Relevant to ACCA Qualification Paper F7
The accounting topic of leases is a popular Paper F7 exam area that could feature to varying degrees in Questions 2, 3, 4 or 5 of the exam. This topic area is currently covered by IAS 17, Leases. IAS 17, Leases takes the concept of substance over form and applies it to the specific accounting area of leases.
When applying this concept, it is often deemed necessary to account for the substance of a transaction – ie its commercial reality, rather than its strict legal form. In other words, the legal basis of a transaction can be used to hide the true nature of a transaction. It is argued that by applying substance, the financial statements become more reliable and ensure that the lease is faithfully represented.
Why do we need to apply substance to a lease?
A lease agreement is a contract between two parties, the lessor and the lessee. The lessor is the legal owner of the asset, the lessee obtains the right to use the asset in return for rental payments.
Historically, assets that were used but not owned were not shown on the statement of financial position and therefore any associated liability was also left out of the statement – this was known as ‘off balance sheet’ finance and was a way that companies were able to keep their liabilities low, thus distorting gearing and other key financial ratios. This form of accounting did not faithfully represent the transaction. In reality a company often effectively ‘owned’ these assets and ‘owed a liability’.
Under modern day accounting the IASB framework states that an asset is ‘a resource controlled by an entity as a result of past events and from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the entity’ and a liability is ‘a present obligation of the entity arising from past events, the settlement of which is expected to result in an outflow from the entity of resources embodying economic benefits’. These substance-based definitions form the platform for IAS 17, Leases.
So how does IAS 17 work?
IAS 17 states that there are two types of lease, a finance lease and an operating lease. The definitions of these leases are vital and could be required when preparing an answer in the exam.
A finance lease is a lease that transfers substantially all the risks and rewards incidental to ownership of an asset to the lessee.
An operating lease is defined as being any lease other than a finance lease.
Classification of a lease
In order to gain classification of the type of lease you are dealing with, you must first look at the information provided within the scenario and determine if the risks and rewards associated with owning the asset are with the lessee or the lessor. If the risks and rewards lie with the lessee then it is said to be a finance lease, if the lessee does not take on the risks and rewards, then the lease is said to be an operating lease.
Finance lease indicators
There are many risks and rewards outlined within the standard, but for the purpose of the Paper F7 exam there are several important areas. The main reward is where the lessee has the right to use the asset for most of, or all of, its useful economic life. The primary risks are where the lessee pays to insure, maintain and repair the asset.
When the risks and rewards remain with the lessee, the substance is such that even though the lessee is not the legal owner of the asset, the commercial reality is that they have acquired an asset with finance from the leasing company and, therefore, an asset and liability should be recognised.
Other indicators that a lease is a finance lease include:
- At the inception of the lease the present value of the minimum lease payments* amounts to substantially all of the fair value of the asset
- The lease agreement transfers ownership of the asset to the lessee by the end of the lease
- The leased asset is of a specialised nature
- The lessee has the option to purchase the asset at a price expected to be substantially lower than the fair value at the date the option becomes exercisable
Finance lease accounting
The initial accounting is that the lessee should capitalise the finance leased asset and set up a lease liability for the value of the asset recognised. The accounting for this will be:
Dr Non-current assets
Cr Finance lease liability
(This should be done by using the lower of the fair value of the asset or the present value of the minimum lease payments*.)
*Note: The present value of the minimum lease payments is essentially the lease payments over the life of the lease discounted to present value – you will either be given this figure in the Paper F7 exam or, if not, use the fair value of the asset. You will not be expected to calculate the minimum lease payments.
Following the initial capitalisation of the leased asset, depreciation should be charged on the asset over the shorter of the lease term or the useful economic life of the asset. The accounting for this will be:
Dr Depreciation expense
Cr Accumulated depreciation
When you look at a lease agreement it should be relatively easy to see that there is a finance cost tied up within the transaction. For example, a company could buy an asset with a useful economic life of four years for $10,000 or lease it for four years paying a rental of $3,000 per annum.
If the leasing option is chosen, over a four-year period the company will have paid $12,000 in total for use of the asset ($3,000 pa x 4 years) – ie the finance charge in this example totals $2,000 (the difference between the total lease cost ($12,000) and the purchase price of the asset ($10,000)).
When a company pays a rental, in effect it is making a capital repayment (ie against the lease obligation) and an interest payment. The impact of this will need to be shown within the financial statements in the form of a finance cost in the statement of profit or loss and a reduction of the outstanding liability in the statement of financial position. In reality there are several ways that this can be done, but the Paper F7 examiner has stated that he will examine the actuarial method only.
The actuarial method of accounting for a finance lease allocates the interest to the period it actually relates to, ie the finance cost is higher when the capital outstanding is greatest, but as the capital gets repaid, interest payments become lower (similar to a repayment mortgage that you may have on your property). To allocate the interest to a specific period you will require the interest rate implicit within the lease agreement – again this will be provided in the exam and you are not required to calculate it.
One of the easiest ways to apply the actuarial method in the exam is to use a leasing table. Please take note of when the rental payment is actually due, is it in advance (ie rental made at beginning of the lease year) or is it in arrears (ie rental made at the end of the lease year)? This will affect the completion of the lease table as highlighted below: