Accounting for Leases: No Matter What Type

3 min read
July 18, 2023
CoStar Real Estate Manager Blog

Accounting for Leases: No Matter What Type

One of the most significant changes of 2023 and ASC 842 is what type of leases appear on the balance sheet. Between operating leases, capital leases and finance leases, accounting teams have a lot of ducks to keep in a row.   

Under ASC 840, operating and finance leases (formally capital leases) were not similarly reported on the balance sheet. Operating leases were once buried in the footnotes, but for private companies, they will soon be included in the balance sheet alongside finance leases. 

What makes these lease types different, how do you know what lease is what type, and how does a busy lease accountant manage all of them?   

Accounting for Finance Leases  

When it comes to a finance lease, at least one of these four criteria must be met:   

  1. The lease term is greater than or equal to 75% of the asset’s useful economic life.  
  2. The present value of the lease rental is more than 90% of the fair value at the time of the lease.  
  3. A transfer of ownership exists.  
  4. A bargain purchase option exists.  

As a result of these four criteria, with capital assets and liability recorded, expenses are recorded as interest and depreciation.   

Under ASC 840, finance leases require specific data points for accounting calculations. Data points include:   

  • Lease possession date  
  • Lease expiration  
  • Option dates and an assessment if the option is reasonably sure to be exercised 
  • Rent payment amounts 
  • The company’s incremental borrowing rate  

However, for private companies starting the new year under the latest standard, those data points are needed for virtually every lease.   

Accounting for Capital Leases  

As we know by now, in 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) amended its accounting rules. They chose to change the term capital lease to finance lease. The goal of the name change was to better align FASB standards with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).   

Many American lease accountants still colloquially use “capital lease,” but finance lease is the correct term in ASC 842 reporting. 

Companies that operate beyond one country’s borders can now tidily keep track of their leases without switching back and forth between two names for one type of lease.  

Accounting for Operating Leases  

Similarly, operating leases have four classification criteria:   

  1. The lessor retains ownership during and after the lease term.
  2. The lease cannot offer a bargain purchase option at the end of the term.  
  3. The lease term is less than 75% of the estimated economic life of the asset.

 4. The lessee uses less than 90% of the asset’s useful life.   

The result here is that rent expenses are recorded straight-line when accounting for an operating lease.   

Historically, the overwhelming majority of leases have been operating leases. Those leases remained buried in the footnotes rather than appearing on the balance sheet for a long time. ASC 842 will change that in the reporting done by private companies.   

Which is which?   

We know now that all lease contracts with terms longer than one year will be added to financial statements. It’s been estimated that trillions of dollars will be moved to the balance sheet because almost every lease needs a corresponding Right of Use (ROU) Asset and Lease Liability, regardless of classification type.    

We also know that capital leases and finance leases are the same thing. But, like cookies and biscuits, they have different names in different countries.   

The differences appear in the criteria. Ownership, purchase options, estimated useful life of the asset, lease term and lessee usage all combine to determine whether you have an operating or finance lease.    

How to Manage Multiple Lease Types  

Don’t try to take it on alone.   

An intelligent, advanced lease accounting solution can be the best coworker you’ve ever had. You need a system to analyze and classify leases for new lease accounting requirements. You need a system that generates journal entries, calculates percentage rent obligations, integrates with existing accounting systems, and can run parallel reporting under old and new accounting standards.  

Choosing a comprehensive, proven lease accounting, lease accounting and lease administration software allows you to manage leases in the manner that best suits your company and meets ASC 842 guidelines.