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FAQ: When is Equipment "Placed in Service"?

For a business to start writing off the cost of depreciable equipment and property, it is necessary that the equipment be placed in service. To write off costs in 2015, the equipment must be placed in service by December 31, 2015. The "placed-in-service" requirement applies, for example, for taking depreciation, especially first-year bonus depreciation, under Code Sec. 168, expensing of the cost of property under Code Sec. 179, and other write-offs such as the investment tax credit under Code Sec. 46.

The actual date an asset is placed in service is particularly important in the case of year-end acquisitions. Thus, determining when property is placed in service is an important concept for year-end planning.

Under the current legislative regime, some tax provisions are renewed from year-to-year but have not been permanently extended (such as bonus depreciation and enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing). The year that the property is placed in service thus determines whether or not the tax benefit is available in addition to the year for which a business claims the benefit.

Depreciation begins in the tax year that an asset is placed in service. An asset is placed in service (for purposes of computing depreciation or claiming the investment credit) on the date that it is in a condition or state of readiness for a specifically assigned function on a regular, ongoing basis, for use in a trade or business, for the production of income, in a tax-exempt activity, or in a personal activity. The placed-in-service date is not necessarily the date that the property is acquired. This distinction should also be kept in mind where a tax provision has requirements for the acquisition date as well as the placed-in-service date.

An asset actually put to use in a trade or business is clearly placed in service. If the asset is not yet put to use, it is still considered placed in service if the taxpayer has done everything needed to put the asset to use. For example, a canal barge was placed in service in the year acquired, even though it was not used until the following year because the canal was frozen.

A building that is intended to house machinery and equipment is placed in service when the building's construction is substantially complete, whether or not the machinery and equipment have been placed in service. A federal district court concluded that a building designed to be a retail store was placed in service when the building was substantially complete, even though the building was not yet open to the public. For a building (as opposed to equipment) the issuance of a certificate of occupancy is a key factor that indicates the building has been placed in service.