SEC permits reasonable estimates of tax liability to ease effect of new tax law

By Ken Tysiac

Editor: Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

Companies that are having trouble accounting for the effects of the recently enacted P.L. 115-97, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, can report reasonable estimates for those effects in their financial statements for the reporting period in which the law was enacted, according to an SEC staff accounting bulletin available at www.sec.gov.

The law was enacted Dec. 22, and the SEC issued Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 118 to guide reporting entities that do not have the necessary information available, prepared, or analyzed to complete the accounting under FASB Accounting Standards Codification Topic 740, Income Taxes.

Under these circumstances, the SEC staff states that reporting provisional amounts based on reasonable estimates would be appropriate. In addition, if a reasonable estimate has been determined, it would not be appropriate to exclude that estimate from the financial statements, according to the SEC staff.

If an entity does not have the information to determine a reasonable estimate, the staff does not expect the entity to include related provisional amounts in its financial statements. In these cases, the staff wrote, the reporting entity should continue to apply Topic 740 based on the provisions of the tax laws that were in effect before the law was enacted.

When a reporting entity's accounting under Topic 740 is incomplete, the bulletin states that financial statement disclosures should include:

  • Qualitative disclosures of the income tax effects of the act for which the accounting is incomplete;
  • Disclosures of items reported as provisional amounts;
  • Disclosures of existing current or deferred tax amounts for which the income tax effects of the act have not been completed;
  • The reason the initial accounting is incomplete;
  • The additional information that needs to be obtained, prepared, or analyzed to complete the accounting requirements under Topic 740;
  • The nature and amount of any measurement period adjustments recognized during the reporting period;
  • The effect of measurement period adjustments on the effective tax rate; and
  • When the accounting for the income tax effects of the act has been completed.
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