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Navigating Manufacturing Costs: Understanding Actual Overhead vs Applied Overhead

Actual Overhead vs. Applied Overhead: Understanding the Costs of ManufacturingIn the world of manufacturing, understanding and effectively managing costs is crucial to the success of any business.

Two key terms that often come up in discussions about manufacturing costs are actual overhead and applied overhead. These terms refer to different aspects of indirect manufacturing costs, and it’s important to understand their definitions and how they are calculated.

In this article, we will delve into the definitions of actual overhead and applied overhead, provide examples for each, and explain their significance in the world of manufacturing.

Actual Overhead

Definition of Actual Overhead

Actual overhead refers to the total of all indirect manufacturing costs that a company incurs during the production process. These costs are not directly tied to a specific product but are necessary for the overall functioning of the manufacturing facility.

Actual overhead includes expenses such as electricity, natural gas, depreciation, repairs, maintenance, salaries, and benefits for non-production employees.

Examples of Actual Overhead

Let’s take a closer look at some examples of actual overhead costs:

1. Electricity: Manufacturing facilities rely heavily on electricity to power machinery, lighting, and other essential equipment.

The cost of electricity contributes to the total actual overhead. 2.

Natural Gas: Some manufacturing processes require the use of natural gas for heating purposes. The cost of natural gas usage is included in the actual overhead.

3. Depreciation: Over time, the value of machinery and equipment decreases due to regular wear and tear.

Depreciation expenses account for the decrease in value over the lifespan of these assets. 4.

Repairs and Maintenance: Regular maintenance and occasional repairs are necessary to keep the manufacturing equipment operating efficiently. The costs associated with repairs and maintenance are part of the actual overhead.

5. Salaries and Benefits: Non-production employees, such as administrative staff and supervisors, contribute to the overall functioning of the manufacturing facility.

Their salaries and benefits are considered part of the actual overhead.

Applied Overhead

Definition of Applied Overhead

Applied overhead refers to the indirect manufacturing costs that are allocated to specific products based on a predetermined overhead rate. This rate is calculated by dividing the estimated total overhead costs by an allocated measure of activity, such as production machine hours or direct labor hours.

Applied overhead allows businesses to assign a portion of the total overhead costs to each product to determine its true cost.

Example of Applied Overhead

To better understand applied overhead, let’s consider the following example:

A manufacturing company estimates its total overhead costs for a specific period to be $200,000. During the same period, the company estimates its production machine hours to be 10,000.

Dividing the total overhead costs by the allocated measure of activity, the predetermined overhead rate would be $20 per machine hour. If Product A requires 5 machine hours to produce, the applied overhead allocated to Product A would be $100 (5 machine hours x $20 per machine hour).

However, it’s important to note that the applied overhead is not always equal to the actual overhead. Differences can arise due to a variety of factors, such as unexpected changes in the production process or fluctuations in the actual costs of overhead items.

By understanding the concepts of actual overhead and applied overhead, manufacturers can gain valuable insights into the true costs of their products. This knowledge helps them make informed decisions regarding pricing strategies, cost control measures, and resource allocation.


Understanding and managing manufacturing costs is a crucial aspect of running a successful business. Actual overhead and applied overhead are two key concepts that aid in calculating and allocating indirect manufacturing costs.

By accurately determining the actual overhead and applying it to specific products through predetermined overhead rates, manufacturers can make informed business decisions and have a better understanding of the real costs associated with their production processes. Understanding manufacturing costs is crucial for businesses, and two key concepts in this realm are actual overhead and applied overhead.

Actual overhead refers to the total indirect manufacturing costs incurred, including expenses like electricity, natural gas, depreciation, repairs, maintenance, salaries, and benefits. Applied overhead, on the other hand, is the allocation of indirect costs to specific products based on a predetermined rate.

This helps determine the true cost of each product. By grasping these concepts, manufacturers can make informed decisions related to pricing, cost control, and resource allocation.

It is essential for businesses to accurately calculate and allocate overhead costs to have a comprehensive understanding of their production processes and to ensure financial success.

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