Stay on Top of New Lease Accounting Guidelines

Does your company lease office space, equipment, real estate or other assets? If so, and it follows U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, you will need to be aware of the new lease accounting guidance the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued earlier this year. The guidance, Accounting Standards Update (“ASU”) No. 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), takes effect in fiscal years starting after December 15, 2018, for most public companies, and for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019, for many other organizations. Companies can choose to apply the standards earlier, if they wish.

According to the new guidelines, many public and private businesses will need to recognize all leases with terms of at least 12 months on their financial statements. Under the previous standards, companies were required to recognize only capital leases on the financial statements, with footnote disclosures of operating leases in excess of 12 months.

Accounting Modifications

The FASB’s intention in issuing ASU 2016-02 is “to increase transparency and comparability among organizations by recognizing lease assets and lease liabilities on the balance sheet and disclosing key information about leasing arrangements.” According to the FASB, users of financial statements need complete, understandable pictures of companies’ leasing activities — and prior forms of lease accounting didn’t always provide this. (Although the update also addresses lessor accounting, the changes to it aren’t as dramatic.)

The update now classifies leases as either “finance” or “operating” based on several attributes. Finance leases transfer ownership of the underlying asset to the lessee by the end of the lease term, which covers the major part of the remaining economic life of the asset. Leases that don’t meet the criteria established for finance leases are classified as operating leases.

The accounting for leases on the income and cash flows statements varies slightly, depending on whether they’re operating or finance leases. But, on the balance sheet, both types of leases will include a right-of-use asset and lease liability to be recorded.  These will be initially calculated as the present value of the total of all the lease payments.

Disclosure Requirements

Lessees will also need to provide quantitative and qualitative disclosures about their leases within their financial statements. These include:

  • General descriptions of the leases,
  • The basis, terms and conditions on which variable lease payments were determined, and
  • Any restrictions or covenants the leases imposed, such as those that restrict the lessee’s ability to take on additional financial obligations.

The purpose of these disclosures is to provide more detailed information to users of your financial statements.

Time to Begin

ASU 2016-02 will necessitate changes in many companies’ accounting processes, systems and training. In addition, the guidance may have an impact on companies’ financial statements and ratios, possibly affecting their ability to comply with debt covenants. Shifts in lease vs. buy decisions may also be required, and certainly need to be addressed.

Therefore, while the effective dates for the new guidelines are several years away, it is recommended that you begin preparations now. To start, you’ll need to assemble an inventory of all leases across your organization. Doing this may require identifying the lease portions of service agreements. You’ll also need to determine whether your leases are financial or operating.

In addition, your company needs to determine whether its existing systems and controls are capable of efficiently providing the required lease-related information on an ongoing basis. If not, you’ll need to decide what changes are required and identify other contracts or agreements which are also affected by the changes.

As mentioned, ASU 2016-02 adversely affects compliance with loan agreements — specifically those that require you to maintain certain debt-to-equity ratios. You may want to modify these agreements before the new rules become effective. Going forward, you’ll want to conduct lease vs. buy analyses, keeping these new regulations in mind.

Potential Impact

Obviously, the changes in lease accounting imposed by the new standard are complex, and this summary isn’t intended to cover all possible nuances and situations. Your CPA can provide additional insight regarding the update’s potential impact on your business.

© 2016

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