Lease Termination Costs

Journal of Accountancy, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Lease Termination Costs


Taxpayers frequently enter into leases to guarantee access to a particular asset at a fixed price. Due to market changes, some leases can become financially burdensome. In such cases a taxpayer can either continue the lease or try to terminate it. If the lessor is paid a cancellation fee, the law allows the taxpayer to deduct that fee because it does not create a substantial future benefit. As an alternative, the taxpayer can buy the asset from the lessor. The correct tax treatment of the purchase price recently came before the courts.

Stated simply, Union Carbide Foreign Sales Corp. leased a vessel from a partnership. It then chose to purchase the vessel rather than continue the lease or pay a lease cancellation fee. The company paid approximately $108 million for it although the value, ignoring the lease, was only $14 million. Therefore Union Carbide capitalized $14 million of the purchase price and deducted the remainder. The government wanted it to capitalize the entire purchase price.

Result. For the IRS. The government's main argument was that IRC section 167(c)(2) controls the taxation of the payment. This section says that if a taxpayer acquires property subject to a lease, none of the purchase price may be allocated to the leasehold interest; instead, the entire amount must be capitalized and depreciated.

Union Carbide argued that this applied only if the lease had continued. Since the lease was cancelled when the lessee acquired the property, section 167(c)(2) should not dictate the outcome. …

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