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A company uses a predetermined overhead rate to allocate overhead costs to the costs of products. Indirect costs are estimated, a cost driver is selected, cost driver activity is estimated, and then indirect costs are applied to production output based on a formula using these data.

For example, imagine a company that makes widgets. In order to make the widgets, the production process requires raw material inputs and direct labor. These two factors comprise part of the cost of producing each widget; however, ignoring overhead costs, such as rent, utilities, and administrative expenses that indirectly contribute to the production process, would result in underestimating the cost of each widget. Therefore overhead costs are allocated to production output via predetermined overhead rates, or rates that determine how much of the overhead costs are applied to each unit of production output.

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Traditional costing systems apply indirect costs to products based on a predetermined overhead rate. Unlike ABC, traditional costing systems treat overhead costs as a single pool of indirect costs. Traditional costing is optimal when indirect costs are low compared to direct costs. There are several steps for computing the predetermined overhead rate in the traditional costing process, including the following:

1. Identify indirect costs.
2. Estimate indirect costs for the appropriate period (month, quarter, year).
3. Choose a cost-driver with a causal link to the cost (labor hours, machine hours).
4. Estimate an amount for the cost-driver for the appropriate period (labor hours per quarter, etc.).
5. Compute the predetermined overhead rate (see below).

First, use the following formula to calculate overhead rate.

See the following calculation example:

\$30/labor hr = \$360,000 indirect costs / 12,000 hours of direct labor

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