What is Standard Cost Accounting?
Standard costing is an important subtopic of cost accounting. Standard costs are usually associated with a manufacturing company’s costs of direct material, direct labor, and manufacturing overhead.
Rather than assigning the actual costs of direct material, direct labor, and manufacturing overhead to a product, many manufacturers assign the expected or standard cost.
This means that a manufacturer’s inventories and cost of goods sold will begin with amounts reflecting the standard costs, not the actual costs, of a product.
Manufacturers, of course, still have to pay the actual costs. As a result there are almost always differences between the actual costs and the standard costs, and those differences are known as variances.
Standard costing and the related variances is a valuable management tool. If a variance arises, management becomes aware that manufacturing costs have differed from the standard (planned, expected) costs.
- If actual costs are greater than standard costs the variance is unfavorable. An unfavorable variance tells management that if everything else stays constant the company’s actual profit will be less than planned.
- If actual costs are less than standard costs the variance is favorable. A favorable variance tells management that if everything else stays constant the actual profit will likely exceed the planned profit.
Advantages of Standard Costing in Determining the Estimates
Though most companies do not use standard costing in its original application of calculating the cost of ending inventory, it is still useful for a number of other applications.
In most cases, users are probably not even aware that they are using standard costing, only that they are using an approximation of actual costs. Here are some potential uses:
Budgeting may be defined as the process of preparing plans for future activities of the business enterprise after considering and involving the objectives of the said organisation. This also provides process/steps of collection and preparation of data, by which deviations from the plan can be measured. This analysis helps to measure performance, cost estimation, minimizing wastage and better utilization of resources of the organization.
A standard cost system provides easier inventory valuation than an actual cost system. Under an actual cost system, unit costs for batches of identical products may differ widely. For example, this variation can occur because of a machine malfunction during the production of a given batch that increases the labor and overhead charged to that batch. Under a standard cost system, the company would not include such unusual costs in inventory. Rather, it would charge these excess costs to variance accounts after comparing actual costs to standard costs.
If it takes too long to aggregate actual costs into cost pools for allocation to inventory, then you may use a standard overhead application rate instead, and adjust this rate every few months to keep it close to actual costs.
If a company deals with custom products, then it uses standard costs to compile the projected cost of a customer’s requirements, after which it adds a margin. This may be quite a complex system, where the sales department uses a database of component costs that change depending upon the unit quantity that the customer wants to order. This system may also account for changes in the company’s production costs at different volume levels, since this may call for the use of longer production runs that are less expensive.
Problems with Standard Costing
Despite the advantages just noted for some applications of standard costing, there are substantially more situations where it is not a viable costing system. Here are some problem areas:
If you have a contract with a customer under which the customer pays you for your costs incurred, plus a profit (known as a cost-plus contract), then you must use actual costs, as per the terms of the contract. Standard costing is not allowed.
Drives inappropriate activities
A number of the variances reported under a standard costing system will drive management to take incorrect actions to create favorable variances. For example, they may buy raw materials in larger quantities in order to improve the purchase price variance, even though this increases the investment in inventory. Similarly, management may schedule longer production runs in order to improve the labor efficiency variance, even though it is better to produce in smaller quantities and accept less labor efficiency in exchange.
A standard costing system assumes that costs is not variable in the future, so that you can rely on standards for a number of months or even a year, before updating the costs. However, in an environment where product lives are short or continuous improvement is driving down costs, a standard cost may become out-of-date within a month or two.
A complex system of variance calculations is an integral part of a standard costing system, which the accounting staff completes at the end of each reporting period. If the production department is focused on immediate feedback of problems for instant correction, the reporting of these variances is much too late to be useful.
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