Accounting for deferred financing costs

External financing often represents a significant or important part of a company’s capital structure. Companies obtain such financing to fund working capital, acquire a business, etc. The process of obtaining a loan or issuing debt securities involves costs. In this article, we will look at accounting requirements for debt issuance costs under US GAAP and an example of accounting for such costs using the effective interest rate method and the straight-line method.

1. Nature and accounting for debt issue costs

When a company obtains a loan (e.g., from a bank) or issues bonds, some costs may be incurred. These costs include legal, accounting and underwriting fees, commissions, and so on. There are several interchangeable terms for such costs: debt issue costs, debt issuance costs, bond issuance costs, or deferred financing costs. We will use the term deferred financing costs in this article even though other terms are acceptable as well.

There is a little controversy related to accounting for deferred financing costs. On one hand, these costs don’t appear to provide future benefits, and thus, they should not be recorded as assets and should be expensed when incurred. On the other hand, generally accepted accounting principles issued by the FASB indicate that deferred financing costs should be recorded on the balance sheet and amortized over the financing (e.g., loan or bonds) term. This controversy may be resolved at some point as part of the accounting standard modifications, but for now US GAAP requires capitalization and amortization of deferred financing costs.

How should deferred financing costs be amortized? The FASB again indicates that the effective interest rate method should be used. However, the straight-line method can be applied as well if the differences resulting from its application when compared to the effective interest rate method are not material (i.e., not significant to users of financial statements).

The effective interest rate method, as we will see further, results in a constant rate of amortization charges in relation to the related debt balance. The straight-line method, however, results in a lower rate during the first part of a debt term and higher rate towards the end of the debt term.

(Note: This article only covers the basics of accounting for deferred financing costs. More complex issues related to accounting for these costs are not discussed here).

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