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Overhead costs (including overhead costs ) are in the business administration costs that a cost units (eg. As a marketable product or service can not be directly attributed).

Together with the individual costs , they result in the total costs of a product in cost unit time accounting . Both "direct costs" and "overhead costs" are terms from full cost accounting .

Overhead costs in terms of cost unit accounting

Overhead costs in the sense of cost unit accounting are all costs incurred in the company that cannot be directly assigned to the cost unit. This means that overhead costs reflect general resources that are required for the manufacturing process. In a multi-product company, for example, this includes costs for buildings and for generally required machines. Wages and salaries are included if they cannot be directly assigned to the product. Typical for this are salaries and wages that arise in administration or in the warehouse. The overhead costs also include the costs of energy supply, if these cannot be directly assigned to the product (e.g. for space heating and lighting), and insurance, contributions to associations or non-profit taxes (e.g. property tax).

Overhead costs in terms of cost center accounting

To control overhead costs, one usually uses the cost center accounting , which shows the costs according to areas of responsibility, as well as the internal cost allocation between the cost centers . Internal orders, for example for maintenance or projects, are also integrated into cost center accounting. Both primary costs (costs for externally purchased services) and secondary costs that arise from the internal cost allocation are posted to the individual cost centers . The costs that are not related to the output of the cost center are called cost center overheads. If, on the other hand, the costs are directly dependent on the output of the cost center, one speaks of cost center direct costs.

Overhead accounting method

Since overhead costs cannot be assigned directly to a product , various upstream accounting methods are used in cost accounting to collect and allocate costs. These procedures range from a percentage surcharge calculation to the determination of charging rates for individual systems or cost centers with the help of an operating accounting sheet to process costing .

Spurious overheads

In theory, spurious overhead costs can be recorded as individual costs and allocated to an individual product or cost unit. For reasons of economy, however, the individual recording is not done and these costs are coded as a lump sum. In particular, costs for operating materials (gas, water) and auxiliary materials (lubricants and cleaning agents) are often spurious overheads. Take screws as an example: you could record each screw individually in a parts list and book it when it is used, but in many cases the effort involved in the procedure is out of all proportion to the benefit.

Exception: In the case of (large) series production, the booking of individual screws (part of parts lists, in English BOM, bill of material) is important, as otherwise the material disposition and the procurement, including screws, are inadequate and not cost-effective can.

Examples: license fees, agent commission, electricity costs.


  • Miklós Sirokay: The problem of the imputability of overhead costs , Berlin 2007.