Step Variable Cost: Definition, Understanding, Examples

If the business operating the plant wants to increase production, it has to secure extra space to accommodate the increase. For example, think of a production plant that is already operating at maximum capacity. For example, a manufacturer will want to know how its costs will increase if a new product line is added (or how costs could decrease if an existing product line is eliminated).

This new level of step cost will continue until yet another shift must be added, at which point the company will incur another step cost for the shift supervisor for the night shift. For example, a cost can be say $100 up to 500units, increase to $185 for 501 to 1,000 units and to $260 if output crosses 1,000 units. The cost with such a pattern of increase would be classified as step variable cost. Step costs is an essential consideration for a business concern when it is on the verge of approaching a higher level of business activity.

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The decrease in costs may be greater than the decrease in profits, which leads to a net increase in profits. The business has to bear the full cost of renting or acquiring a new plan just to accommodate the additional 1,000 units. To do so, the business has to either rent or acquire a new plant, with both options carrying additional costs.

When activity levels drop below a predetermined threshold, management may need to step down just as much as they may need to step up costs. In such circumstances, management may decide to lower or do away with the related step fixed cost. Maintenance costs will thus increase with every 10,000 unit increase in production levels.

  • From previous posts, you know what a fixed cost is.  There is another type of fixed cost called a step (or stepped) fixed cost.
  • It wouldn’t need this extra source of revenue if it was already profitable, but it’s nowhere close.
  • As was demonstrated above, purchasing an additional machine would result in the business losing money.
  • In community property states (and for assets in community property trusts) the surviving spouse receives a step-up in basis for community property.
  • In such a situation, it may be more cost-effective for the employer to offer overtime to the existing staff than to pay the more substantial cost of a new hire.

Because the production line is at full capacity, the company must add another shift to manufacture 401 units to 800 units. Businesses need to be wary of step costs, especially when they are about to breach a threshold (reaching a higher level of activity than the maximum capacity). In community property states (and for assets in community property trusts) the surviving spouse receives a step-up in basis for community property. The company may need to “step down” on costs if activity levels decline due to a drop in demand or production. A larger increase in expenses could overshadow the increase in revenue. If revenue is sufficient to cover the higher cost and provide an acceptable return, it might make sense to incur higher step costs.

What is a Step-Wise Cost?

One way to identify fixed and step costs is to use a scatter diagram, which plots the total cost against the output or activity level. A fixed cost will appear as a horizontal line, while a step cost will appear as a series of horizontal lines with vertical jumps at each step. A fixed cost will have a zero or very low variable cost per unit, while a step cost will have a positive but constant variable cost per unit within each step.

And that’s not even considering other costs such as materials, labor, utility, and maintenance costs. You manage a call center that handles customer service inquiries for a tech riding a bicycle or e company. Each call center representative (CSR) can handle up to 500 calls a month. Due to workspace constraints, each of your office locations can accommodate up to 10 CSRs.

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Following the doubling of the federal estate tax exemption in 2017, a modern-era record-low 0.04% of adult deaths in 2020 produced an estate tax liability. The step-up in basis tax provision has often been criticized as a tax loophole for the wealthiest families. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated nearly half the aggregate benefit accrues to the top 5% of taxpayers by income. In 2020, the CBO estimated the provision’s cost in foregone tax revenues at $110 billion over a 10-year period.


To return to the example, this means that the QA person could be more efficient or work somewhat longer hours in order to avoid incurring the large incremental cost of an additional person. In such a situation, it may be more cost-effective for the employer to offer overtime to the existing staff than to pay the more substantial cost of a new hire. Companies that must produce more products than they can with their current configuration incur step costs from expansion. For example, a company that produces computer monitors might have the machinery, production staff and work space to make 5,000 monitors per year. If the company receives a contract to produce 10,000 monitors per year for five years for a major retail company, the company will incur step costs to meet the production load.

Conversely, a truly variable cost will vary continually and directly in concert with the level of activity. Any cost that does not change, regardless of changes in production, is a fixed cost, explains the Corporate Finance Institute. Fixed costs are not affected in any way by changes in production, revenue or expenses.

The salary of a shop floor supervisor in a production department overseeing 1,500-2,000 units produced daily is an example of this concept. After the company starts producing more than 65,000 units, two supervisors will not be able to keep up with the production volume. The outcome of these decisions will likely be alterations to the budget model, to accept some step costs and avoid others. This process is a key part of the budgeting procedure, to ensure that a workable budget model is created that meshes with a company’s cash resources. For instance, when production slows down, it might be necessary to let go of some employees in order to reduce labor costs.

In light of this, a choice is made regarding whether it is practical to advance to the subsequent activity level. The company would become much less profitable if it bought a second machine that would only bring in money from the sale of 50 more pens. Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets. Adam received his master’s in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology.

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