A Small Business Guide to Cost Centers

For example, the patient relations center at a large hospital would be considered a cost center, since its purpose is to maintain good relationships with patients. While this is an important task that can indirectly increase revenue by keeping patients happy, the patient relations center does not earn a profit. Cost centers can also be divided into operation cost centers and process cost centers, as well as personal cost centers and impersonal cost centers. Cost centers enable a precise understanding of where costs are incurred within an organization. By assigning costs to specific departments or functions, managers can gain insights into how resources are utilized, enhancing budgeting and planning processes. A profit center is a reporting unit of a business that is responsible for profits generated.

While this cost center may handle revenue, it also handles financial statement analysis, serves as a resource costing area, and handles taxes. A good finance and accounting department also assesses sales trends, reviews different pricing strategies, and reviews changes in the industry. The manager and employees of a cost center are responsible for its costs but are not directly responsible for revenues or investment decisions.

A cost center is a division of a company whose primary purpose is to incur costs, while a profit center is a division of a company whose primary purpose is to generate profits. Cost centers typically include departments such as accounting, human resources, and marketing. Profit centers typically include divisions such as sales, operations, and product development. A cost center is a business unit that is only responsible for the costs that it incurs. The manager of a cost center is not responsible for revenue generation or asset usage. The performance of a cost center is usually evaluated through the comparison of budgeted to actual costs.

Another difference is that cost centers tend to be organizationally simple, while profit centers are more likely to have a complex structure. Both concepts are used in a business where senior management wants to drive responsibility down into the organization. Cost centers are not just about numbers; they’re about strategy, efficiency, and driving profitability.

What Is a Cost Unit?

Read on to learn about how cost centers work and why they’re beneficial to your business. A good example is a custodian or IT person who’s on your company’s payroll but doesn’t contribute to marketing or sales strategies. Again, these people may not be nurturing leads and closing deals but they’re just as important as any other employee.

The term “cost center” is used in managerial accounting to describe a part of the business where costs are incurred. Cost centers are often grouped together so that managers can see where the majority of the company’s expenses are being incurred. For example, all of the company’s manufacturing costs may be grouped into one cost center, while all of the sales and marketing expenses may be grouped into another.

  • In fact, most of the time you only really notice the offensive line when things go wrong and the defense ends up sacking the quarterback or blowing up the play.
  • In many cases, these departments often take away a company’s production capacity because they tie up resources that could be used on the factory and production floor.
  • For instance, the cost unit of steel is naturally ascertained in terms of per ton.
  • Cost centers can also reveal areas where deficits exist, and additional resources are required.

A cost center, such as a production or profit center, has a budget that needs to be managed. A billing team doesn’t directly generate revenue for your business, but it’s still needed for your company to function properly. Without it, customers wouldn’t know where to submit payments and your business wouldn’t have a formal way of collecting them. The management focus in a cost center is usually on keeping expenditures down to a minimum level, possibly by using outsourcing, automation, or capping pay levels. The main exception is when a cost center indirectly contributes to profitability (such as R&D), in which case a certain minimum expenditure level will be needed to support sales. It helps manage expenses and keep track of costs, which helps the business make smart money choices.

What Is a Cost Center?

A profit center is a branch or division of a company that directly adds or is expected to add to the entire organization’s bottom line. It is treated as a separate, standalone business, responsible for generating its revenues and earnings. Its profits and losses are calculated separately from other areas of the business. Payroll must be processed when it’s due, taxes must annual report definition be paid, and company performance must be regularly analyzed to keep expenses to a minimum while maximizing revenue. That’s why the accounting and finance cost center is so important to Debra’s business. Even though your customer service department costs money rather than makes money, it also settles disputes, solves problems, and essentially keeps your customers happy.


Overall, cost centers help organizations keep track of their spending and make informed decisions about where to allocate resources. The concept of a profit center is a framework to facilitate optimal resource allocation and profitability. To optimize profits, management may decide to allocate more resources to highly profitable areas while reducing allocations to less profitable or loss-inducing units. In most larger businesses, cost centers are a necessity, providing added value to a business. While they’re not designed to make a profit, they do enhance the profitability of a company by providing these benefits.

Overview: What is a cost center?

This means service departments that interact with customers can prioritize the service they deliver and not need to worry about the financial implications of needing to generate a profit. A service cost center groups individuals based on their function and may more closely refine the costs within a department. For instance, a company may feel an IT department is too large of a cost center and may want to break out employees by more dedicated services. Companies may opt to include or exclude the costs necessary for the service cost center to be successful. A cost center indirectly contributes to business profit, while profit centers exist to earn revenue.

Both aren’t a good look for your business and can end up costing you sales over time. Mary Girsch-Bock is the expert on accounting software and payroll software for The Ascent. Someone on our team will connect you with a financial professional in our network holding the correct designation and expertise. Our writing and editorial staff are a team of experts holding advanced financial designations and have written for most major financial media publications. Our work has been directly cited by organizations including Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Investopedia, Forbes, CNBC, and many others. We follow strict ethical journalism practices, which includes presenting unbiased information and citing reliable, attributed resources.

These examples underline the practical application and benefits of cost centers, especially when supported by an advanced accounting solution like Wafeq. Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, Wafeq’s features can tailor the management of cost centers to your specific needs. Customer service teams are one of the most common examples of cost centers because it’s their primary responsibility to ensure customer delight. These teams work closely with customers every day and make sure people are satisfied with their purchases. If a problem comes up, the service team is responsible for making sure the customer is happy and willing to return for another purchase.

Cost center management is a vital aspect of modern business, enabling more precise control and understanding of expenses. From understanding its definition and types to grasping the benefits, challenges, and methods of implementation, a detailed view of cost centers brings clarity to financial operations. Wafeq, as a comprehensive accounting solution, stands out in supporting cost center management with ease and efficiency. Its real-time tracking, flexibility, and robust features can be a game-changer for any business, big or small. Cost centers come in handy here because adding their expenses together makes it easy to calculate total costs for your business.

Cost centers may not generate immediate revenue, but they do improve customer experience over time. An investment center is a section of a company that helps the company make money by using its money wisely. This center’s performance is usually judged by how much money is earned through capital (money used for investments).

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