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An asset is a term used by the Commercial Code , in specialist literature and in case law , which includes all material and immaterial items and rights that can be accounted for .


This general definition is not further specified in the Commercial Code . In any case, an asset is one

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.

Asset / economic good

In accordance with the principle of completeness in Section 246 (1) of the German Commercial Code ( HGB) , the balance sheet must include all assets and debts to which the merchant is legally entitled and / or economically attributable. This principle is intended to prevent assets or debts from being fully accounted for and thereby violating the creditor protection principle . At the same time, however, it must be ensured that assets are not accounted for that cannot serve the creditors as debt coverage potential. An asset must be such that its realization helps a creditor to repay his claims. The HGB does not define the term “asset”. The term “asset” largely corresponds to the term “ asset” in tax law.

Since only the capitalization of assets is permitted, it must be checked whether a good can be classified as an asset. The differentiation is not always easy in individual cases, as the allocation of certain production costs shows. While the production costs attributable to the development phase can be capitalized (Section 248 (2) HGB), the production costs attributable to the research phase may not be capitalized ( Section 255 (2) sentence 4, para. 2a HGB).

Assets are classified as assets that can be capitalized and accounted for if they cumulatively meet the following principles:

Asset principle

The asset principle is derived from the principle of economic perspective, which requires that the interpretation of the definition of assets under accounting law is not formal, but economic. An asset to be accounted for is therefore present if there is an asset or an "economically exploitable asset".

Example: A bad debt does not meet the asset principle, even though it is a right, since it does not represent an economically exploitable asset due to its bad debt. Intangible goods without legal protection - i.e. purely economic goods - on the other hand, can meet the requirements for a positive asset if they are suitable for generating income surpluses in the future.

Obviously, however, the principle of economic perspective is relatively fuzzy, which is why the sub-principles of the asset principle - the purchaser fiction principle, the principle of company-specific benefit and the principle of longer-term benefit - are used to specify the overriding asset principle. If these sub-principles are met cumulatively, there is an asset, but not necessarily an asset to be accounted for.

Acquirer fiction principle

The purchaser fiction principle uses the fictitious situation that someone wants to sell the supposed asset value to a fictitious buyer in a fictitious market. The purchaser fiction principle is deemed to have been met if a "third party would take this object into account in the course of determining the purchase price if the company continued as a going concern". The aim is to clarify whether the alleged asset under consideration represents an asset value only from the subjective point of view of the owner or owner or whether the alleged asset also represents an asset asset from the objective perspective of the market, so that the fictitious acquirer would be prepared for to pay extra money for this asset.

Principle of company-specific benefit

The principle of company-specific benefit binds the benefit of the thing to the company and the accounting clerk. A pecuniary advantage is therefore given if the alleged asset only provides an economic benefit for this one commercial operation, but not for third parties.

Principle of long-term benefit

The principle of long-term use requires the sustainability of the asset for the existence of an asset to be accounted for. This sustainability is given when its benefits extend over several business years.

Tangibility principle

Because not every pecuniary advantage is an asset to be accounted for, the principle of prudence must be used to objectify the pecuniary advantage. Objectification criteria are the principle of tangibility and the principle of independent assessability.

The tangibility principle requires that one can separate the asset value from the goodwill; the asset value must not be inextricably linked with the goodwill. The BFH sets up a presumption of typification that automatically assigns tangibility to things and rights, but automatically denies tangibility to purely economic goods. This presumption of typification, chosen for reasons of simplification, can be refuted:

Example: An uncollectible receivable would be considered tangible, but cannot be separated from goodwill because it is worthless and therefore does not meet the tangibility principle. The same applies to a worthless machine that fulfills the BFH's presumption of typification as a thing, but cannot be separated from goodwill due to its worthlessness and is therefore not tangible.

Due to the vagueness of the presumption of typification, the principle of transferability and the principle of inalienability are used here as well. For example, purely economic goods that do not meet the presumption of typification can also be tangible if they cumulatively meet the sub-principles of the principle of tangibility.

Transferability Principle

An asset is tangible when it is transferable with the entire company. It does not matter whether the asset can be sold individually or can only be transferred together with the rest of the company.

Principle of inalienability

An asset is tangible when it is inalienable. In this case, however, the factual inalienability is sufficient; this inalienability is limited to the fact that the asset is economically secured in such a way that there is no arbitrary withdrawability.

Independent usability

An asset is tangible when it can be used independently . According to this, an asset must represent an economically usable potential to cover the company's debts. An independent usability exists when an asset

can be transformed into money .

