Summary of Significant Accounting Policies and Practices
The consolidated financial statements include the accounts of Nelnet, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries. In addition, the accounts of all variable interest entities (“VIEs”) of which the Company has determined that it is the primary beneficiary are included in the consolidated financial statements. All significant intercompany balances and transactions have been eliminated in consolidation.
Variable Interest Entities
The following entities are VIEs of which the Company has determined that it is the primary beneficiary. The primary beneficiary is the entity which has both: (1) the power to direct the activities of the VIE that most significantly impact the VIE's economic performance, and (2) the obligation to absorb losses or receive benefits of the entity that could potentially be significant to the VIE.
The Company's education lending subsidiaries are engaged in the securitization of education finance assets. These education lending subsidiaries hold beneficial interests in eligible loans, subject to creditors with specific interests. The liabilities of the Company's education lending subsidiaries are not the direct obligations of Nelnet, Inc. or any of its other subsidiaries. Each education lending subsidiary is structured to be bankruptcy remote, meaning that it should not be consolidated in the event of bankruptcy of the parent company or any other subsidiary. The Company is generally the administrator and master servicer of the securitized assets held in its education lending subsidiaries and owns the residual interest of the securitization trusts. As a result, for accounting purposes, the transfers of student loans to the securitization trusts do not qualify as sales. Accordingly, all the financial activities and related assets and liabilities, including debt, of the securitizations are reflected in the Company's consolidated financial statements and are summarized as supplemental information on the balance sheet.
The Company owns 91.5 percent of the economic rights of ALLO Communications LLC and has a disproportional 80 percent of the voting rights related to all operating decisions for ALLO's business. See note 1, “Description of Business,” for a description of ALLO, including the primary services offered. ALLO's management, as current minority members, has the opportunity to earn an additional 11.5 percent of the total ownership interests based on the financial performance of ALLO. In addition to the Company’s equity investment, Nelnet, Inc. (the parent) has issued a $270.0 million line of credit to ALLO. As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the outstanding balance, including accrued interest, on the line of credit was $193.1 million and $58.0 million, respectively. Nelnet, Inc.’s maximum exposure to loss as a result of its involvement with ALLO is equal to its equity investment and the outstanding balance and accrued interest on the line of credit. The amounts owed by ALLO to Nelnet, Inc., including the interest costs incurred by ALLO and interest earnings recognized by Nelnet, Inc., are not reflected in the Company’s consolidated balance sheet as they were eliminated in consolidation. All of ALLO’s financial activities and related assets and liabilities, excluding the line of credit, are reflected in the Company’s consolidated financial statements. See note 15, “Segment Reporting,” for disclosure of ALLO’s total assets and results of operations (included in the "Communications" operating segment), note 10, "Goodwill," for disclosure of ALLO's goodwill, and note 11, “Property and Equipment,” for disclosure of ALLO’s fixed assets. ALLO's goodwill and property and equipment comprise the majority of its assets. The assets recognized as a result of consolidating ALLO are the property of ALLO and are not available for any other purpose, other than to Nelnet, Inc. as a secured lender under ALLO's line of credit.
Amounts for noncontrolling interests reflect the proportionate share of membership interest (equity) and net income attributable to the holders of minority membership interests in the following entities:
Whitetail Rock Capital Management, LLC - WRCM is the Company’s SEC-registered investment advisor subsidiary. WRCM issued 10 percent minority membership interests on January 1, 2012.
ALLO Communications LLC - On December 31, 2015, the Company purchased 92.5 percent of the ownership interests of ALLO. On January 1, 2016, the Company sold a 1.0 percent ownership interest in ALLO to a non-related third-party. The remaining 7.5 percent of the ownership interests of ALLO is owned by ALLO management, who has the opportunity to earn an additional 11.5 percent (up to 19 percent) of the total ownership interests based on the financial performance of ALLO.
