Discover how ASC-842 GAAP accounting rules may impact your decisions on operating and finance leases.
As more companies consider conserving cash by investigating leasing and other financing options, understanding the intricacies of lease accounting standards becomes crucial, especially with generally accepted accounting principles known as GAAP.
The implementation of ASC-842 GAAP accounting rules were developed to mirror international accounting standards, changing the accounting for some lease configurations that historically hadn’t appeared on balance sheets in the past.
Impact of GAAP accounting changes
In general, the new standards improve transparency of off-balance sheet leases, increase comparability between companies with different lease operating models, and ultimately reduce off-balance sheet financing.
“For years, companies have been reporting leases under a different set of rules,” says Pete Georgelas, Director of Business Development Capital Equipment Group at U.S. Bank Equipment Finance. "Suddenly, all leases were going to be reported on balance sheet. As a result, our clients have to ascertain how they were going to manage reporting, not only future lease transactions, but leases they already have on their books."
The new accounting rules were phased in for different kinds of entities. They went into effect for publicly held entities for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019 (2020 calendar year), but privately held entities received more time to adjust. For them, the new rules began for fiscal years after December 15, 2021 (2022 calendar year) and interim periods after December 15, 2022 (2023 calendar year).
“It gives clients a whole new set of factors to consider,” Georgelas says. “For example, under the new accounting rules, a sale-leaseback with a contractual fixed buyout option will poison the well for operating lease treatment. Prior to implementation of the new accounting rules, you could do a sale-leaseback with a contractual fixed buyout option and still structure it to technically be qualified as an operating lease. Under the new accounting rules, this structure will be reported as a Loan Liability.”
Understanding the changes
There are many ways to lease equipment, but in general, the structure is defined as either a finance lease or an operating lease.
“The difference between a finance lease and operating lease is how it’s reflected in the financial statements. A finance lease is recorded like a loan – there’s an asset and a liability. In the financial statements, you disclose the interest and principal,” Georgelas says. An important and meaningful difference for the expense recognition, besides interest expense vs. operating expense classification, is that the operating lease expense is a straight-line rent expense (easier for budgeting); finance leases have a front-loaded interest expense recognition. The total expense includes both an amortization expense and an interest expense. “An operating lease is different, as it is reflected as a lease obligation on the balance sheet and not reflected as debt. In the financial statements, under ‘right-of-use, an operating lease may allow the lessee to capitalize their right of use asset at considerably less than the cost of the equipment.
“As a result, clients had to ascertain how they were going to manage reporting, not only future lease transactions but leases they already have on their books.”
Those terms and classifications are at the heart of the change in GAAP accounting standards. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) began the transition in 2018 from ASC-840, which much like its predecessor FAS-13, had four tests for operating leases and listed them as footnotes rather than balance sheet entries. Under ASC-842, all leases show up on the balance sheet, and the new rules also determine how those leases are listed.
In general, the new rules mean:
“With a finance lease, the liability is classified as a debt obligation and impacts the leverage ratio” Georgelas explains. “The lease payment for a finance lease is reflected in the financial statements as principal and interest, tantamount to a term loan.”
An operating lease, on the other hand, is not reflected as a financial asset & liability, but under a section titled “lease obligation,” so it doesn’t impact the leverage ratio. “Also, under the right-of-use portion of the operating lease, an end-of-term residual, that's not a payment obligation, is not reflected in the financial statements, only the rent is,” Georgelas notes. “There's a real benefit, especially on assets that have long economic life and value, in how that impacts not only the balance sheet, but the P&L and what the client is required to report.”
Weighing the options
When determining the proper structure for equipment financing, Georgelas suggests weighing a client’s liquidity preference and tax optimization strategy along with balance sheet and financial metrics. He starts with three questions:
"If one of your primary covenants is funded debt to EBITDA, you may not want an operating lease, because it may act counter to that specific formula," he explains. "If your primary driver is fixed charge coverage, liquidity or managing leverage, then the operating lease can provide tremendous value.”
Contact a U.S. Bank Equipment Finance specialist for more information.