For financial accounting purposes, product costs include all costs involved in acquiring or making a product. In the case of manufactured goods, these costs consist of direct materials, direct labor, and manufacturing overhead.1 Product costs “attach” to units of product as the goods are purchased or manufactured, and they remain attached as the goods go into inventory awaiting sale. Product costs are initially assigned to an inventory account on the balance sheet. When the goods are sold, the costs are released from inventory as expenses (typically called cost of goods sold) and matched against sales revenue on the income statement. Because product costs are initially assigned to inventories, they are also known as inventoriable costs.
We want to emphasize that product costs are not necessarily recorded as expenses on the income statement in the period in which they are incurred. Rather, as explained above, they are recorded as expenses in the period in which the related products are sold.
Period costs are all the costs that are not product costs. All selling and administrative expenses are treated as period costs. For example, sales commissions, advertising, executive salaries, public relations, and the rental costs of administrative offices are all period costs. Period costs are not included as part of the cost of either purchased or manufactured goods; instead, period costs are expensed on the income statement in the period in which they are incurred using the usual rules of accrual accounting. Keep in mind that the period in which a cost is incurred is not necessarily the period in which cash changes hands. For example, as discussed earlier, the costs of liability insurance are spread across the periods that benefit from the insurance—regardless of the period in which the insurance premium is paid.
Prime Cost and Conversion Cost
Two more cost categories are often used in discussions of manufacturing costs—prime cost and conversion cost. Prime cost is the sum of direct materials cost and direct labor cost. Conversion cost is the sum of direct labor cost and manufacturing overhead cost. The term conversion cost is used to describe direct labor and manufacturing overhead because these costs are incurred to convert materials into the finished product.
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Manufacturing Overhead Manufacturing overhead, the third manufacturing cost category, includes all manufacturing costs except direct materials and direct labor. Manufacturing overhead includes items such as indirect materials; indirect labor; maintenance and repairs on production equipment; and heat and light, property taxes, depreciation, and insurance on manufacturing facilities. A company also incurs costs for heat and light, property taxes, insurance, depreciation, and so forth, associated with its selling and administrative functions, but these costs are not included as part of manufacturing overhead. Only those costs associated with operating the factory are included in manufacturing overhead.
Various names are used for manufacturing overhead, such as indirect manufacturing cost, factory overhead, and factory burden. All of these terms are synonyms for manufacturing overhead.
Nonmanufacturing costs are often divided into two categories: (1) selling costs and (2) administrative costs. Selling costs include all costs that are incurred to secure customer orders and get the finished product to the customer. These costs are sometimes called order-getting and order-filling costs. Examples of selling costs include advertising, shipping, sales travel, sales commissions, sales salaries, and costs of finished goods warehouses. Selling costs can be either direct or indirect costs. For example, the cost of an advertising campaign dedicated to one specific product is a direct cost of that product, whereas the salary of a marketing manager who oversees numerous products is an indirect cost with respect to individual products.
Administrative costs include all costs associated with the general management of an organization rather than with manufacturing or selling. Examples of administrative costs include executive compensation, general accounting, secretarial, public relations, and similar costs involved in the overall, general administration of the organization as a whole. Administrative costs can be either direct or indirect costs.