For many schools, the largest non-labor cost is facilities. For years this has created some disparity in the comparability of financial statements between schools, as some schools own their facilities while others rent. Several years ago, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued new lease accounting standards (“ASC 842”) to try to align some of these issues across all industries and make financial reporting more consistent. The COVID pandemic has pushed off the implementation of ASC 842 for nonprofits and private companies without certain public debt. The deferral is unfortunately coming to an end with adoption required for years starting after December 15, 2021 (calendar year 2022 or fiscal year 2023 entities).
In a nutshell, ASC 842 will require most providers with real property or equipment leases to record both a right-of-use asset (the present value of the future required lease payment stream) and a corresponding liability to reflect, in essence, the asset and liability associated with the required future lease payments (inclusive of renewal options and other provisions that management may anticipate taking advantage of). By requiring assets and liabilities to be reflected on a school’s financial statements, ASC 842 makes it easier for stakeholders to see a school’s risk exposure and true financial position.
What is a Lease?
A lease is defined as a contract or an element of a contract that conveys the right of use (“ROU”) of a physically distinct identified asset for a specified period of time in exchange for payment. The asset can be real property, facilities and related improvements, furniture and equipment, or other tangible assets. The period of time isn’t necessarily quantified by time but can also be described in terms of the estimated use of an asset, such as the number of units a piece of equipment will produce.
While substantially all leases are required to be capitalized on your statement of financial position or balance sheet, it is still necessary to classify leases as either finance leases (previously referred to as capital leases under ASC 840) or operating leases, because the two lease types are measured differently. Under ASC 842, a lease is considered a finance lease if it meets any one of the following criteria:
- Transfer of title test: By the end of the lease term, will ownership of the asset transfer from the lessor to the lessee?
- Bargain purchase option test: Is there a purchase option in the lease that the lessee is reasonably certain to exercise? (i.e., the lessee can purchase the asset for $1)
- Lease term test: Does the lease term encompass the major part of the remaining economic life of the underlying asset? ASC 842 removes the bright line test of 75% of the asset’s useful life.
- Present value test: Is the present value of lease payments plus residual value guaranteed by the lessee greater than or equal to substantially all of the fair market value of the asset? ASC removes the bright line test of 90% of the asset’s fair market value.
- Alternative use test: Is the asset so specialized that it is only useful to the lessee? Basically, the asset has no value to anyone else without a major overhaul by the lessor.
Under an operating lease, the ROU asset is recorded and amortized to rent on a straight-line basis over the lease term, so from a statement of changes in net assets and income statement perspective, there will be little change in presentation. Finance leases require the lessee to recognize interest expense and amortization expense over the shorter of the asset’s life or the lease term. As a result, you will usually recognize a greater expense earlier in the life of the lease for a finance lease. Furthermore, for those for-profit schools that track operations using earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (“EBITDA”), an operating lease reduces EBITDA while a finance lease does not.
Calculating the Lease Liability under ASC 842
Your lease liability is the current value of minimum future lease payments. To determine the liability, there are certain assumptions/estimates that need to come into play:
- If the lease contains a residual guarantee or use limits, what’s the likely amount you will owe under such provisions (i.e., a vehicle lease that provides 10,000 miles per lease)?
- If the lease contains certain options such as renewal options, termination options, or purchase options, what is the likelihood that you will exercise such options?
These assumptions/estimates will impact your lease liability calculation. Keep in mind that the assumptions you make about lease options at the beginning of the lease can change over time. If, during the term of a lease, you change your mind about whether you are likely to exercise any lease options or there are material changes in residual guarantees or uses, you will need to remeasure both your lease liability and your ROU asset.
The discount rate to use in calculating the lease liability is either the rate implicit in the lease (if known, though it rarely is explicit) or your organization’s incremental borrowing rate (“IBR”). Nonpublic schools also have the option to use a risk-free rate. ASC 842 defines the IBR as, “the rate of interest that a lessee would have to pay to borrow on a collateralized basis over a similar term an amount equal to the lease payments in a similar economic environment.” To put this in English, your IBR is the rate of interest you could borrow at under similar terms (amount, length of time, etc.). If you have a strong relationship with your banker, you should be able to obtain from your bank your IBR for each lease you enter into or some guide you can use for the year based upon your credit history, market conditions, length of borrowing, security, etc.
