United States

Leases: Overview of the new guidance

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INTRODUCTION

On February 25, 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) 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.” The ASU replaces the legacy U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in Topic 840, Leases, of the FASB’s Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) with new lease guidance applicable to both lessees and lessors (which is included in ASC 842). 

The most significant change in the new lease guidance requires lessees to recognize right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for all leases other than those that meet the definition of short-term leases. For short-term leases, lessees may elect an accounting policy by class of underlying asset under which these assets and liabilities are not recognized and lease payments are generally recognized 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 legacy U.S. GAAP. 

Middle Market Insights
Middle market companies that are lessees and have traditionally entered into operating leases could be significantly affected by the requirement to recognize assets and liabilities on their balance sheets for all but short-term leases. Adding these assets and liabilities to the balance sheet could significantly affect the financial ratios a middle market company uses for various reporting purposes. For example, if a middle market company has a debt covenant based on its debt-to-equity ratio, its ability to satisfy that covenant after implementing the new lease guidance could be seriously compromised. It is possible that the only remedy available in this situation may be to modify the debt agreement.


The new lease 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. Some of the more notable changes are discussed later in this overview.

This overview highlights certain aspects of the new lease guidance and provides information about the ASU’s effective date and transition provisions. In closing, this overview shares some of the key differences between ASC 842 and International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) 16, Leases. For a complete understanding of the new lease guidance, refer to ASC 842 in its entirety. 

Even though the FASB provided a significantly deferred mandatory effective date for ASU 2016-02, lessees and lessors should begin familiarizing themselves with the new lease guidance soon so as to better understand its financial reporting consequences. Reading this overview is a good first step. More detailed information about the new lease guidance will also be provided in the future on the Leases page of our Financial Reporting Resource Center.   

HIGHLIGHTS

These highlights summarize certain aspects of the new lease guidance that apply to both lessees and lessors, certain aspects of the new lessee accounting model and some of the more notable changes to the lessor accounting model.     

Guidance applicable to both lessees and lessors

Definition of a lease

The definition of a lease in the new lease guidance is “a contract, or part of a contract, that conveys the right to control the use of identified property, plant, or equipment (an identified asset) for a period of time in exchange for consideration.” To determine whether a contract (or part of a contract) meets this definition, an entity must consider whether the supplier has a substantive substitution right. In addition, an entity must consider whether the customer has both the rights to: (a) obtain substantially all of the economic benefits from using the identified asset and (b) direct the use of the identified asset. Considerable guidance is provided in ASC 842 related to the new definition of a lease and several examples are provided illustrating application of this guidance to various fact patterns.   

Lease classification

Application of the new lease guidance results in lessees classifying their leases (or separate lease components) as either financing or operating leases and lessors classifying their leases (or separate lease components) as sales-type, direct financing or operating leases. The lease classification criteria used by both lessees and lessors in this regard are the following:

  • Ownership of the underlying asset transfers to the lessee by the end of the lease term.
  • An option exists under which the lessee may purchase the underlying asset and exercise of that option is reasonably certain. 
  • When the lease does not commence at or near the end of the underlying asset’s economic life, the lease term makes up a major part of the underlying asset’s remaining economic life.
  • The sum of the present value of the lease payments and any residual value guaranteed by the lessee that is not already included in the lease payments is the same as or more than substantially all of the underlying asset’s fair value.
  • The underlying asset is not expected to have an alternative use to the lessor at the end of the lease term because of its specialized nature.

If one of these lease classification criteria is met at lease commencement, the lessee should classify the lease as a financing lease and the lessor should classify the lease as a sales-type lease. If none of these lease classification criteria are met, the lessee should classify the lease as an operating lease and the lessor’s classification of the lease depends on whether both of the following additional classification criteria are met:

  • The sum of the present values of the following amounts is the same as or more than substantially all of the underlying asset’s fair value: (a) the lease payments, (b) any residual value guaranteed by the lessee that is not already included in the lease payments and (c) any residual value guaranteed by a third party that is unrelated to the lessor.
  • Collection of the following by the lessor is probable: (a) lease payments and (b) any amount necessary to satisfy a residual value guarantee.

If both of these additional classification criteria are met, then the lessor should classify the lease as a direct-financing lease. Otherwise, the lessor should classify the lease as an operating lease. 