401 Building, LLC (“401 Building”) - 401 Building is an entity established on October 19, 2015 for the sole purpose of acquiring, developing, and operating a commercial building. The Company owns 50 percent of 401 Building.
TDP Phase Three, LLC (“TDP”) and TDP Phase Three-NMTC ("TDP-NMTC") - TDP and TDP-NMTC are entities that were established in October 2015 for the sole purpose of developing and operating the new headquarters of Hudl. The Company owns 25 percent of each TDP and TDP-NMTC.
330-333 Building, LLC ("330-333 Building") - 330-333 Building is an entity established on January 14, 2016 for the sole purpose of acquiring, developing, and operating a commercial building. The Company owns 50 percent of 330-333 Building.
The Company is a tenant in the 401 Building, the headquarters of Hudl, and the 330-333 Building. Because the Company, as lessee, was involved in the asset construction, 401 Building, TDP, TDP-NMTC, and 330-333 Building are included in the Company's consolidated financial statements.
GreatNet Solutions, LLC ("GreatNet") - GreatNet is a joint venture created to respond to an initiative by the Department for the procurement of a contract for federal student loan servicing. As of December 31, 2017, Nelnet Servicing, LLC ("Nelnet Servicing"), a subsidiary of the Company, and Great Lakes each owned 50 percent of the ownership interests in GreatNet. For financial reporting purposes, the balance sheet and operating results of GreatNet are included in the Company's consolidated financial statements and presented in the Company's Loan Systems and Servicing operating segment. On February 7, 2018, the Company purchased 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Great Lakes. See note 2, “Recent Developments” for additional information on this business acquisition.
Use of Estimates
The preparation of the consolidated financial statements in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”) requires management to make a number of estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities, reported amounts of revenues and expenses, and other disclosures. Actual results may differ from those estimates.
Loans consist of federally insured student loans, private education loans, and consumer loans. If the Company has the ability and intent to hold loans for the foreseeable future, such loans are held for investment and carried at amortized cost. Amortized cost includes the unamortized premium or discount and capitalized origination costs and fees, all of which are amortized to interest income. Loans which are held-for-investment also have an allowance for loan loss as needed. Any loans the Company has the ability and intent to sell are classified as held for sale and are carried at the lower of cost or fair value. Loans which are held for sale do not have the associated premium or discount and origination costs and fees amortized into interest income and there is also no related allowance for loan losses. There were no loans classified as held for sale as of December 31, 2017 and 2016.
Federally insured loans were originated under the FFEL Program by certain eligible lenders as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (the “Higher Education Act”). These loans, including related accrued interest, are guaranteed at their maximum level permitted under the Higher Education Act by an authorized guaranty agency, which has a contract of reinsurance with the Department. The terms of the loans, which vary on an individual basis, generally provide for repayment in monthly installments of principal and interest. Generally, Stafford and PLUS loans have repayment periods between five and ten years. Consolidation loans have repayment periods of twelve to thirty years. FFELP loans do not require repayment while the borrower is in-school, and during the grace period immediately upon leaving school. The borrower may also be granted a deferment or forbearance for a period of time based on need, during which time the borrower is not considered to be in repayment. Interest continues to accrue on loans in the in-school, deferment, and forbearance program periods. In addition, eligible borrowers may qualify for income-driven repayment plans offered by the Department. These plans determine the borrower's payment amount based on their discretionary income and may extend their repayment period. Interest rates on federally insured student loans may be fixed or variable, dependent upon the type of loan, terms of the loan agreements, and date of origination.
Substantially all FFELP loan principal and related accrued interest is guaranteed as provided by the Higher Education Act. These guarantees are subject to the performance of certain loan servicing due diligence procedures stipulated by applicable Department regulations. If these due diligence requirements are not met, affected student loans may not be covered by the guarantees in the event of borrower default. Such student loans are subject to “cure” procedures and reinstatement of the guarantee under certain circumstances.