Calculating ROU under ASC 842
The ROU asset is calculated as the lease liability, discussed above, plus or minus these adjustments:
- Plus: initial direct costs and prepaid lease payments (a)
- Minus: lessor incentives, accrued rent, and ASC 420 liability at transition date (b)
- Examples of typical initial direct costs under ASC 842 include commissions and payments made to an existing tenant to incentivize that tenant to terminate its lease as these costs would only be incurred as a result of execution of the lease. Costs that typically would not be considered initial direct costs are legal fees, costs of negotiating lease terms, lease underwriting, or general overhead expenses such as depreciation, occupancy, and equipment costs, as these costs would be incurred regardless of whether the lease is ultimately executed.
- ASC 420 required you to record a liability for the amount of above market rent you were paying over the life of the lease. Under ASC 842, this would reduce the carrying value of the ROU asset.
Over the life of the lease, the ROU is amortized using the straight-line method over the life of the lease.
Embedded Leases under ASC 842
Since prior to ASC 842 operating leases were not capitalized, embedded leases had very little impact on your overall financial statements. After all, if a lease contained utility charges, tax pass-throughs, and other services such as admin support, did it really matter? It was all part of your occupancy costs on your statement of functional expenses or income statement. As you now have to capitalize leases under ASC 842, it becomes increasingly more important to ensure you are able to truly understand the terms of each agreement. As a result, you now need to:
- Examine all contracts to find any embedded leases within them
- Separate the lease components (for use of assets) from non-lease components (payments for the service) within the contract
The way your lease is written could significantly impact embedded leases. If your lease is a gross lease, whereby property taxes and common area costs (i.e., snow removal) are part of a fixed rate lease, ASC 842 provides for a practical expedient allowing these costs to be considered part of the lease, which means you don’t need to separate out these costs before calculating your ROU asset. If, on the other hand, your lease is a net lease, whereby property taxes and other costs are variable and billed separately, these would be excluded from the lease and the calculation of your ROU asset. Even so, for schools that enter into collaborative agreements for space that includes such items as secretarial support, supplies for your students, fieldtrips, coverage, etc., you do have to go through the process of determining how much of the monthly payment is for the space cost and how much is for the additional services built into the agreement.
Impact of COVID-19 on Lease Accounting
Pursuant to ASC 842, you need to evaluate your ROU asset as changes in lease terms, your intentions with respect to leases, use of assets, and more could have an impact on the carrying value of your ROU asset and related liability. The COVID pandemic and the push for more remote work and flexible work environments has significantly changed the way that many businesses, including schools, have looked at their operations and could also result in changes in lease terms, certain rental concessions, decisions to not renew or to cancel certain leases. Once ASC 842 is adopted, you will need to evaluate any lease related decisions (real property and equipment) and determine the impact that these decisions will have on the valuation of your ROU asset.
Adoption of ASC 842 will dramatically impact many schools’ statements of financial position or balance sheets, adding significant levels of assets and related debt. These changes in financial position will result in increased debt levels which could impact debt to equity ratios, liquidity ratios, and more. These could negatively impact debt covenants. Furthermore, many debt agreements put limitations on your ability to enter into debt without approval. As leases under ASC 842 now are reflected as an obligation on your statement of financial position, this could pose a problem for you every time you want to enter into an equipment or property lease. It is important for you to sit down with your bankers to work through changes in debt covenants with them in consideration of the impact of ASC 842. Similarly, the change to your statement of financial position could impact other stakeholders such as government funders, donors, your Board, and more. It is important to get ahead of the curve and discuss this with them before they are surprised by a dramatic change in your numbers.
For those schools that own their own buildings and rent most of their equipment under finance leases, the impact of ASC 842 may not be significant, but for the rest of you, ASC 842 will dramatically change your financial picture. The calculations under ASC 842 are extensive and difficult, and application is retroactive, so it will impact not just the year of adoption, but the prior year (opening net assets) also. We encourage you to go through the analysis of all your leases now, before ASC 842 is required, to understand the full impact it will have, and to provide for appropriate time to work through this with the necessary stakeholders to avoid issues or surprises later. ASC 842 will provide a better picture of your commitments and obligations and provide greater transparency of your financial positions and obligations. This is a significant positive; however, it will also take some time to go through the implementation process and educate your financial statement users about the changes.
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Ted Campbell, CPA, CGFM, CGMA
Ted Campbell, manager in the Not-for-Profit Services group with Cerini & Associates, LLP, has been with the firm since 2020. He has more than fifteen years of experience in providing various audit, review, accounting and consulting services to for-profit and not-for-profit entities.