Employers' Accounting for Postretirement Benefits Other Than Pensions (Issued 12/90)
This Statement establishes accounting standards for employers' accounting for postretirement benefits other than pensions (hereinafter referred to as postretirement benefits). Although it applies to all forms of postretirement benefits, this Statement focuses principally on postretirement health care benefits. It will significantly change the prevalent current practice of accounting for postretirement benefits on a pay-as-you-go (cash) basis by requiring accrual, during the years that the employee renders the necessary service, of the expected cost of providing those benefits to an employee and the employee's beneficiaries and covered dependents.
The Board's conclusions in this Statement result from the view that a defined postretirement benefit plan sets forth the terms of an exchange between the employer and the employee. In exchange for the current services provided by the employee, the employer promises to provide, in addition to current wages and other benefits, health and other welfare benefits after the employee retires. It follows from that view that postretirement benefits are not gratuities but are part of an employee's compensation for services rendered. Since payment is deferred, the benefits are a type of deferred compensation. The employer's obligation for that compensation is incurred as employees render the services necessary to earn their postretirement benefits.
The ability to measure the obligation for postretirement health care benefits and the recognition of that obligation have been the subject of controversy. The Board believes that measurement of the obligation and accrual of the cost based on best estimates are superior to implying, by a failure to accrue, that no obligation exists prior to the payment of benefits. The Board believes that failure to recognize an obligation prior to its payment impairs the usefulness and integrity of the employer's financial statements.
The Board's objectives in issuing this Statement are to improve employers' financial reporting for postretirement benefits in the following manner:
a. To enhance the relevance and representational faithfulness of the employer's reported results of operations by recognizing net periodic postretirement benefit cost as employees render the services necessary to earn their postretirement benefits
b. To enhance the relevance and representational faithfulness of the employer's statement of financial position by including a measure of the obligation to provide postretirement benefits based on a mutual understanding between the employer and its employees of the terms of the underlying plan
c. To enhance the ability of users of the employer's financial statements to understand the extent and effects of the employer's undertaking to provide postretirement benefits to its employees by disclosing relevant information about the obligation and cost of the postretirement benefit plan and how those amounts are measured
d. To improve the understandability and comparability of amounts reported by requiring employers with similar plans to use the same method to measure their accumulated postretirement benefit obligations and the related costs of the postretirement benefits.
Similarity to Pension Accounting
The provisions of this Statement are similar, in many respects, to those in FASB Statements No. 87, Employers' Accounting for Pensions, and No. 88, Employers' Accounting for Settlements and Curtailments of Defined Benefit Pension Plans and for Termination Benefits. To the extent the promise to provide pension benefits and the promise to provide postretirement benefits are similar, the provisions of this Statement are similar to those prescribed by Statements 87 and 88; different accounting treatment is prescribed only when the Board has concluded that there is a compelling reason for different treatment. Appendix B identifies the major similarities and differences between this Statement and employers' accounting for pensions.
This Statement relies on a basic premise of generally accepted accounting principles that accrual accounting provides more relevant and useful information than does cash basis accounting. The importance of information about cash flows or the funding of the postretirement benefit plan is not ignored. Amounts funded or paid are given accounting recognition as uses of cash, but the Board believes that information about cash flows alone is insufficient. Accrual accounting goes beyond cash transactions and attempts to recognize the financial effects of noncash transactions and events as they occur. Recognition and measurement of the accrued obligation to provide postretirement benefits will provide users of financial statements with the opportunity to assess the financial consequences of employers' compensation decisions.
In applying accrual accounting to postretirement benefits, this Statement adopts three fundamental aspects of pension accounting: delayed recognition of certain events, reporting net cost, and offsetting liabilities and related assets.
Delayed recognition means that certain changes in the obligation for postretirement benefits, including those changes arising as a result of a plan initiation or amendment, and certain changes in the value of plan assets set aside to meet that obligation are not recognized as they occur. Rather, those changes are recognized systematically over future periods. All changes in the obligation and plan assets ultimately are recognized unless they are first reduced by other changes. The changes that have been identified and quantified but not yet recognized in the employer's financial statements as components of net periodic postretirement benefit cost and as a liability or asset are disclosed.
Net cost means that the recognized consequences of events and transactions affecting a postretirement benefit plan are reported as a single amount in the employer's financial statements. That single amount includes at least three types of events or transactions that might otherwise be reported separately. Those events or transactions—exchanging a promise of deferred compensation in the form of postretirement benefits for employee service, the interest cost arising from the passage of time until those benefits are paid, and the returns from the investment of plan assets—are disclosed separately as components of net periodic postretirement benefit cost.
