Capital Lease vs Operating Lease | What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

Businesses are bought, sold, and liquidated all the time. Furthermore, business owners frequently need to approach investors or business partners for cash injections or other dealings. But all of these activities can only happen if the actual value of the business at hand is known.

This can be difficult to tell from the bottom line of a business's balance sheet. However, there are multiple methods of business valuation that company owners, shareholders, investors, and valuation agencies can use to estimate the value of a business based on assets, market environment, and other factors.

This guide will break down the eight major business valuation methods to use, as well as explain when each valuation method is appropriate for the target company.

What Is a Capital Lease?

If you have an agreement in which you will own the item at the end of the lease agreement — also know as a lease-to-own agreement — then the lease is a capital lease.

Another capital lease situation is when you’re given the option to purchase the item at a discount at the end of the leasing term. If you have this option, then your lease is a capital lease.

A capital lease can also be defined by other factors. If the present value of your lease payments is greater than 90 percent of the item’s fair market value, then you have a capital lease. For example, if you lease a truck valued at $50,000 for 48 months and pay $975 a month, then the value of your lease is $46,800, which is 93.6 percent of $50,000, making it a capital lease. Similarly, if you have a lease that lasts for at least 75 percent of the item’s estimated useful life, then your lease is a capital lease.

Capital lease

What Is an Operating Lease?

Operating lease

An operating lease can be defined essentially as a lease agreement in which there is no element of ownership in regard to the leased item. Thus, if you have a lease in which there is no transfer of ownership at the end of the agreement — so it is not a lease-to-own arrangement — then the lease is an operating lease. If there’s also no option to purchase the leased item at the end of the lease term, then it is an operating lease.

Similarly, if the value of your lease payments is equal to less than 90 percent of the item’s fair market value, then the arrangement is an operating lease. And if your lease terms are shorter than 75 percent of the item’s estimated useful life, then you have an operating lease.

Capital Lease vs. Operating Lease

With the fundamentals of a capital lease versus operating lease laid out, you can now figure out which lease arrangement works best for you. In the end, your decision depends largely on the types of assets you need for your business and the role it plays in business operations.

Pros and Cons of a Capital Lease

Perhaps the best feature of a capital lease is the ability to try out the asset before you buy it. This is great if you’re undecided on the practical value of an asset and don’t want to commit to an outright purchase of the item before you know its worth. If the item turns out not to be worth it, then you can decide against purchasing the item at the end of the lease. And if the leased item does prove worth it, with a capital lease you can then take on ownership. What’s more, you can use interest expenses on a capital lease to reduce your taxable income.

The main drawbacks with a capital lease relate to its cost and risks involved with ownership. In terms of cost, with a capital lease, you can often end up paying more in lease payments than in buying the asset right away or in payments for a typical loan agreement. Since capital leases grant aspects of ownership, you take on the associated risks. For example, if you have a capital lease on a major piece of equipment, then you’re responsible for its repair and maintenance costs.

Drawing of a capital lease

Other minor downsides of a capital lease relate to taxes. Specifically, capital lease payments are not tax-deductible expenses, though the interest on payments is deductible. Although with many leases, the lessee can claim depreciation on the asset to reduce taxable income, some leases are not eligible for depreciation allowances on your taxes.

Pros and Cons of an Operating Lease

Many of the benefits of an operating lease come from potential savings. With operating leases, you can rent equipment that is too expensive to purchase. Like a lease from a car dealership, with an operating lease, costs for repairs and maintenance are often covered by the lessor, which can be very useful for equipment that requires significant upkeep. From a tax standpoint, operating leases are beneficial because lease payments are tax-deductible expenses.

Another benefit of operating leases is that accounting for them is generally easier than the accounting for a capital lease. Namely, most operating leases have terms of 12 months or less, with payments simply recorded as expenses on your profit and loss statement. Capital leases also have accounting features that are a bit more involved than what needs to be done for an operating lease, such as creating an additional liability account called Capital Lease Payable.

The main drawback of an operating lease is due to the lack of ownership at the end of the lease agreement. And as with capital leases, there is the danger that you will end up paying more in lease payments than you would if you purchased the asset, even if it required taking out a loan to do.

Operating lease board

Now, when it comes to leases, one way to go is to seek professional legal assistance from the number of formation services and registered agents to help you in advance with what to expect. 

Reliable Business Formation Services

Swyft Filings

This is a reliable company to consider when you want to designate a registered agent service for your business. Swyft Filings offers affordable payment packages that come with incredible features. Despite only being in business since 2015, their 100% positive reviews are speaking for themselves.

BizFilings

With an A+ rating with the BBB, BizFilings is a trusted online formation service. Their BizComply tool keeps track of any important filing dates and deadlines. BizFilings will take you through the whole process smoothly with their on-going support. 

SunDoc Filings

When compared to other formation services, SunDoc Filings provides volume discounts for multiple states and entities and equally amazing customer support. However, its basic package lacks some important features and registered agent service fees are slightly higher than its competitors'.

Inc Authority

Inc Authority is one of the successful firm’s offering LLC formation services. If you are looking for cheaper services then Inc Authority could be the one for you. Service that make Inc Authority stand out from the rest is tax planning consultation. Taxes are a vital aspect of the business, and you should ensure you comply.

My Corporation

This formation service is If you want perfect if you want an annual report service. On top of that, their customer report is great, so MyCorporation may be the right choice. On the other hand, you may want to hire competition that offer registered agent service in their packages at a lower price.

The Bottom Line

Both capital leases and operating leases come with advantages and disadvantages. One is not inherently better than the other, but instead depends on your circumstances and what you’re looking to accomplish. What’s more, you’re likely to have more than one lease agreement for your business operations, often a combination of capital leases and operating leases.

When deciding on a capital lease versus an operating lease, the most important factors are the types of equipment or other assets you need to do business. An operating lease, in which the value of lease payments must be less than 90 percent of the item’s market value, might make the most sense for leasing a building to run your business out of. Meanwhile, for this same business, a capital lease could make the most sense for items like cars and trucks if the company depends on vehicles for its operation.

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