Understanding Operating and Capital Leases

The first thing to define is what a lease itself is. It’s an agreement or contract where one party, the lessor, allows another individual or business, the lessee, to use their asset in return for payments or different assets. The next step is to define the following types of leases. The two types covered in this article are operating and finance (or capital) leases.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)

IFRS does not differentiate between operating and capital leases. However, depending on if the loan has certain characteristics of transferring generally accepted rewards and risks, it would resemble what’s otherwise considered a finance lease. When it comes to Canadian Accounting Standards for Private Enterprises (ASPE) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the terms capital lease and finance lease can be used interchangeably.

Operating Leases

Operating leases are used when the client wants to rent and not purchase. During and once the lease is up, the lessor is always in possession.

It can be cheaper to rent – and sometimes renting is the only option for small or medium-sized businesses that are unable to purchase assets. Another advantage for businesses is that they can stay competitive by being able to upgrade their assets since they don’t own it. Along with lessees generally only having to pay for asset maintenance costs, operating expenses for the leased assets are likely tax-deductible because they’re considered business costs. Agreements normally last three-quarters of an asset’s estimated economic life, and the present value of lease payments is usually less than 90 percent of an asset’s fair market value.

Finance (Capital) Leases

Once this agreement’s term is up, the lessee owns the formerly leased asset. Unlike an operating lease, it provides the lessee an opportunity to purchase the asset below fair market value through a bargain purchase option. It also differs in that the contract’s term spans a minimum of three-quarters of the asset’s estimated useful life. If the present value of the lease payments is at least 90 percent of the asset’s original cost, it qualifies as this type of loan.

Determining the Loan Type

Looking through the lens of IFRS, one way to decide what type of a lease to enter is to calculate the present value of the smallest lease financial obligations. Taking the following loan terms, we can determine what percentage of the minimum lease payments are of the asset’s fair value when the lease is signed. Here’s an example.

On the first day of the year, a business signed a lease agreement for five years for equipment that has a fair value of $150,000 and has an interest rate of 8.75 percent. A single installment of $33,750 will be paid at the start of each year. The equipment will be returned to the lessor at the end of the lease. The asset’s useful life is five years, with no residual value. The company chooses the straight-line depreciation method.

Since the equipment will be returned to the lessor, the bargain purchase option doesn’t apply. Also, since the economic life is five years and the lease term are the same length, it’s 100 percent, rendering the asset to have no alternative use once the lease is completed. Therefore, we can determine the present value as follows:

Number of Periods (NPER) = 5 annual payments over the loan’s life

Rate = 8.75 annual interest rate

FV = 0 (future value)

PMT = $33,750 (single payment per 12-month period)

Type 1 = (payment is made at the beginning of the year)

Calculated using Excel, the present value is $143,693. This present value divided by the initial cost means that the asset’s fair value when leased is 95.8% ($143,693/$150,000)

Based on this calculation, with the least lease payments’ net present value well above the 90 percent minimum threshold, it would be considered a finance or capital lease.


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