Summary of Interpretation No. 48

Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes—an interpretation of FASB Statement No. 109 (Issued 6/06)

Summary

This Interpretation clarifies the accounting for uncertainty in income taxes recognized in an enterprise’s financial statements in accordance with FASB Statement No. 109, Accounting for Income Taxes. This Interpretation prescribes a recognition threshold and measurement attribute for the financial statement recognition and measurement of a tax position taken or expected to be taken in a tax return. This Interpretation also provides guidance on derecognition, classification, interest and penalties, accounting in interim periods, disclosure, and transition.

The evaluation of a tax position in accordance with this Interpretation is a two-step process. The first step is recognition: The enterprise determines whether it is more likely than not that a tax position will be sustained upon examination, including resolution of any related appeals or litigation processes, based on the technical merits of the position. In evaluating whether a tax position has met the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold, the enterprise should presume that the position will be examined by the appropriate taxing authority that would have full knowledge of all relevant information. The second step is measurement: A tax position that meets the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold is measured to determine the amount of benefit to recognize in the financial statements. The tax position is measured at the largest amount of benefit that is greater than 50 percent likely of being realized upon ultimate settlement.

Differences between tax positions taken in a tax return and amounts recognized in the financial statements will generally result in one of the following:

  1. An increase in a liability for income taxes payable or a reduction of an income tax refund receivable

     

  2. A reduction in a deferred tax asset or an increase in a deferred tax liability

     

  3. Both (a) and (b).

     

An enterprise that presents a classified statement of financial position should classify a liability for unrecognized tax benefits as current to the extent that the enterprise anticipates making a payment within one year or the operating cycle, if longer. An income tax liability should not be classified as a deferred tax liability unless it results from a taxable temporary difference (that is, a difference between the tax basis of an asset or a liability as calculated using this Interpretation and its reported amount in the statement of financial position). This Interpretation does not change the classification requirements for deferred taxes.

Tax positions that previously failed to meet the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold should be recognized in the first subsequent financial reporting period in which that threshold is met. Previously recognized tax positions that no longer meet the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold should be derecognized in the first subsequent financial reporting period in which that threshold is no longer met. Use of a valuation allowance as described in Statement 109 is not an appropriate substitute for the derecognition of a tax position. The requirement to assess the need for a valuation allowance for deferred tax assets based on the sufficiency of future taxable income is unchanged by this Interpretation.

Reason for Issuing This Interpretation

In principle, the validity of a tax position is a matter of tax law. It is not controversial to recognize the benefit of a tax position in an enterprise’s financial statements when the degree of confidence is high that that tax position will be sustained upon examination by a taxing authority. However, in some cases, the law is subject to varied interpretation, and whether a tax position will ultimately be sustained may be uncertain. Statement 109 contains no specific guidance on how to address uncertainty in accounting for income tax assets and liabilities. As a result, diverse accounting practices have developed resulting in inconsistency in the criteria used to recognize, derecognize, and measure benefits related to income taxes. This diversity in practice has resulted in noncomparability in reporting income tax assets and liabilities.

How This Interpretation Will Improve Financial Reporting

This Interpretation will result in increased relevance and comparability in financial reporting of income taxes because all tax positions accounted for in accordance with Statement 109 will be evaluated for recognition, derecognition, and measurement using consistent criteria. Finally, the disclosure provisions of this Interpretation will provide more information about the uncertainty in income tax assets and liabilities.

How the Conclusions in This Interpretation Relate to the Conceptual Framework

In developing the recognition and measurement guidance of this Interpretation, the Board considered the qualitative characteristics discussed in FASB Concepts Statement No. 2, Qualitative Characteristics of Accounting Information. Those characteristics emphasize that comparable information enables users to identify similarities in and differences between two sets of economic events. This Interpretation establishes a consistent threshold for recognizing current and deferred taxes.

When a position is taken in a tax return that reduces the amount of income taxes paid to a taxing authority, the enterprise realizes an immediate economic benefit. However, considerable time can elapse before the acceptability of that tax position is determined. This Interpretation requires the affirmative evaluation that it is more likely than not, based on the technical merits of a tax position, that an enterprise is entitled to economic benefits resulting from positions taken in income tax returns. If a tax position does not meet the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold, the benefit of that position is not recognized in the financial statements.

The Effective Date of This Interpretation

This Interpretation is effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2006. Earlier application of the provisions of this Interpretation is encouraged if the enterprise has not yet issued financial statements, including interim financial statements, in the period this Interpretation is adopted.