Evaluating Net Operating Loss Considerations

Net Operating Loss, what is Net Operating LossWhen it comes to determining if a business is eligible to claim a net operating loss (NOL), it depends on the financial situation. If a business’ taxable income is less than its allowable deductions in a set tax period, usually a year, then the business can utilize the NOL deduction on future tax obligations. Since some businesses’ profits and losses result from uneven cycles, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code permits businesses to find a balance with their tax obligations.

How a Net Operating Loss Works

Here is an example showing a business’ situation with annual profit/loss summaries:

Year one: High profits and big tax payments due

Year two: Net operating loss incurred

Year three: High profits and big tax payments due

The way a NOL deduction works in the example above is that the losses from year two can be used to offset taxes due in year three.

Net Operating Loss (NOL) = Taxable Income – Allowable Tax Deductions

Referring to the income statement, if the company’s bottom line is a net loss, then the company might be eligible to take advantage of the NOL deduction.

It’s important to keep in mind there have been modifications to what and how businesses may use this. Until recently, the IRS let businesses utilize the carryback method to offset losses to prior years’ tax bills (up to 24 months of tax liabilities), resulting in an immediate refund. However, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, NOLs were modified. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, or later, the two-year carryback provision was removed (except for select farming losses), but allowed for an indefinite carryforward period. The TCJA also limits carryforwards to 80 percent of each subsequent year’s net income. Additionally, if a business records a net operating loss in more than one tax year, they must be exhausted in the order that the losses occurred. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act permitted NOLs occurring in tax years 2018, 2019, and 2020 to be carried back five years and carried forward indefinitely. However, the exemptions have now expired. Losses that occurred in pre-2018 tax years are still subject to former tax rules, with any remaining losses expiring after 20 years. Beginning with the 2021 tax year, when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in 2017, it permitted carryforwards of NOLS indefinitely. However, only 80 percent of taxable income can be “carried forward” during a single tax period.

2021 and Forward NOL Example

Year one: NOL $10 million

Year two: Taxable income of $3 million

Year three: Taxable income of $5 million

For year two, with the taxable income’s carryover limit (80 percent) of $3 million is $2.4 million. With the carryover limit subtracted ($3 million – $2.4 million = $600,000), the company’s taxable income will be $600,000 for year two. The remaining NOL of $7.6 million will be considered a “deferred tax asset.” Looking at year three, 80 percent of the year’s $5 million in taxable income equals $4,000,000 in a carryover limit. Subtracting $4 million from $5 million in year three’s taxable income, the business will have $1 million in taxable income, and $3.6 million will be the remaining NOL balance at the end of year three. 

With the tax code continuing to evolve, businesses that stay up-to-date with changes in the IRS Code will make the most of their ability to maximize deductions and reduce liabilities.

How to Account for Capital Assets

Capital Assets, Accounting for Capital AssetsWhen it comes to accounting for capital assets, specifically depreciating capital assets, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) provides guidance to state and local governments for accounting processes. The GASB is responsible for the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for the private sector (corporate and business accounting), and it works to promote clear, consistent, transparent, and comparable financial reporting.

One of the three primary GASB pronouncements that impact how these agencies manage their fixed assets includes Statement No. 34, which requires all government entities to use accrual accounting. In addition, such entities must depreciate their capital assets according to its guidelines.

Under the section titled “Basic Financial Statements and Management’s Discussion and Analysis for State and Local Governments,” Statement No. 34 mandates when entities must comply depending on the entity’s annual revenues. Entities with $100 million plus must comply beginning with their first fiscal year after June 15, 2001. Entities with annual revenues of between $10 million and $100 million must comply starting with their first fiscal year post-June 15, 2002. Entities with annual revenues of up to $10 million must comply by their first fiscal year after June 15, 2003.  

Capital Assets Overview

The first step in determining a capital asset is to ensure it has a useful life greater than a single reporting period. Examples of capital assets include vehicles, easements, buildings, land and land improvements, and infrastructure (tunnels, bridges, roads, lighting systems, etc.). When defining infrastructure, it must be something that can be used for the long term; generally is stationary, and when a building is looked at, it’s included only if the building is integral to a network of infrastructure assets.

When it comes to reporting capital assets, they should be reported at their historical costs (inclusive of installation and freight charges). For donated assets, they should be recorded at their fair market value at time received.

Depreciation Expense Reporting Considerations

When an asset is identified with a specific function, it’s recommended to be a direct expense. This includes appropriate assets that are attributable to a unique department or role. If the asset is used by many different departments and there are depreciation expenses, they should be proportionate to how each department uses the respective assets. Additionally, if an asset function across multiple departments or across citywide functions, its depreciation expense is not categorized as a direct expense but rather as a separate line in the Statement of Activities.

Whether it’s straight or declining balance methods (such as double declining balance and 150 percent declining balance), it is done over the asset’s useful life. When it comes to determining an asset’s useful life, government entities can base their calculations on their own past internal experience for similar needs, how other government entities treated similar asset classifications that are publicly available, or industry or professional organization’s published guidelines. Condition and the expected service life are two important factors to be considered.

Another important factor in how depreciation is calculated depends on how assets themselves are classified. For example, it can be done through the following lenses:

  • Individual assets
  • Classes of assets
  • Networks of assets
  • Subsystems of a network of assets

Looking at the last two ways to analyze these assets for depreciation, rural roads, state highways, and Interstate highways can be broken down into three discrete systems, also referred to as a subsystem of the network. However, if all three different transportation systems are grouped together, the bigger system would be a network of infrastructure assets or a network of assets.

With capital assets expected to be a part of governments’ budgets, understanding the intricacies is essential to ensure standards are met.

Purchase Acquisition Accounting

Purchase acquisition accounting is the commonly accepted method to document the acquisition of another business on the balance sheet of the acquiring company. The business’ assets that are being acquired are documented on the acquiring firm’s books at fair market value. The fair market value – defined as what assets would go for on the open market between a buyer and seller on the acquisition date – would increase the overall value of the acquiring company.  

The purchase accounting adjustment re-assesses the acquired business’ liabilities and assets to fair value. Required under GAAP and IFRS, re-assessed items include intangibles, inventories and fixed assets. Adding intangible assets, like non-compete agreements or customer rosters, to the acquiring company’s books will impact how assets and liabilities are valued because these items were not originally accounted for by the acquired company.

Potential accounting outcomes from an acquisition include depreciation and inventory considerations. Depreciation strategies, such as going beyond straight-line depreciation, will need to be examined and strategically implemented because fixed assets with higher valuations will have accounting implications. For inventory that is re-assessed with higher valuations, the cost of goods sold will increase upon sales for the acquiring company.

Looking forward, the purchase accounting adjustments often affect the business taking ownership of recognizable non-cash expenses. The company buying the other company out can see major losses from these recognizable non-cash expenses prior to the business completing amortization of the underlying intangible assets. Companies, chiefly publicly traded ones, are encouraged to discuss the losses in financial documents to illustrate their impact on forward guidance.

According to ASC 805 and GAAP, in order to be considered a business combination, certain criteria must be met. According to the CPA Journal, businesses must evaluate if the transaction in question meets the distinctions between acquiring another business versus acquiring assets only. It’s important to distinguish between the two because if an asset acquisition occurs, the transaction is processed via a cost accumulation standard. However, if the transaction in question qualifies as a business acquisition, meeting ASC 805 criteria, it uses a fair value standard.

The primary way to determine in which category a transaction may be classified is to see if it fits the business definition. Based upon FASB’s January 217 Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2017-01, Clarifying the Definition of a Business, the following explanation is provided.

According to FASB, to be considered a business for this business acquisition accounting purpose, a company is defined as a group or collection of tasks that encompass “an input and a substantive process.” Though it’s important to note that the fair value of the collection is not centralized in one or multiple assets. The inputs and processes generally result in services and/or goods to buyers and repayment to stakeholders. It also may apply to companies that don’t presently produce outputs.

When it comes to a business acquisition, having accountants that understand the intricacies of navigating the process is essential for a business to emerge more streamlined after integrating assets.

Understanding Modified Accrual Accounting

What is Modified Accrual AccountingAccording to the Federal Register, there were about 90,000 local and state government entities throughout the country in 2022. This number is comprised of towns, counties, cities, special districts, and independent school districts. One of the commonalities these organizations share is their use of modified accrual accounting.

Understanding the Differences Between Cash and Accrual Accounting

Cash basis accounting recognizes transactions upon the exchange of cash. Expenses are not recognized until they are paid, and revenue isn’t recognized until payment has been received. Neither future obligations nor anticipated revenues are recorded in financial statements until the cash transaction has happened.

Accrual accounting treats the recognition of expenses when they are incurred. When it comes to recognizing revenue, it occurs once a business is owed compensation for its contracted complete delivery of products or services. The act of exchanging cash or payment is less important with accrual accounting.

What is Modified Accrual Accounting

This method of accounting merges the directness of cash accounting and some attributes of the more complex but equally useful accrual accounting method to account for transaction differences. One can record modified accrual accounting as each transaction is analyzed and accounted for, hinging primarily on whether an asset is short- or long-term, be it how a business recognizes revenue or incurs a liability.

Short Term Versus Long Term

This method is highly dependent on the type of asset in question. When the cash balance has been impacted by a short-term occurrence, such as a sale to a customer or the purchase of raw materials from a vendor, it must be recorded using the cash basis. This is most often recorded on the income statement.

When it comes to events that impact more than one accounting timeframe, it is referred to as long-term. If the debt that is due beyond 12 months or fixed assets are in question, these are considered long-term and must be documented on the balance sheet.

For assets such as fixed long-term debt and fixed assets, which are considered longer-term, they are recorded on the balance sheet. Such assets are then depreciated or amortized over an asset’s lifetime.

Where Modified Accrual is Used

While public companies may use this for financial statements internally, it is not permitted for public financial reporting by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). One important consideration for private or public companies is that when the modified cash basis method is used, there is an implicit consideration that transactions recorded on a cash basis will have to be adjusted to an accrual-based accounting to be accepted by third-party auditors.

Since the financial statements submitted to be evaluated by a third-party auditor would not have been 100 percent on an accrual basis, they would fail a third-party audit, creating a crisis of confidence among outside observers. The transition from a cash basis will require less translation to a full accrual basis accounting. However, for non-publicly traded, private businesses, for internally-only used financial statements and/or no financing required, it can be useful.

One important reason this standard is widely used throughout government agencies is because the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) created the standard, and it is recognized as an established metric.

The reason governmental agencies implement this standard is because local and state governments keep their attention on present year fiscal responsibilities. This works with their dual principal purposes. The first is to document in any event if present-year monetary inflows are satisfactory to fund present-year costs. It also satisfies that each government entity can substantiate if government funds are utilized in accordance with the law.

Depending on the type of entity and how they are functioning in the economy, private or public sectors can look at how modified accrual accounting impacts their operations.

How to Look at Liquidity through an Accounting Lens

Liquidity, Accounting LiquidityLiquidity refers to a business’s ability to convert its short-term assets or securities into cash quickly to meet its short-term financial obligations or pay bills due within the next 12 months. Naturally, cash is the most liquid. This is different than solvency, which refers to the ability of a business to satisfy its long-term bills.

It’s important to distinguish between market liquidity and accounting liquidity. Market liquidity implies how a nation’s stock market or real estate market functions, specifically if there are enough buyers and sellers. The closer the bid and ask prices are, the greater the level of liquidity that exists. The greater the liquidity, the easier it is for participants to transact.

Determining the liquidity of a business helps investors see how a company balances its cash. This demonstrates how well a company manages its ability to pay bills versus being able to direct money for retained earnings, dividends, reinvesting in its business, or for acquisitions. When it comes to measuring liquidity, there are three ratios that estimate how liquid a business is: current, quick, and cash ratios.

Current Ratio

This compares current assets to current liabilities. It’s expressed as follows:

Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities  = $20,000 / $5,000 = 4

This means for every $1 in outstanding bills, the company has $4 in cash available to satisfy those debts. While each industry has a unique target ratio, a range of 1.5 to 2.5 is seen as a healthy measure.

Quick Ratio (Acid-Test Ratio)

This calculation removes inventories and some short-term assets that are more illiquid than incoming payments expected to be paid within a reasonable short-term time frame, such as accounts receivable. It’s expressed as:

Quick Ratio = (Cash and Cash Equivalents + Short-Term Investments + Accounts Receivable) / Current Liabilities   

If the resulting number is less than 1, this could indicate the business is facing an inability to pay its short-term bills.

Cash Ratio

This looks at how well a company can pay off short-term debt with its cash and similar financial assets that can be converted to cash instantaneously. It’s expressed as follows:

Cash Ratio = Cash and Cash Equivalents / Current Liabilities = $10,000 / $3,000 = 3.33

With a 3.33 ratio, this example shows the company is in good shape liquidity-wise. A general reference of at least 0.5 (but higher shows better financial health) is recommended.

Interpreting Results

Once the results are calculated, businesses can analyze their findings and see the financial position of their company. For example, if they are looking for financing, lenders take into account these ratios to determine a level of confidence in debt repayment. If a company is looking for investors, savvy investors can determine how competitive the company is against its industry/sector competitors.

Internal Company Reflection

Depending on the company’s circumstances, changes might need to be implemented immediately and over the long term. A business may need to look at operating costs to cut costs. Cash flow projections are recommended to see how the company is doing on its restructuring and cost-cutting efforts.

When it comes to managing liquidity, using these ratios along with short- and long-term planning to improve a company’s financial and liquidity position can make a business more attractive to lenders and investors and more resistant to economic downturns.