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Facility Construction and Land Acquisition- GAAP vs Cash Basis

Question: 

A church purchased land and constructed a new building on it. How should the church record the land acquisition and subsequent construction of its facility?  Are they considered fixed assets and, in relation to the facility, depreciated?

Answer:

The accounting treatment of this situation depends on the church's choice of accounting method. If a church chooses to follow GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), it is required to capitalize all material fixed asset acquisitions, ranging from land and facilities to other long-lived assets exceeding some designated minimum threshold. For example, a church may choose to capitalize and depreciate all assets with a cost greater than $2,500.

If, however, the church uses the cash or modified cash basis of accounting, as most small- to medium-sized churches do, it will not record fixed assets on its books. Therefore, the cost of the land and building will simply be expensed at the time of purchase. Under this method, land and facility acquisition costs represent expenditures. A church which chooses to purchase the land and facility with cash has simply reduced its fund balances by the cost of acquisition. Recording the purchase price as an expense will likely result in a loss (decrease in fund balance) for the year.

The use of debt to finance a building purchase reduces the use of the fund balance for fixed asset costs. Once the church begins to make mortgage payments, they are regarded as expenditures. Excluding interest, each method will result in the same reduction of fund balance by the end of the mortgage period; the key difference between mortgaging and purchasing outright is the time period for recording the use of funds. While an outright purchase will result in a large one-time reduction in fund balance, disbursement of funds for a mortgage results in multiple smaller reductions over the life of the mortgage.

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