Activation (accounting)

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Under activation is meant the inclusion of an asset ( HGB terminology) or asset / asset ( IFRS terminology) in the active side of the balance . Whether activation must, may or should not take place, results from commercial and tax law regulations.


The HGB does not define what an asset is. It is one

  • economic advantage of a material or immaterial nature to which the company is exclusively entitled beyond the next balance sheet date and
  • expenses were incurred to obtain it and
  • which can thus be assessed independently and
  • which can be sold individually independently of the company .

Not every asset is capitalized on the balance sheet. Whether such an asset is to be capitalized in the balance sheet is determined by the commercial law. Even if in Section 246, Paragraph 1, Clause 1 of the German Commercial Code ( HGB), with the requirement of completeness, there is actually an obligation to record all assets in the balance sheet, there are numerous exceptions to this.

German commercial and tax accounting law

Activation obligation

The annual financial statements of a company must contain all assets, unless otherwise stipulated by law. Goodwill acquired against payment must also be capitalized ( Section 246 (1) sentence 4 HGB). Likewise, unfinished systems such as systems under construction are to be capitalized ( Section 266 (2) No. A II No. 4 HGB).

Activation ban

Original (self-created) goodwill , self-created brands, printed titles, publishing rights, customer lists or comparable intangible assets ( Section 248 (2) sentence 2 HGB) may not be capitalized . Furthermore, expenses may not be capitalized

The commercial law activation ban also applies to the tax balance sheet ( principle of relevance ).

Activation option

Activation may take place in the following cases, but it does not have to be done.

  • Internally generated intangible fixed assets can be included as assets in the balance sheet ( Section 248 (2) sentence 1 HGB).
  • There is an activation option for low-value assets . They have to be kept separately in the asset accounting , but do not have to be shown in the balance sheet, but can be written off in full in the year of acquisition ( Section 6 (2) EStG). Under commercial law there is no special regulation on low-value assets. According to the principle of materiality, the capitalization of low-value assets is not required under commercial law. The tax formation and depreciation of a compound item for low-value assets ( Section 6 (2a) EStG ) is, in the opinion of the IDW, also possible in the annual financial statements under commercial law . The immediate depreciation of assets with a useful life of no more than one year, as required by tax law, is an option under commercial law.
  • Accounting aid for deferred tax assets ( Section 274 (1) HGB) or for discount ( Section 250 (3) HGB)

In the tax balance sheet, self-created intangible assets are not recognized as economic goods , so that the principle of relevance due to Section 5 (2) EStG does not apply.

International Financial Reporting Standards

Activation obligation

The definition of assets in IFRS is broader than that in German commercial accounting law, so that items that do not meet the definition of an asset in the HGB can also be capitalized. An asset can and must be recognized if the abstract and specific recognition criteria are met. In contrast to German accounting law, the economic benefit inherent in an asset is the decisive capitalization criterion for the company under IFRS.

Activation option

According to the intention of the IASB, IFRS financial statements should only fulfill an information function. Approach options would impair the information function, as they disrupt the inter-company comparability of annual financial statements. There are therefore no open capitalization options in IFRS. If a position meets the abstract and concrete criteria, it must be activated, otherwise it does not take place.

In the literature, however, it is largely assumed that, according to IAS 38, there is a factual option to apply development costs , since the question of whether the specific recognition criteria of the standard are to be regarded as being met is largely at the discretion of the accounting party.

Activation ban

If the abstract and / or specific criteria are not met, there is an activation ban. In some cases this is specified in more concrete terms by the standard setter: IAS 38 prohibits the capitalization of internally generated research services (38.53); the original goodwill (IAS 38.40) may not be capitalized, nor may sales costs, self-made brands, printed titles, publishing rights and customer lists (IAS 38.10, 38.48, 38.54, 38.63).

See also


  • Adolf G. Coenenberg: Annual accounts and analysis of the annual accounts. 21st edition, Stuttgart, 2009.

Individual evidence

  1. IDW specialist news. No. 10/2007, p. 506.
  2. Kozikowski, Roscher, Schramm: Beck'scher balance sheet commentary . 7th edition, § 253 marginal number 275.
  3. ^ Adolf G. Coenenberg: Annual accounts and analysis of the annual accounts. 21st edition, Stuttgart, 2009, p. 186.