FASB provides private company VIE alternative for leases

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The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued new guidance that permits private companies following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to, in some circumstances, elect not to consolidate the financial reporting from variable interest entities (VIEs) that lease property to them. It may apply in situations where an owner of a private company is also an owner of a second business entity that leases property to the company.

The guidance, Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-07, Consolidation (Topic 810): Applying Variable Interest Entities Guidance to Common Control Leasing Arrangements, is a consensus of the Private Company Council (PCC). It’s intended to improve private company financial reporting regarding consolidation of lessors.

Private company GAAP alternatives

The Financial Accounting Foundation, FASB’s parent organization, established the PCC in May 2012. Its purpose is to improve the process of setting accounting standards for private companies that prepare their financial statements in accordance with GAAP.

Among other things, the body was tasked with working with FASB to determine whether alternatives to existing GAAP standards can ease the burden on private companies of preparing GAAP-compliant financial statements while better addressing the needs of users of those financial statements. Earlier this year, FASB issued the first two private-company GAAP alternatives, ASU 2014-02 and ASU 2014-03, addressing goodwill and interest rate swaps, respectively. ASU 2014-07 is the third private company alternative that FASB has issued.

GAAP approach to VIEs

Under GAAP, a company must consolidate the financial reporting from an entity in which it has a controlling financial interest. Two models are typically used to determine whether a company has a controlling interest in an entity: the voting interest model or the VIE model.

Under the VIE model, a company is deemed to have a controlling financial interest in an entity when it has 1) the power to direct the activities that most significantly affect the entity’s economic performance, and 2) the obligation to absorb losses, or the right to receive benefits, of the entity that could potentially be significant to the entity. To determine whether the VIE model applies, a company must determine whether it has an explicit or implicit variable interest in the entity and whether that entity is a VIE.

An explicit variable interest stems from contractual, ownership or other financial interests in the entity that directly absorb or receive the variability of the entity. An implicit variable interest involves the absorbing or receiving of variability from the entity indirectly. The identification of such interests is a matter of judgment based on the relevant facts and circumstances.

A VIE generally is a corporation, partnership or any other legal structure that is used for business purposes and either doesn’t have equity investors with voting rights or has equity investors that don’t provide sufficient financial resources for the entity to support its activities.

Leasing scenario

The new guidance specifically applies to leasing arrangements. Private companies commonly lease facilities from separate lessor entities owned by one of the company’s owners. The lessor entity usually is established for tax, estate planning or legal liability purposes — not to structure off-balance sheet debt arrangements. Typically, the lessor entity’s only asset is the leased facility, and the lease is the only contractual relationship between the lessee company and the lessor entity.

Existing GAAP guidance requires the lessee company to determine whether it holds a variable interest in the lessor entity (for example, a guarantee of the lessor’s debt). If it does, and the lessor is a VIE, the lessee company must assess whether it holds a controlling financial interest in the lessor under the VIE model. If the entities are under common control, the lessee generally must consolidate the financial reporting from the lessor.

The PCC found that, despite the cost and complexity of applying the GAAP VIE guidance in such a case, most users of private company financial statements consider the consolidation of the lessors under common control irrelevant. These users tend to focus on the cash flows and tangible worth of the stand-alone lessee entity, not the cash flows and tangible worth of the consolidated group presented under GAAP.

Moreover, consolidation of the lessor distorts the lessee’s financial statements. As a result, users who receive consolidated financial statements often request a consolidating schedule that they can use to reverse the effects of consolidation.

New alternative for private companies

Under ASU 2014-07, a private company lessee can elect an alternative not to apply the GAAP VIE guidance to a lessor if:

  • The private company lessee and the lessor entity are under common control,
  • The private company has a leasing arrangement with the lessor, and
  • Substantially all of the activity between the private company and the lessor is related to the leasing activities (including supporting leasing activities, such as issuance of a guarantee or providing collateral on the obligations related to the leased asset) between those two companies.

In addition, if the private company explicitly guarantees or provides collateral for any obligation of the lessor related to the asset leased by the private company, the principal amount of the obligation at inception can’t exceed the value of the asset leased by the private company from the lessor.

If a private company elects to apply the accounting alternative, it should apply the alternative to all current and future leasing arrangements satisfying the above conditions.

Electing the alternative would also free a private company from providing GAAP-compliant VIE disclosures about the lessor entity. The private company won’t be totally off the hook, though. It must disclose the following information:

  • The amount and key terms of liabilities (for example, debt, environmental liabilities and asset retirement obligations) recognized by the lessor entity that expose the private company to providing financial support to the entity, and
  • A qualitative description of circumstances not recognized in the lessor entity’s financial statements (for example, certain commitments or contingencies) that expose the private company to providing financial support to the entity.

These disclosures are required in combination with the other GAAP-required disclosures about the private company’s relationship with the lessor entity, such as those for guarantees, leases and related party transactions.

Effective date

A private company that elects the accounting alternative must apply it retrospectively to all periods presented on financial statements. The alternative will be effective for annual periods beginning after Dec. 15, 2014, and interim periods within annual periods beginning after Dec. 15, 2015. Early application is permitted for any period for which the company hasn’t yet issued financial statements.

If you have questions regarding how this guidance affects the preparation of your financial statements, please give us a call. We’d be happy to answer your questions.

SKR+CO Expert
Ellen Fisher, CPA, Audit Partner
Ellen has been in public accounting since 1997. She specializes in employee benefit plans, real estate and construction, financial institutions, nonprofits and small to mid-size businesses.