Loans also include private education and consumer loans. Private education loans are loans to students or their families that are non-federal loans and loans not insured or guaranteed under the FFEL Program. These loans are used primarily to bridge the gap between the cost of higher education and the amount funded through financial aid, federal loans, or borrowers' personal resources. The terms of the private education loans, which vary on an individual basis, generally provide for repayment in monthly installments of principal and interest over a period of up to 30 years. The private education loans are not covered by a guarantee or collateral in the event of borrower default. Consumer loans are unsecured loans to an individual for personal, family, or household purposes. The terms of the consumer loans, which vary on an individual basis, generally provide for repayment in weekly or monthly installments of principal and interest over a period of up to 6 years.
Allowance for Loan Losses
The allowance for loan losses represents management's estimate of probable losses on loans. The provision for loan losses reflects the activity for the applicable period and provides an allowance at a level that the Company's management believes is appropriate to cover probable losses inherent in the loan portfolio. The Company evaluates the adequacy of the allowance for loan losses on its federally insured loan portfolio separately from its private education and consumer loan portfolios. These evaluation processes are subject to numerous judgments and uncertainties.
The allowance for the federally insured loan portfolio is based on periodic evaluations of the Company's loan portfolios considering loans in repayment versus those in a nonpaying status, delinquency status, trends in defaults in the portfolio based on Company and industry data, past experience, trends in student loan claims rejected for payment by guarantors, changes to federal student loan programs, current economic conditions, and other relevant factors. The federal government guarantees 97 percent of the principal of and the interest on federally insured student loans disbursed on and after July 1, 2006 (and 98 percent for those loans disbursed on and after October 1, 1993 and prior to July 1, 2006), which limits the Company's loss exposure on the outstanding balance of the Company's federally insured portfolio. Student loans disbursed prior to October 1, 1993 are fully insured.
In determining the appropriate allowance for loan losses on the private education and consumer loans, the Company considers several factors, including: loans in repayment versus those in a nonpaying status, delinquency status, type of program, trends in defaults in the portfolio based on Company and industry data, past experience, current economic conditions, and other relevant factors. The Company places private education and consumer loans on nonaccrual status when the collection of principal and interest is 90 days past due, and charges off the loan when the collection of principal and interest is 120 days past due. Collections, if any, are reflected as a recovery through the allowance for loan losses.
Management has determined that each of the federally insured loan portfolio, private education loan portfolio, and consumer loan portfolio meets the definition of a portfolio segment, which is defined as the level at which an entity develops and documents a systematic method for determining its allowance for credit losses. Accordingly, the portfolio segment disclosures are presented on this basis in note 4 for each of these portfolios. The Company does not disaggregate its portfolio segment loan portfolios into classes of financing receivables. The Company collectively evaluates loans for impairment and as of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the Company did not have any impaired loans as defined in the Receivables Topic of the FASB Accounting Standards Codification.
For loans purchased where there is evidence of credit deterioration since the origination of the loan, the Company records a credit discount, separate from the allowance for loan losses, which is non-accretable to interest income. Remaining discounts and premiums for purchased loans are recognized in interest income over the remaining estimated lives of the loans. The Company continues to evaluate credit losses associated with purchased loans based on current information and changes in expectations to determine the need for any additional allowance for loan losses.
Cash and Cash Equivalents and Statement of Cash Flows
For purposes of the consolidated statements of cash flows, the Company considers all investments with original maturities of three months or less to be cash equivalents.
Accrued interest on loans purchased and sold is included in cash flows from operating activities in the respective period. Net purchased loan accrued interest was $71.4 million in 2015. Net purchased loan accrued interest in 2017 and 2016 was insignificant.
