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Direct Cost

What is a direct cost?

Direct cost is a term used in accounting to describe any expense directly linked to a specific cost object. A cost object is anything that has a measurable cost, such as a product, service, activity, or contract. Direct costs are related and caused by a cost object.

To understand direct cost better, it is helpful to compare it with indirect cost, another type of expense that cannot be directly linked to a specific cost object. Multiple projects usually share indirect costs or support a business's overall operations. For example, the rent of a factory is an indirect cost because it cannot be traced to a particular product or service. Direct costs are often easier to identify and allocate than indirect costs.

Direct Cost Explained

Direct costs can be either fixed or variable, depending on whether they change with the level of output or activity. For example, direct labor is usually a variable cost because it depends on how many workers are needed and how many hours they work. However, some direct costs can be fixed, such as the depreciation of machinery or equipment that is used exclusively for a specific project.

Direct costs are essential for financial modeling and managerial accounting because they help managers and entrepreneurs make sound business decisions. By knowing the direct costs of each product or service, they can calculate the contribution margin, which is the difference between the selling price and the direct costs. The contribution margin shows how much each product or service contributes to covering the fixed costs and generating profit. Direct costs can also be used to determine the break-even point, which is the level of sales that covers all the costs and results in zero profit or loss.


Some Examples of Direct Cost

  • Direct labor: The wages and benefits of the workers who directly produce or provide the goods or services.

  • Direct materials: The raw materials and components used to make the goods or services.

  • Manufacturing supplies: The consumable items used in the production process, such as lubricants, tools, and packaging materials.

  • Wages for the production staff: The salaries and benefits of the managers and supervisors who oversee the production process.