Should Cloud Computing Setup Costs be Expensed or Capitalized?

Companies will be able to capitalize, or spread out the costs of, setting up pricey business systems that operate on cloud technology under an update to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Here are the details.

FASB responds to business complaints

Over the last three years, businesses have complained to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) about the different accounting treatment for cloud-based services vs. those operated on physical servers onsite. Businesses told the FASB that the economics of these arrangements are virtually the same.

As more businesses moved to cloud-based business applications, those complaints grew louder. So, in August, the FASB published Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2018-15, Intangibles — Goodwill and Other — Internal-Use Software (Subtopic 350-40): Customer’s Accounting for Implementation Costs Incurred in a Cloud Computing Arrangement That Is a Service Contract.

Existing GAAP “resulted in unnecessary complexity and needed to be updated to reflect emerging transactions in cloud computing arrangements that are service contracts,” FASB Chairman Russell Golden said in a statement. “To address this diversity in practice, this standard aligns the accounting for implementation costs of hosting arrangements — regardless of whether they convey a license to the hosted software.”

Old rules, new rules

Under existing GAAP, the accounting for services managed in the cloud differs depending on the type of contract a business has with a software provider. When a cloud computing (or hosting) arrangement doesn’t include a software license, the arrangement must be accounted for as a service contract. This means businesses must expense the costs as incurred.

Under the updated guidance, businesses will be able to treat the expenses of reconfiguring their systems and setting up cloud-managed business services as long-term assets and amortize them over the life of the arrangement.

The update also will align the accounting for implementation costs for cloud-managed systems with the accounting for costs associated with developing or obtaining internal-use software. Businesses will have to record the expense related to the capitalized implementation costs in the same line item in the income statement as the expense for the fees for the hosting arrangement.

Coming soon

The update is effective for public businesses for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019, and interim periods within those fiscal years. (This means 2020 for calendar-year companies.) For all other entities, the update is effective for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2020, and interim periods within annual periods beginning after December 15, 2021. Early adoption is also permitted. For assistance with determining how you should account for cloud setup costs, feel free to contact us.

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