The Company's available-for-sale investment portfolio consists of student loan and other asset-backed securities and equity and debt securities. These securities are carried at fair value, with the temporary changes in fair value, net of taxes, carried as a separate component of shareholders’ equity. The amortized cost of debt securities in this category (including the student loan and other asset-backed securities) is adjusted for amortization of premiums and accretion of discounts, which are amortized using the effective interest rate method. Other-than-temporary impairment is evaluated by considering several factors, including the length of time and extent to which the fair value has been less than the amortized cost basis, the financial condition and near-term prospects of the issuer of the security (considering factors such as adverse conditions specific to the security and ratings agency actions), and the intent and ability of the Company to retain the investment to allow for any anticipated recovery in fair value. The entire fair value loss on a security that has experienced an other-than-temporary impairment is recorded in earnings if the Company intends to sell the security or if it is more likely than not that the Company will be required to sell the security before the expected recovery of the loss. However, if the impairment is other-than-temporary, and either of those two conditions does not exist, the portion of the impairment related to credit losses is recorded in earnings and the impairment related to other factors is recorded in other comprehensive income.
Securities classified as trading are accounted for at fair value, with unrealized gains and losses included in "other income" in the consolidated statements of income.
When an investment is sold, the cost basis is determined through specific identification of the security sold.
The Company accounts for investments in which it does not have significant influence or a controlling financial interest using the cost method of accounting. Cost method investments are recorded at cost. Cost method investments are evaluated for other-than-temporary impairment in the same manner as described above for available-for-sale investments.
The Company accounts for investments over which it has significant influence but not a controlling financial interest using the equity method of accounting. Equity method investments are recorded at cost and subsequently increased or decreased by the amount of the Company’s proportionate share of the net earnings or losses and other comprehensive income of the investee. Equity method investments are evaluated for other-than-temporary impairment using certain impairment indicators such as a series of operating losses of an investee or other factors. These factors may indicate that a decrease in value of the investment has occurred that is other-than-temporary and shall be recognized.
Restricted cash primarily includes amounts for student loan securitizations and other secured borrowings. This cash must be used to make payments related to trust obligations. Amounts on deposit in these accounts are primarily the result of timing differences between when principal and interest is collected on the student loans held as trust assets and when principal and interest is paid on the trust's asset-backed debt securities. Restricted cash also includes collateral deposits with derivative counterparties and third-party clearinghouses.
Restricted Cash - Due to Customers
As a servicer of student loans, the Company collects student loan remittances and subsequently disburses these remittances to the appropriate lending entities. In addition, as part of the Company's Tuition Payment Processing and Campus Commerce operating segment, the Company collects tuition payments and subsequently remits these payments to the appropriate schools. Cash collected for customers and the related liability are included in the accompanying consolidated balance sheets.
Accounts receivable are presented at their net realizable values, which include allowances for doubtful accounts. Allowance estimates are based upon individual customer experience, as well as the age of receivables and likelihood of collection.
The Company uses the acquisition method in accounting for acquired businesses. Under the acquisition method, the financial statements reflect the operations of an acquired business starting from the completion of the acquisition. The assets acquired and liabilities assumed are recorded at their respective estimated fair values at the date of acquisition. Any excess of the purchase price over the estimated fair values of the identifiable net assets acquired is recorded as goodwill. All contingent consideration is measured at fair value on the acquisition date and included in the consideration transferred in the acquisition. Contingent consideration classified as a liability is remeasured to fair value at each reporting date until the contingency is resolved, and changes in fair value are recognized in earnings.
The Company reviews goodwill for impairment annually (in the fourth quarter) and whenever triggering events or changes in circumstances indicate its carrying value may not be recoverable. Goodwill is tested for impairment using a fair value approach at the reporting unit level. A reporting unit is the operating segment, or a business one level below that operating segment if discrete financial information is prepared and regularly reviewed by segment management. However, components are aggregated as a single reporting unit if they have similar economic characteristics.