While the new lease classification criteria are similar in principle to those found in legacy U.S. GAAP, they do not draw any quantitative bright lines. However, the new lease guidance includes these observations: 

  • For purposes of determining whether the lease term makes up a major part of the underlying asset’s remaining economic life, one reasonable approach would be to use a threshold of 75 percent or more.
  • For purposes of determining whether the lease commences at or near the end of the underlying asset’s economic life, one reasonable approach would be to use a threshold of 25 percent or less of the underlying asset’s total economic life.
  • For purposes of determining what represents substantially all of the underlying asset’s fair value, one reasonable approach would be to use a threshold of 90 percent or more. 

Lessees and lessors will need to adopt and consistently apply accounting policies related to their application of the principles-based lease classification criteria included in the new lease guidance.

Lease term

Under the new lease guidance, the lease term includes the noncancellable period for which a lessee has the right to use an underlying asset. In addition, whether options to extend or terminate a lease, or to purchase the underlying asset, should be taken into consideration in determining the lease term depends on whether exercise of the options by the lessee is reasonably certain. In addition, periods covered by options to extend or not terminate a lease that are under control of the lessor should be included in the lease term.   

Lease payments

Lease payments are used in the measurement of the assets and liabilities recognized by lessees and lessors when accounting for their leases. Under the new lease guidance, lease payments include the following:

  • Fixed payments, including variable payments that are in-substance fixed payments, reduced by any lease incentives paid or payable to the lessee
  • Variable lease payments that depend on an index or rate, measured initially by reference to the index or rate at the commencement date 
  • The exercise price of an option that allows the lessee to purchase the underlying asset, but only if it is reasonably certain that the lessee will exercise that option 
  • The penalty that would be due from the lessee upon termination of the lease, but only if it is reasonably certain the lessee will exercise its option to terminate the lease
  • Fees paid by the lessee to the owners of a special-purpose entity for structuring the transaction
  • For lessees only, payments under residual value guarantees that are probable of being owed

Variable lease payments that vary after the commencement date because of changes in facts or circumstances other than an index or rate are not included in lease payments. For example, lease payments that vary based on the sales of a retail location are variable lease payments that are not included in lease payments. Payments that vary solely based on the passage of time are not considered variable lease payments. 

Definition of initial direct costs

Under the new lease guidance, only incremental costs that an entity would not have incurred if the lease had not been entered into should be considered initial direct costs. For example, a commission paid upon the execution of a lease meets the definition of an initial direct cost. Examples of costs that do not meet the definition of initial direct costs include the costs associated with performing credit checks, negotiating lease terms and preparing and processing lease documents that are incurred by an internal department of the lessor. In general, any costs incurred prior to signing a lease are not considered initial direct costs. 

Leases involving real estate 

The new lease guidance eliminates the additional requirements in legacy U.S. GAAP that must be applied to leases involving real estate.  

Lease modifications

Under the new lease guidance, modification of a contract that includes a lease is accounted for as a separate contract if it grants the lessee an additional right of use that was not included in the original lease provided the lease payments for that additional right of use increase commensurate with the standalone price of the additional right of use (which should be adjusted to take into consideration the circumstances of that particular contract). When a lease modification is not accounted for as a separate lease, the accounting for the modified lease varies for lessees and lessors and depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the modifications and the classification of the lease. 

Related-party leases

Under the new guidance, both lessees and lessors in related-party leasing transactions should classify and account for those leases based on the legally enforceable terms and conditions of the lease.

Sale-leaseback transactions 

With respect to determining whether a sale has occurred in a sale-leaseback transaction under the new lease guidance, the seller-lessee should use the new revenue recognition guidance in ASC 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, related to whether a contract exists and whether control of the asset has transferred to the customer. In applying this guidance, the existence of a leaseback in and of itself does not preclude a seller-lessee from concluding that a sale of the underlying asset has occurred. However, a sale has not occurred if the leaseback is a financing lease for the seller-lessee or a sales-type lease for the buyer-lessor. Additional criteria must be met to achieve sale treatment when a repurchase option is involved in a sale-leaseback. If a sale-leaseback transaction does not result in a sale, the failed sale is treated as a financing transaction by both the seller-lessee and buyer-lessor. If a sale-leaseback transaction results in a sale, the new lease guidance addresses: (a) the buyer-lessor's accounting for the purchase of an asset, (b) the seller-lessee's accounting for the sale of an asset and (c) the buyer-lessor's and seller-lessee's accounting for the leaseback. The new lease guidance also addresses the accounting implications of any potential off-market terms in a sale-leaseback. 

