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Alternative Depreciation System (ADS)


The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is a method of calculating depreciation on a tax return that generally provides a longer recovery period for an asset’s costs, reducing annual deductions. It applies primarily to assets that last a long time, such as property or heavy equipment. The ADS is mandatory for some types of assets for tax purposes, but taxpayers can elect to use it for others.


Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is pronounced as:æl-tur-nuh-tiv dih-pree-shee-ey-shuhn sis-tuhm

Key Takeaways

  1. Longer recovery period: The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) often extends a longer recovery period for depreciation. This essentially reduces the annual tax or expense deductions that a business can claim in comparison to the General Depreciation System (GDS).
  2. Required for certain property types: In some scenarios, ADS is not optional but a requirement. This includes property used predominantly outside the U.S., some tax-exempt use property, and certain imported property covered by executive order.
  3. Conservative depreciation estimate: ADS provides a more conservative estimate for depreciation which reflects a more accurate annual reduction in value of an asset. This can be particularly beneficial for businesses that want to demonstrate higher short-term profitability or those seeking to align with international financial reporting standards.


The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is an important concept in the business and finance world as it provides a consistent method of calculating the depreciation of certain business assets over time. This system is essential because it impacts the overall profitability and tax liability of a business. By offering a longer recovery period for the depreciable life of assets, the annual depreciation expense is less, which can thereby lower a company’s annual taxable income. Operating internationally, the ADS must be used for foreign property, which makes it a significant international tax planning tool. Therefore, understanding ADS can be vital for better tax management, financial planning, and determining the potential return on investment for business assets.


The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) primarily serves to provide a benchmark for the most extended period possible to depreciate business or investment property. Predominantly used for tax purposes in the United States, the ADS sets the maximum lives of properties and equipment for tax-related depreciation. Businesses often use the ADS to compute depreciation for property used outside the U.S., any tax-exempt use property, any tax-exempt bond financed property, and for any portion of property used predominantly to furnish lodging.The key benefit of using ADS is that it can minimize yearly depreciation expenses, thereby resulting in lower deductions and larger taxable income, which can be particularly useful for businesses in years when they have low income. On the other hand, using the ADS might be disadvantageous for companies during profitable years as it could lead to a higher tax liability due to lesser depreciation expenses. Therefore, understanding when and how to leverage the ADS can significantly affect a company’s tax planning strategies.


1. Real Estate Businesses: In the real estate industry, the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is often used when calculating depreciation for tax purposes. For example, residential rental property under ADS is depreciated over a span of 30 years, rather than the 27.5 years used under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). This slightly slower depreciation method can result in higher taxable income in the early years of a property’s life.2. Multinational Corporations: Multinational corporations operating in the U.S. often use the ADS for their tangible property (like machinery, equipment etc.) used predominantly outside the U.S., in compliance with the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This system depreciates those assets over a longer timeframe than would normally be used, thus spreading the deductions over a greater number of years.3. Foreign Owned U.S. Companies: Any U.S. companies owned by a foreign person or entity are required to use ADS to depreciate their residential rental properties. For example, if a Canadian citizen owns a rental property in the United States, they’d have to depreciate it using ADS over a period of 30 years, instead of the usual 27.5 years used by U.S citizens. This means they would be able to claim less depreciation each year on their tax return.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS)?

The Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) is a method of calculating the depreciation of certain types of assets in a way that spreads out the cost over a predetermined number of years. This method is dictated by the IRS under the U.S. tax code.

When is the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) used?

The ADS system is generally used for property that is used predominantly outside the United States, any leased property that is used on a short-term basis, and any property deemed ineligible for the General Depreciation System (GDS).

How is depreciation calculated under the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS)?

Depreciation under the ADS is calculated using the straight-line method over a predesignated, IRS-determined life of an asset. This life is generally longer than that under the GDS.

What types of assets can depreciate under the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS)?

Any business asset that has a useful life can be depreciated under ADS. This can include assets such as property, plant, equipment, vehicles, and furniture. The key requirement is that the asset must have a determinable useful life, which is longer than a year.

Is there any situation in which a business would be required to use the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS)?

Yes, a business may be required to use the ADS if the property is used predominantly outside the U.S, or if the property is tax-exempt use property, tax-exempt bond-financed property, imported property, or if the property is specifically being used for farming.

What is the main difference between the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) and the General Depreciation System (GDS)?

The main difference between the ADS and GDS is the recovery period or lifespan of the asset. Under ADS, assets typically have a longer recovery period, which then leads to smaller depreciation expenses each year when compared to the GDS.

Do I have to stick with the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) once I’ve chosen it?

Once a taxpayer chooses to depreciate property using the ADS for a taxable year, the method applies for the entire recovery period of the property. Therefore it’s crucial to weigh out the financial implications before making a choice.

Related Finance Terms

  • Asset Life: The estimated period over which an asset will be utilized or useful for a business. In ADS, the asset life is set by the IRS and cannot be changed.
  • Taxpayers: An entity or individual that is required to pay taxes on income. In context of the ADS, taxpayers have dictated periods of depreciation for their respective properties.
  • Salvage Value: The estimated value that an asset will realize upon its end of life or when it can no longer be used for productive purposes. In ADS, salvage value is considered while calculating depreciation.
  • Depreciation Schedule: A table that shows the amount of depreciation expense per year that is claimed for tax purposes. Under the ADS, depreciation schedules are generally longer.
  • Non-residential Property: A type of property used only for business purposes. In the context of ADS, non-residential properties have a specific cost recovery period.

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