GASB Simplifies Accounting for Capitalized Interest

By Susan Friend, CPA

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 89 (Statement), Accounting for Interest Cost Incurred before the End of a Construction Period, which is effective for reporting periods beginning after Dec. 15, 2019, brings a welcome relief to state and local governments by eliminating complex capitalized interest calculations.

Under this Statement, for financial statements prepared using the economic resources measurement focus, interest incurred during construction will be recognized as an expense of the period. This means that interest costs will no longer be included as part of the historical cost of a capital asset. Interest costs on ongoing construction in progress will be capitalized only through the implementation date. Furthermore, the provisions of this Statement are to be applied prospectively and therefore do not require restatement of any prior period balances.

This Statement does not change the treatment of accounting for interest costs incurred before the end of a construction period in financial statements prepared using the current financial resources measurement focus (modified accrual basis) where an expenditure is recorded, or for governmental activities which never required capitalizing interest. With the implementation of this new Statement, capital asset and cost of borrowing information for a reporting period for both governmental activities and business-type activities will be more comparable.

Prior to implementation, state and local governments should determine how additional interest expense that will be recorded will affect bond covenants and their budget. An additional item to note is that this new Statement is a departure from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) standards, both of which require the capitalization of interest. As a result, financial statements of public sector entities and similar privately run entities will not be comparable.

Although accounting is simplified for many organizations, there is an exception for regulated operations and some concerns for component units.
For governments that have regulated operations (as defined by paragraph 476 of GASB Statement No. 62), the requirements of paragraph 485 of GASB Statement No. 62 are not eliminated with this new Statement. What this means is that if a regulator requires your organization to calculate and capitalize construction period interest, you will still be required to capitalize qualifying interest costs as a regulatory asset.

As a best practice, most component units of a primary government adopt new standards in the same fiscal year as the primary government so that the financial statements are presented consistently. It is a good idea for representatives from each component of the reporting entity to meet and discuss planned implementation dates to ensure consistency.

This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Nonprofit Standard” newsletter (Spring 2019). Copyright © 2019 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved. www.bdo.com