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Comparing Implicit and Explicit Costs

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 11/7/2010

An understanding of implicit and explicit costs is important to determine the actual costs of an endeavor or to determine actual profits. Read on to learn more about the major differences.

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    Implicit vs Explicit Cost When comparing implicit vs. explicit cost, explicit costs or direct costs are payments for the purchase of productive resources. Such costs are clear and require tangible cash outflow or outlay of money that has a direct impact on profits. Examples include wages, rents, raw materials, and utility bills. Implicit costs, also known as imputed cost, implied cost, or notional cost, denotes the opportunity cost, or the lost opportunities when using the available resources for the particular purpose. Such costs remain intangible, with no direct cash outlay or outflow. Examples include the value of an entrepreneur’s labor, possible interest, or best alternative returns for the capital invested in business.

    Image Credit: Steeds

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    A Few Quick Examples

    Explicit costs are expenses directly incurred for any purpose. Implicit costs are costs that result from using an asset instead of renting, selling, or lending it, or forgoing income by choosing not to work. Such costs are associated with a trade off, and equivalent to the returns any resources would generate if utilized for some other purpose.

    Most commercial transactions include instances of implicit costs and explicit costs.

    All entrepreneurs embarking on a business foregos wages they could have received if they took up employment. The possible wage becomes a major implicit cost of the entrepreneur’s business. The amount invested in the business is direct cost, but the potential return from this amount invested, in an alternative, stream is implicit cost.

    An employee traveling on vacation incurs explicit costs such as cost of flight tickets, cost of hotel room, and the like. The wages the employee would have got if he or she did not take the vacation is the implicit cost of the vacation.

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    Accounting Profit Vs. Economic Profit

    The major application of the difference between implicit cost vs. explicit cost lies in the determination of economic profit as opposed to accounting profit.

    Bookkeeping or accounting considers only the explicit or direct costs when determining the profit and loss of a business, and this forms the basis for tax calculations. The economic costs of production, however, includes both explicit and implicit costs. While the company might show profit in accounting books, economic profit occurs only when the company’s revenue exceeds both explicit and implicit costs.

    For instance, a business with gross sales of $1,000,000 annually with 20 percent or $200,000 in profits, and $150,000 in overhead expenses including rent and salaries might apparently seem to make a profit of $50,000. This simple calculation does not consider implicit costs. For instance, the entrepreneur might devote time for the business and thereby forego a salary of $ 70,000 annually. Similarly, the business might have a start up capital of $100,000, which if invested in a fixed deposit yield at a 10 percent interest rate would result in $10,000. The depreciation of capital assets for a year may be another $10,000. The total implicit costs thus come to $70,000 + $10,000 + $10,000 = $90000. Subtracting this implicit cost of $90,000 from the accounting profit of $50,000 means that the company actually makes a loss of $40,000 for the year in this example.

    Some entrepreneurs trade-off the opportunity cost of a lost salary for implicit revenue such as psychic income that refers to non-monetary satisfaction gained from operating the business instead of working as an employee.

    Considering the implicit costs helps to make effective business decisions. For instance, a company occupying an expensive piece of real estate worth $10,000 a month in rent, but bought for a mere $50 a hundred years ago, needs to make profits above $10,000 a month to cover the implicit costs and justify operating from the plot. Failure to realize $10,000 in profits means that the company should ideally relocate to a lesser expensive premises or shut up shop and rent instead. In this case, the direct cost of $50 for the plot becomes a big distorter.

    Explicit costs are easy to find and account. Implicit costs remain hidden, are hard to find, and very often remain overlooked. Companies that do so, and factor implicit costs into their decisions, generally retain the resources they have and attract additional resources such as land, labor, and capital. Companies who ignore implicit costs and consider only direct costs find that despite their accounting books showing a profit, they tend to lose resources and face constraints.

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    1. Byrns, Ralph. “Profit."
    2. East Tennessee State University. "Explicit and Implicit Costs."
    3. Lipsey, Richard G. (1975). "An introduction to positive economics (fourth ed.)." Weidenfeld & Nicolson.