Explicit versus Implicit Costs

Explicit costs take a monetary form and implicit costs take a nonmonetary form. Total economic cost is the sum of all explicit and implicit costs.

Consumers typically think of cost as the amount paid when buying something. However, economists define cost as the value of resources given up in order to produce a good or service. For instance, the time it takes to do something represents a cost. There is also opportunity cost—the cost of giving up the next best alternative. If two opportunities are mutually exclusive, meaning a person can only choose one of these opportunities, one opportunity cannot be pursued. Giving up this opportunity is part of the cost of something.

A cost involving monetary payment is known as an explicit cost. These costs have a definite, readily identifiable value. Employee wages, utilities, and equipment are all examples of explicit costs. Even bartered goods and services are considered explicit costs, because they have a specific monetary worth.

An implicit cost is the opportunity cost that occurs from allocation of resources for a specific purpose, which cannot easily be assigned a monetary value. Business expenses that cannot be assigned to any specific good or service are also implicit costs. For instance, the time required to train a new employee is an implicit cost. Maintenance activities such as taking a robot offline for routine service are also implicit costs. Many opportunity costs are implicit costs—the cost of giving up the next best alternative. For example, a company that makes household appliances might make a choice about how to spend available money. The company might choose not to invest the money in producing refrigerators but instead spend the money investing in employee training. When the company gives up the opportunity to make money by producing and selling refrigerators, this is part of the cost of investing in employee training. Similarly, if a person decides to start a business, she might make a decision about her income. If she gives up the chance to earn a salary at another firm, choosing instead to work for her own company, the salary she gives up is a cost.

Examples of Explicit and Implicit Costs

Explicit Costs Implicit Costs
Building rent Employee training time
Equipment Time equipment is offline for maintenance
Advertising/marketing Time equipment is offline for repair
Cost to maintain or repair equipment Decision not to make other products
Supplies and raw materials
Employee wages

Explicit costs have a monetary price, while implicit costs may not have a monetary price but do require resources.

Many costs have both explicit and implicit portions. For example, if a machine in a factory breaks down and needs repair, the actual cost of the repair is an explicit cost. But the revenue lost due to the machine's downtime is an implicit cost—it is the cost associated with lost production time. By not using the machine during the repair time, the company gives up some of its ability to produce.

Total economic cost is the sum of explicit and implicit costs.

Sum of Explicit and Implicit Costs

Implicit and explicit costs are as important to consider as economic profit. It also illustrates how opportunity costs are equal to the total of implicit and explicit costs.
For example, say a person decides to leave their job for an hour to wait in line to get a new phone. The new phone costs $200, and their job pays $30 per hour. In this case, the explicit cost of the phone is $200, but the phone also has an implicit cost of $30 because they gave up $30 by not working for that hour. The total economic cost of the phone is its explicit cost of $200 plus its implicit cost of $30, or $230. Businesses must account for both types of costs.