Offsetting means that plan assets restricted for the payment of postretirement benefits offset the accumulated postretirement benefit obligation in determining amounts recognized in the employer's statement of financial position and that the return on those plan assets offsets postretirement benefit cost in the employer's statement of income. That offsetting is reflected even though the obligation has not been settled, the investment of the plan assets may be largely controlled by the employer, and substantial risks and rewards associated with both the obligation and the plan assets are borne by the employer.
Recognition and Measurement
The Board is sensitive to concerns about the reliability of measurements of the postretirement health care benefit obligation. The Board recognizes that limited historical data about per capita claims costs are available and that actuarial practice in this area is still developing. The Board has taken those factors into consideration in its decisions to delay the effective date for this Statement, to emphasize disclosure, and to permit employers to phase in recognition of the transition obligation in their statements of financial position. However, the Board believes that those factors are insufficient reason not to use accrual accounting for postretirement benefits in financial reporting. With increased experience, the reliability of measures of the obligation and cost should improve.
An objective of this Statement is that the accounting reflect the terms of the exchange transaction that takes place between an employer that provides postretirement benefits and the employees who render services in exchange for those benefits. Generally the extant written plan provides the best evidence of that exchange transaction. However, in some situations, an employer's cost-sharing policy, as evidenced by past practice or by communication of intended changes to a plan's cost-sharing provisions, or a past practice of regular increases in certain monetary benefits may indicate that the substantive plan—the plan as understood by the parties to the exchange transaction—differs from the extant written plan. The substantive plan is the basis for the accounting.
This Statement requires that an employer's obligation for postretirement benefits expected to be provided to or for an employee be fully accrued by the date that employee attains full eligibility for all of the benefits expected to be received by that employee, any beneficiaries, and covered dependents (the full eligibility date), even if the employee is expected to render additional service beyond that date. That accounting reflects the fact that at the full eligibility date the employee has provided all of the service necessary to earn the right to receive all of the benefits that employee is expected to receive under the plan.
The beginning of the attribution (accrual) period is the employee's date of hire unless the plan only grants credit for service from a later date, in which case benefits are generally attributed from the beginning of that credited service period. An equal amount of the expected postretirement benefit obligation is attributed to each year of service in the attribution period unless the plan attributes a disproportionate share of the expected benefits to employees' early years of service. The Board concluded that, like accounting for other deferred compensation agreements, accounting for postretirement benefits should reflect the explicit or implicit contract between the employer and its employees.
The Board believes that understandability, comparability, and usefulness of financial information are improved by narrowing the use of alternative accounting methods that do not reflect different facts and circumstances. The Board has been unable to identify circumstances that would make it appropriate for different employers to use fundamentally different accounting methods or measurement techniques for similar postretirement benefit plans or for a single employer to use fundamentally different methods or measurement techniques for different plans. As a result, a single method is prescribed for measuring and recognizing an employer's accumulated postretirement benefit obligation.
Amendment to Opinion 12
An employer's practice of providing postretirement benefits to selected employees under individual contracts, with specific terms determined on an individual-by-individual basis, does not constitute a postretirement benefit plan under this Statement. This Statement amends APB Opinion No. 12, Omnibus Opinion-1967, to explicitly require that an employer's obligation under deferred compensation contracts be accrued following the terms of the individual contract over the required service periods to the date the employee is fully eligible for the benefits.
Unlike the effects of most other accounting changes, a transition obligation for postretirement benefits generally reflects, to a considerable extent, the failure to accrue the accumulated postretirement benefit obligation in earlier periods as it arose rather than the effects of a change from one acceptable accrual method of accounting to another. The Board believes that accounting for transition from one method of accounting to another is a practical matter and that a major objective of that accounting is to minimize the cost and mitigate the disruption to the extent possible without unduly compromising the ability of financial statements to provide useful information.
This Statement measures the transition obligation as the unfunded and unrecognized accumulated postretirement benefit obligation for all plan participants. Two options are provided for recognizing that transition obligation. An employer can choose to immediately recognize the transition obligation as the effect of an accounting change, subject to certain limitations. Alternatively, an employer can choose to recognize the transition obligation in the statement of financial position and statement of income on a delayed basis over the plan participants' future service periods, with disclosure of the unrecognized amount. However, that delayed recognition cannot result in less rapid recognition than accounting for the transition obligation on a pay-as-you-go basis.
This Statement generally is effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 1992, except that the application of this Statement to plans outside the United States and certain small, nonpublic employers is delayed to fiscal years beginning after December 15, 1994. The amendment of Opinion 12 is effective for fiscal years beginning after March 15, 1991.
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The Board appreciates the contributions of the many people and organizations that assisted the Board in its research on this project.