Guidance applicable to lessees

Separation of lease and nonlease components

Under the new lease guidance, lessees must apply certain criteria to determine whether a contract that contains a lease includes one or more lease components that should be accounted for separately. In addition, with respect to contracts that include both lease and nonlease components (e.g., maintenance services), lessees may choose by class of underlying asset to either: (a) not separate lease components from nonlease components, in which case each separate lease component and the nonlease components related to it are accounted for together as a lease component or (b) separate lease components from nonlease components by allocating the contract consideration to the components based on their relative standalone prices. Under the latter approach, the consideration allocated to the nonlease components is not accounted for under the new lease guidance and, as such, is not considered when measuring the lease liability and right-of-use asset. The guidance applied to account for any consideration allocated to a nonlease component depends on its nature.  

Initial accounting

The new lease guidance requires lessees 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 the right-of-use assets and lease liabilities are not recognized and lease payments are generally recognized over the lease term on a straight-line basis. 

For the initial measurement of the lease liability, the lessee discounts the lease payments not yet paid over the lease term using the rate implicit in the lease, if that rate is available. If that rate is not available, the lessee’s incremental borrowing rate should be used. Lessees that are not public business entities may elect an accounting policy to use the risk-free rate for a period comparable to the lease term. If elected, this policy applies to all of a lessee’s leases.

For the initial measurement of the right-of-use asset, the lessee starts with the amount of the lease liability and adjusts it for any lease payments made to the lessor (net of any lease incentives received by the lessee) on or before the lease’s commencement date and any initial direct costs incurred by the lessee. 

Subsequent accounting

Under the new lease guidance, how lease costs are recognized in the income statement depends on whether the lease is classified as a financing or operating lease. When there are no variable lease payments or impairment issues, the periodic lease costs recognized by the lessee for a financing lease are generally higher earlier in the lease term given the unwinding of the discount on the lease liability using the effective interest rate method and the amortization of the right-of-use asset on a straight-line basis. Conversely, for an operating lease, the lease costs are generally recognized over the lease term on a straight-line basis or a more appropriate systematic and rational basis.

Under the new lease guidance, variable lease payments are recognized as costs by the lessee at the earlier of: (a) the specified target being achieved or (b) the lessee concluding it is probable that the specified target will be achieved. 

Under the new lease guidance, impairment of right-of-use assets is evaluated and accounted for using the guidance in ASC 360-10-35. 

Presentation

For right-of-use assets and lease liabilities recognized under the new lease guidance, lessees should either present the assets and liabilities for financing leases and operating leases as separate line items on the balance sheet or disclose them separately in the notes to the financial statements. If a lessee does not present them as separate line items on the balance sheet, it must disclose which line items in the balance sheet include those assets and liabilities. The right-of-use assets and lease liabilities related to financing leases cannot be included in the same balance sheet line items that include the right-of-use assets and lease liabilities related to operating leases. 

Classification of lease expense on the income statement under the new lease guidance depends on the classification of the lease. If the lease is classified as a financing lease, classification of the portion of the lease expense related to the amortization of the right-of-use asset and the portion of the lease expense related to interest on the lease liability should be consistent with how the lessee classifies similar expenses on its income statement (e.g., depreciation and interest expense related to the financed purchase of property, plant or equity). If the lease is classified as an operating lease, lease expense should be included in the lessee’s income from continuing operations. 

Classification of lease payments made by lessees on the cash flow statement under the new lease guidance depends on the classification of the lease. If the lease is classified as a financing lease: (a) the portion of the lease payment representing principal is classified as a financing activity, (b) the portion of the lease payment representing interest is classified consistent with how interest paid on debt is classified and (c) variable lease payments not included in the lease liability are classified as an operating activity. If the lease is classified as an operating lease, lease payments (including all variable lease payments) are classified as operating activities. If the lessee has elected an accounting policy to not recognize right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for some (by class of underlying asset) or all of its short-term leases, lease payments for those leases are classified as operating activities.

Disclosures

Under the new lease guidance, lessees are required to provide a variety of qualitative and quantitative information in their lease disclosures. For a complete list of these disclosures, refer to ASC 842-20-50.

