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FASB, IASB Revert to One Model for Lease Accounting

Tammy Whitehouse | May 24, 2011

Never mind, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has decided on its plan to allow two different accounting methods for leases. They like their original, single-model idea best after all.

In deciding how companies should account for leases, the FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board initially proposed all leases would be treated like financing transactions, with companies recognizing a liability to make lease payments and putting an asset on the balance sheet reflecting the right to use the asset for the term of the lease. Both would be measured at the present value of the lease payments. The liability would be measured in subsequent periods using the effective interest method while the asset would be amortized or written down based on the pattern of consumption and the expected future economic benefit it would produce.

Companies swallowed the treatment for long-term lease agreements that look and feel a lot like the financed purchase of an asset, but they cried foul for short-term leases that look and feel more like simple rental agreements. FASB and IASB acquiesced and agreed they would work on a two-model approach.

The boards determined “finance leases” would be treated like installment purchases, much the way today's capital leases are booked in the financial statements. “Other than finance” leases would be treated like today's operating leases, with an even amount recognized as expense each period over the life of the lease. Such a recognition pattern would more closely match the actual cash flows as companies pay down their lease obligations, companies argued and the boards conceded. FASB and IASB instructed their staff to define the criteria that would be needed to distinguish between the two types of leases.

Now, however, the boards have reversed course and decided they won't establish a two-model approach. In a joint meeting last week, FASB and IASB said they're going to stick with their original idea as described in the exposure draft for a single model for all leases. They promised to give some further thought to how to address concerns about the presentation and disclosure of information related to amortization, interest expense on the liability to make lease payments, total lease expense, and lease payment cash flows.

The lease project is one of four key accounting standards FASB and IASB are developing jointly to try to bridge major differences between U.S. and international accounting rules. The board continue to mull over how they want map out the accounting requirements for lessors as well.