What Are Some Types of Off-Balance Sheet Assets?

Off-balance sheet (OBS) refers to assets or liabilities that do not appear on a company's balance sheet. Although the OBS accounting method can be used in a number of scenarios, this accounting practice is especially useful for sheltering a company's financial statements from the impact of asset ownership and its corresponding liability.

Key Takeaways

  • Off-balance sheet (OBS) assets are assets that don’t appear on the balance sheet. 
  • OBS assets can be used to shelter financial statements from asset ownership and related debt. 
  • Common OBS assets include accounts receivable, leaseback agreements, and operating leases. 

Large asset purchases are often funded with debt financing, but too much debt can make a company less desirable to investors and lenders. Using the off-balance-sheet method for these types of assets can help businesses maintain appealing leverage ratios. Some of the most common OBS assets are operating leases, leaseback agreements, and accounts receivable.

Operating Lease

An OBS operating lease is one in which the lessor retains the leased asset on its balance sheet. The company leasing the asset only accounts for the monthly rental payments and other fees associated with the rental rather than listing the asset and corresponding liability on its own balance sheet.

At the end of the lease term, the lessee generally has the opportunity to purchase the asset at a drastically reduced price.

Leaseback Agreements

Under a leaseback agreement, a company can sell an asset, such as a piece of property, to another entity. They may then lease that same property back from the new owner. Like an operating lease, the company only lists the rental expenses on its balance sheet, while the asset itself is listed on the balance sheet of the owning business.

Accounts Receivable

Accounts receivable (AR) represents a considerable liability for many companies. This asset category is reserved for funds that have not yet been received from customers, so the possibility of default is high.

Instead of listing this risk-laden asset on its own balance sheet, companies can essentially sell this asset to another company, called a factor, which then acquires the risk associated with the asset. The factor pays the company a percentage of the total value of all AR upfront and takes care of the collection. Once customers have paid up, the factor pays the company the balance due minus a fee for services rendered. In this way, a business can collect what is owed while outsourcing the risk of default.

Examples of Off-Balance Sheet Assets

OBS assets allow companies to keep assets and liabilities off the balance sheet. This helps improve their accounting ratios or avoid breaking covenants.  Banks can move assets off its balance sheet through securitization. On balance sheet assets for banks are loans. 

Some companies create special purpose entities (SPEs) to keep assets off the balance sheet. It’s worth noting that OBS items tend to show up in the footnotes to financial statements. As well, the accounting profession has made efforts to limit OBS assets, such as with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). 

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