Changes to the lessor accounting model

As mentioned earlier, the new lease guidance made limited changes to the lessor accounting model in legacy U.S. GAAP. Some of the more notable changes include the following:   

  • Leveraged leases. The new lease guidance eliminates the leveraged lease accounting model in legacy U.S. GAAP on a going forward basis. In other words, the accounting for leveraged leases with commencement dates prior to the ASU’s effective date have been grandfathered in. However, if a leveraged lease is modified on or after the ASU’s effective date, leveraged lease accounting may no longer be applied. In those situations, the modified lease should be accounted for as a new lease using the new lease guidance applicable to lessors. 
  • Separation of lease and nonlease components. Under the new lease guidance, lessors must apply certain criteria to determine whether a contract that contains a lease includes one or more lease components that should be accounted for separately. In addition, with respect to contracts that include both lease and nonlease components (e.g., maintenance services), the lease and nonlease components must be separated from each other. In these situations, the contract consideration is allocated to the lease and nonlease components using the new revenue recognition guidance applicable to allocating the transaction price to performance obligations. 
  • Leases involving real estate. The elimination of the additional requirements in legacy U.S. GAAP that must be applied to leases involving real estate may, depending on the facts and circumstances, result in a lessor recognizing initial selling profit on real estate leases classified as sales-type leases.  
  • Initial direct costs. The change in the definition of initial direct costs discussed earlier reduces the population of costs that lessors should treat as initial direct costs. In addition, for sales-type and direct-financing leases, the new lease guidance requires lessors to include deferred initial direct costs in the determination of the rate implicit in the lease.
  • Collectibility. Under the new lease guidance, whether collectibility is probable may affect the lessor’s classification of the lease and (or) its accounting for the lease. For example, the accounting for a sales-type lease when collectibility is not probable follows the same model used when collectibility is not probable under the new revenue recognition guidance, which results in the recognition of lease payments received as a deposit liability until certain criteria are met. 
  • Impairment of the net investment in a lease. Under the new lease guidance, for sales-type and direct financing leases, lessors are required to assess the net investment in the lease for impairment in accordance with the guidance applicable to the impairment of receivables. 
  • Disclosures. Under the new lease guidance, lessors are required to disclose a variety of quantitative and qualitative information about their leases. For a complete list of all of the disclosures required of a lessor by the new lease guidance, refer to ASC 842-30-50.

EFFECTIVE DATE AND TRANSITION

The effective date of the new lease guidance for public business entities and certain not-for-profit entities and employee benefit plans is fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2018, including interim periods within those years. For all other entities, the new lease guidance is effective in fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019 and interim periods thereafter. Early application is permitted for all entities.

Lessees and lessors will transition to the new lease guidance using a modified retrospective approach as of the beginning of the earliest period presented. The specifics of the modified retrospective transition approach are quite complex and differ depending on a number of factors, including whether the entity is the lessee or lessor and the classification of the lease under legacy U.S. GAAP and ASC 842. In addition, certain transition reliefs are available to both lessees and lessors. An option to use a full retrospective approach was not provided. 

Both lessees and lessors are required to disclose transition-related information otherwise required when an entity makes an accounting change, except for the effects of the change on specific financial statement line items, income from continuing operations and net income and related per-share amounts.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ASC 842 AND IFRS 16

A long-standing joint project between the FASB and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) resulted in the issuance of ASU 2016-02 and IFRS 16. While ASC 842 and IFRS 16 are converged in many important respects (such as requiring lessees to recognize right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for most of their leases), there are significant differences between the two. For example:

  • Under IFRS 16, lessees may elect an exception that allows them to disregard the recognition and measurement of right-of-use assets and lease liabilities for leases of assets with values of less than $5,000. This exception is not provided in ASC 842. However, as is the case with any guidance in the ASC, the guidance in ASC 842 need not be applied to immaterial items.
  • Under IFRS 16, all leases for which assets and liabilities are recognized by lessees are accounted for as financing leases. In other words, there is no need for lessees to consider lease classification criteria under IFRS 16. Under ASC 842, leases for which assets and liabilities are recognized by lessees are classified and accounted for as operating or financing leases, depending on the facts and circumstances.  
  • Under IFRS 16, direct-financing leases do not exist. In other words, there is no distinction between sales-type and direct-financing leases. Under ASC 842, application of the lease classification criteria by a lessor may result in direct-financing lease classification, depending on the facts and circumstances.   

For additional information about the differences between ASC 842 and IFRS 16, refer to pages 7 through 9 of the “Summary” in ASU 2016-02.

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