United States

Leases: FASB issues new guidance


On February 25, 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-02, Leases (Topic 842), its long-awaited final standard on the accounting for leases. ASU 2016-02 was issued in three parts: (a) Section A, “Leases: Amendments to the FASB Accounting Standards Codification®,” (b) Section B, “Conforming Amendments Related to Leases: Amendments to the FASB Accounting Standards Codification®,” and (c) Section C, “Background Information and Basis for Conclusions.” While both lessees and lessors are affected by the new guidance, the effects on lessees are much more significant.  

The most significant change for lessees is the requirement under the new guidance to recognize right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for all leases not considered short-term leases. By definition, a short-term lease is one in which: (a) the lease term is 12 months or less and (b) there is not an option to purchase the underlying asset that the lessee is reasonably certain to exercise. For short-term leases, lessees may elect an accounting policy by class of underlying asset under which right-of-use assets and lease liabilities are not recognized and lease payments are generally recognized as expense over the lease term on a straight-line basis. This change will result in lessees recognizing right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for most leases currently accounted for as operating leases under the legacy lease accounting guidance. For many entities, this could significantly affect the financial ratios they use for external reporting and other purposes, such as debt covenant compliance.     

The new guidance introduces limited changes to the lessor accounting model, none of which rise to the same level of significance as the changes made to the lessee accounting model. Two of the more notable changes to the lessor accounting model include: (a) synchronizing key aspects of the model with the new revenue recognition guidance, such as basing whether a lease is similar to a sale on whether control of the underlying asset has transferred to the lessee and (b) prospectively eliminating the specialized accounting for leveraged leases.  

Examples of changes in the new guidance affecting both lessees and lessors include: (a) defining initial direct costs to only include those incremental costs that would not have been incurred if the lease had not been entered into, (b) requiring related party leases to be accounted for based on their legally enforceable terms and conditions, (c) eliminating the additional requirements that must be applied today to leases involving real estate and (d) revising the circumstances under which the transfer contract in a sale-leaseback transaction should be accounted for as the sale of an asset by the seller-lessee and the purchase of an asset by the buyer-lessor. In addition, both lessees and lessors are subject to new disclosure requirements. 

Even though the new guidance is not first effective until 2019 for calendar-year public business entities (and certain not-for-profit entities and employee benefit plans) and 2020 for all other calendar-year entities, lessees and lessors should begin familiarizing themselves with it soon so as to better understand its financial reporting consequences. We will be providing additional information about the new guidance in the coming days and weeks on the Leases page of our Financial Reporting Resource Center.