Principle of independent assessability

The principle of independent assessability follows from the individual assessment principle in accordance with Section 252 (1) No. 3 HGB, which requires that the company's assets and debts must be assessed individually on the reporting date . The principle goes beyond the tangibility principle and is not only interested in the fundamental separability of the asset from goodwill, but also in its separability from goodwill in terms of amount; So it's about a definable assessment. It can be tangible without being able to be independently assessed, but an asset can just as easily be independently assessable without being tangible. If an asset is not tangible and / or cannot be assessed independently, it is absorbed in the goodwill, since it cannot be separated from it or delimited. In the past, case law has spoken out in favor of a more extensive concept of independent assessability. As a result, it is sufficient if value assignments can be estimated , whereby an estimate at hand is often sufficient. This was the case, for example, in a ruling by the BFH in which an assumed useful life of a representative district was assessed as an asset that could be capitalized by the representative.

Classification of the assets

The assets essentially comprise the fixed and current assets on the assets side of the balance sheet .

There are tangible and intangible assets . Since the modernization of accounting law in 2009, there has been an option to capitalize the production costs of internally generated intangible fixed assets ( Section 248 (2) sentence 1 HGB). Intangible assets can also be physically tangible. They are considered immaterial because their physical component only has a carrier function (e.g. the CD on which the software is stored). The physical component of material assets has an independent meaning (the blank CD used to describe it ).

Intangible assets that cannot be capitalized are self-created brands, printed titles, publishing rights, customer lists or comparable intangible fixed assets. The reason for this is the lack of independent assessability.

Attribution of assets

Principle of economic ownership

This principle regulates the attribution of an asset to the assets of the businessman with the help of the principles of proper accounting . According to Section 242 (1) of the German Commercial Code (HGB), a merchant has to show “his” assets. However, it is neither necessary nor sufficient for an asset to be the property of the merchant under civil law. Regardless of this, the civil law property or the respective civil law structure plays a role in the attribution according to the principle of economic affiliation, as the following applies: "[I] If an asset is not economically attributable to the owner but to another, the latter must show it in his balance sheet. “( Section 246, Paragraph 1, Sentence 2 of the German Commercial Code). The balancing party, d. H. the person who ultimately has to list the asset in his balance sheet is determined to be the one who has and receives “substance and income completely and permanently” in relation to the asset.

Principle of determining the profit on an accrual basis

In addition, the realization principle , which is expressed as the principle of determining the success of the period, stipulates that expenses incurred for assets must be capitalized. Because the asset is subject to scheduled depreciation in future periods, future income from the asset is allocated to the expenses that were necessary to bring the asset to the state in which it generates income. If the merchant bears investment risks and opportunities of the asset with his assets, he must anticipate the expected impairment in accordance with the imparity principle . If the asset is assigned to the merchant's assets, this enables any necessary unscheduled depreciation.

Introduction of the municipal double rate

With the introduction of the communal double- entry system and commercial accounting in communal budgets, the term asset acquired a greater meaning there. In municipal budgets there was no room for assets and debts on a cameralist basis. When the first opening balance sheets were drawn up, many questions of demarcation became apparent, for which the commercial regulations could only be used to a limited extent. As a rule, a businessman is not in a position to have to account for parks or cultural monuments. The solutions found in practice meant that the financial situation of the municipalities and states was not always presented in a comparable manner, which was one of the goals of the new accounting system.

Definition according to IAS / IFRS

The IAS / IFRS use, unlike the German Commercial Code, not the term of the asset, but the asset. According to the framework (F.49a), an asset is a

  • due to an event in the past
  • resource under the control of the accounting unit,
  • from which future economic benefits arise.

To the assets can


Definition according to the Swiss Code of Obligations

The Swiss Code of Obligations (Art. 959) adopts a definition of the concept of wealth based on international accounting standards. It reads: “Assets must be recognized as assets if they can be disposed of based on past events, an inflow of funds is probable and their value can be reliably estimated. Other assets may not be accounted for. "

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  1. Bundestag printed paper 16/10067 of July 30, 2008, p. 47
  2. BFH judgments of February 26, 1975 IR 72/73, BFHE 115, 243, BStBl. II 1976, p. 13; dated December 6, 1978 IR 35/78, BFHE 126, 549, BStBl. II 1979, 262
  3. Bundestag printed paper 16/10067 of July 30, 2008, p. 50
  4. BFH judgment of 23 May 1984, IR 266/81
  5. ^ BFH judgment of July 9, 1986, IR 218/82
  6. BFH judgment of January 18, 1989 XR 10/86


  • Wüstemann, Jens : Accounting Case by Case , 3rd edition, 2009, Verlag Recht und Wirtschaft, Frankfurt am Main.