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SEC Offers Relief on Tax Expense Adjustments

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January 17, 2018 | Barbara Baksa

SEC Offers Relief on Tax Expense Adjustments

As I noted back in May ("An Expensive Tax Cut"), companies will have to adjust the deferred tax assets recorded for stock compensation as a result of the new corporate tax rate. Because the tax reform bill was enacted in late December, companies don't have as much time to record these adjustments as we might have originally expected, so the SEC has issued Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 118 to provide some relief.

What Adjustments?

The DTAs you've recorded for stock awards represent a future tax savings that the company expects to realize when the awards are eventually settled. When you recorded the expected savings, you based it on a 35% corporate tax rate. Now that the corporate tax rate has been reduced to 21%, the expected savings is a lot less (40% less, to be exact).

For example, say you recorded a DTA of $3,500 for an award worth $10,000 (the DTA was 35% of the $10,000 fair value of the award). Assuming that no portion of the award has been settled, you now need to adjust that DTA down to $2,100 ($10,000 multiplied by the new 21% corporate tax rate). You make the adjustment by recording tax expense for the difference between the new DTA and the original DTA. In my example, you would record tax expense of $1,400 ($3,500 less $2,100).

When Do Companies Record the Adjustments?

The adjustments have to be recorded in the period that the change in the corporate tax rates is enacted, not when it goes into effect. Once you know the tax rate is going to change, there's no point in continuing to report based on the old rate; you immediately adjust your expectations. Since the bill was signed into law on December 22 and most companies have a fiscal period that ended on December 31, most companies will record the adjustments in that period. That doesn't give companies much time to calculate the adjustments.

SAB 118

My example was very simple; things are a lot more complex in the real world, so it might not be quite that easy for companies to figure out the total adjustment they need to record for their DTAs. In addition, in some cases, it may not be clear what the adjustment should be. For example, the tax reform bill also makes changes to Section 162(m) (see "Tax Reform Targets 162(m)" and grandfathers some compensation arrangements from those changes (see "Tax Reform: The Final Scorecard"). There are currently some questions about which arrangements qualify for the grandfather; for arrangements that don't qualify, the DTA may have to be reduced to $0. Companies may not be able to determine the adjustments they need to make to their DTAs until the IRS provides guidance.

Which brings us to SAB 118. The SEC issued SAB 118 to provide guidance to companies who are unable to determine all of the tax expense adjustments necessary in time to issue their financials. The SAB allows companies to make adjustments based on reasonable estimates if they cannot determine the exact amount of the adjustment. Where companies cannot even make a reasonable estimate, they can continue to report based on the laws that were in effect in 2017.

The SAB also provides guidance on the disclosures companies must make with respect to the above choices and provides guidance on how companies should report the correct amounts, once they are known.

- Barbara

P.S.—For more information about how the tax reform bill impacts DTAs and SAB 118, don't miss today's webcast "Tax Reform: What's the Final Word?"

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