value (if applicable): The estimated value of the asset at the end of its useful life. This is subtracted from the cost basis when calculating straight-line depreciation.

Here are a couple sample depreciation calculations:

Example 1: Straight-line depreciation

  • Office desk purchased for CHF 800, expected to last 10 years
  • Annual depreciation expense = 800 / 10 = CHF 80

Example 2: Declining balance depreciation

  • Computer purchased for CHF 2,000, estimated 5 year life, depreciated at 40%
  • Year 1 depreciation = 2,000 x 0.4 = CHF 800
  • Year 2 depreciation = (2,000 - 800) x 0.4 = CHF 480
  • Year 3 depreciation = (2,000 - 1,280) x 0.4 = CHF 288
  • And so on...

Many freelancers use accounting software or spreadsheets to automate depreciation calculations and maintain schedules, but it's important to understand the underlying concepts.

Recording Depreciation

When you record depreciation in your financial statements, you'll make two types of entries:

  1. Depreciation expense: Recorded on the income statement as an expense for the period. This reduces your net income.

  2. Accumulated depreciation: A contra-asset account on the balance sheet that tracks the total depreciation taken on an asset over its life. Accumulated depreciation is subtracted from the asset's original cost to determine its current book value.

Here are the general journal entries for depreciation, assuming CHF 100 of depreciation expense in a period:

Debit  Depreciation Expense   100
 Credit   Accumulated Depreciation  100

You'll update these entries and balances each period as you record additional depreciation on the asset. It's important to keep detailed records of your depreciation calculations and entries, often in the form of depreciation schedules that show period-by-period details. Most accounting software can maintain these records automatically.

Impact on Financial Statements

Depreciation impacts both your income statement and balance sheet:

  1. Income statement: Depreciation expense reduces your net income for the period. For freelancers, this can be an important tax planning tool, as depreciation is a deductible expense that lowers your taxable income. The income statement impact is based on the amount of depreciation expense recorded for the period.

  2. Balance sheet: Accumulated depreciation reduces the book value of your assets on the balance sheet. This is sometimes referred to as the asset's "net book value" (original cost minus accumulated depreciation). Over time, an asset's net book value will decline as accumulated depreciation increases.

One thing to note is that while depreciation expense reduces your net income, it is a non-cash expense. That is, recording depreciation doesn't actually reduce your cash balance, it just spreads out the cost of an asset you've already paid for. This is an important distinction for cash flow management.

Tax Implications

Depreciation is an important tax planning tool for freelancesr because it is a deductible business expense. By deducting depreciation on your tax return, you lower your taxable income and thus your tax liability for the year.

Swiss tax law specifies allowable depreciation methods and maximum rates for different asset types. These are published by the Federal Tax Administration. Generally, both straight-line and declining balance methods are allowed, with the maximum declining balance rate depending on the asset class. For example, computer hardware can be depreciated at up to 40% annually using the declining balance method.

It's important to follow these guidelines to ensure your depreciation deductions are allowed by the tax authorities. In some cases, if you sell or dispose of an asset before it is fully depreciated, you may have to "recapture" some depreciation, which means including a portion of the previously deducted depreciation as taxable income in the year of sale.

Proper tax planning around depreciation can help freelancers optimize their tax position. For example, using accelerated depreciation methods in early years of an asset's life can provide larger upfront deductions. However, this also means smaller deductions in later years. Working with a tax professional can help you determine the best depreciation strategies for your specific situation.

Best Practices and Tips

Here are some best practices and tips for freelancers when it comes to managing depreciation:

  1. Choose the right depreciation method: Consider your business needs and tax situation when choosing between straight-line, declining balance, or other methods. Accelerated methods can provide tax benefits but also affect your financial statements.

  2. Keep detailed records: Maintain depreciation schedules showing cost basis, useful life, depreciation method, and period-by-period calculations for each asset. Good record keeping is essential for tax compliance and financial management.

  3. Plan for asset replacements: As your depreciated assets approach the end of their useful lives, plan ahead for replacements to avoid unexpected costs. Your accumulated depreciation account can serve as a reminder of aging assets.

  4. Consider Section 179 expensing: In some cases, Swiss tax law allows freelancers to fully expense certain asset purchases in the year of acquisition, rather than depreciating them over time. Consult with a tax professional to see if this strategy fits your situation.

  5. Review regularly: Review your depreciation calculations and records regularly to catch any errors and ensure depreciation is being recorded accurately. This is especially important if you've made changes to asset use or disposed of assets.

  6. Work with professionals: Depreciation can get complex, especially as your business grows. Don't hesitate to work with accounting and tax professionals to ensure you're managing depreciation correctly and optimally.

Some common depreciation mistakes to avoid:

  • Forgetting to start depreciating an asset when it's placed in service
  • Depreciating land or inventory
  • Using the wrong useful life or method for an asset type
  • Not tracking accumulated depreciation accurately
  • Failing to recapture depreciation when required


Depreciation is a critical concept for freelancers to understand and apply in their businesses. By allowing you to spread out the cost of assets over their useful lives, depreciation provides important tax benefits and helps you better understand your financial performance. The keys to managing depreciation effectively include:

  1. Understanding allowable depreciation methods and rates
  2. Choosing the optimal method for each asset type
  3. Calculating and recording depreciation accurately
  4. Maintaining detailed depreciation records
  5. Planning ahead for asset replacements and tax implications

With the knowledge you've gained from this guide, you're well-equipped to start implementing effective depreciation practices in your freelance business. Remember, working with accounting and tax professionals can provide valuable guidance and peace of mind when dealing with complex topics like depreciation.

By staying informed and applying best practices, you'll be able to confidently navigate the world of depreciation and set your freelance business up for long-term financial success.