The Company tests goodwill for impairment in accordance with applicable accounting guidance. The guidance provides an entity the option to first assess qualitative factors to determine whether the existence of events or circumstances leads to a determination that it is more likely than not (more than 50%) that the estimated fair value of a reporting unit is less than its carrying amount. If an entity elects to perform a qualitative assessment and determines that an impairment is more likely than not, the entity is then required to perform a quantitative impairment test (described below), otherwise no further analysis is required. An entity also may elect not to perform the qualitative assessment and, instead, proceed directly to the quantitative impairment test.
If the Company elects to not perform a qualitative assessment or if the Company determines it is more likely than not that the fair value of a reporting unit is less than the carrying amount, then the Company performs a quantitative impairment test on goodwill. In the quantitative test, the Company compares the fair value of each reporting unit to its carrying value. If the fair value of the reporting unit exceeds the carrying value of the net assets assigned to that unit, goodwill is considered not impaired and the Company is not required to perform further testing. If the carrying value of the net assets assigned to the reporting unit exceeds the fair value of the reporting unit, then the Company would record an impairment loss equal to the difference.
Determining the fair value of a reporting unit involves the use of significant estimates and assumptions. These estimates and assumptions include revenue growth rates and operating margins used to calculate projected future cash flows, risk-adjusted discount rates, future economic and market conditions, and determination of appropriate market comparables. Actual future results may differ from those estimates.
See note 10 for information regarding the Company's annual goodwill impairment review.
Intangible assets with finite lives are amortized over their estimated lives. Such assets are amortized using a method of amortization that reflects the pattern in which the economic benefits of the intangible asset are consumed or otherwise used up. If that pattern cannot be reliably determined, the Company uses a straight-line amortization method.
The Company evaluates the estimated remaining useful lives of purchased intangible assets and whether events or changes in circumstances warrant a revision to the remaining periods of amortization.
Property and Equipment
Property and equipment are carried at cost, net of accumulated depreciation. Maintenance and repairs are charged to expense as incurred, and major improvements, including leasehold improvements, are capitalized. Gains and losses from the sale of property and equipment are included in determining net income. The Company uses the straight-line method for recording depreciation and amortization. Leasehold improvements are amortized straight-line over the shorter of the lease term or estimated useful life of the asset.
Impairment of Long‑Lived Assets
The Company reviews its long-lived assets, such as property and equipment and purchased intangibles subject to amortization, for impairment whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of an asset may not be recoverable. Recoverability of assets to be held and used is measured by a comparison of the carrying amount of an asset to estimated undiscounted future cash flows expected to be generated by the asset. If the carrying amount of an asset exceeds its estimated future cash flows, an impairment charge is recognized by the amount by which the carrying amount of the asset exceeds the fair value of the asset. The Company uses estimates to determine the fair value of long-lived assets. Such estimates are generally based on estimated future cash flows or cost savings associated with particular assets and are discounted to present value using an appropriate discount rate. The estimates of future cash flows associated with assets are generally prepared using a cost savings method, a lost income method, or an excess return method, as appropriate. In utilizing such methods, management must make certain assumptions about the amount and timing of estimated future cash flows and other economic benefits from the assets, the remaining economic useful life of the assets, and general economic factors concerning the selection of an appropriate discount rate. The Company may also use replacement cost or market comparison approaches to estimating fair value if such methods are determined to be more appropriate.
Assumptions and estimates about future values and remaining useful lives of the Company's intangible and other long-lived assets are complex and subjective. They can be affected by a variety of factors, including external factors such as industry and economic trends, and internal factors such as changes in the Company's business strategy and internal forecasts. Although the Company believes the historical assumptions and estimates used are reasonable and appropriate, different assumptions and estimates could materially impact the reported financial results.
Fair Value Measurements
The Company uses estimates of fair value in applying various accounting standards for its financial statements.
Fair value is defined as the price to sell an asset or transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between willing and able market participants. In general, the Company's policy in estimating fair values is to first look at observable market prices for identical assets and liabilities in active markets, where available. When these are not available, other inputs are used to model fair value, such as prices of similar instruments, yield curves, volatilities, prepayment speeds, default rates, and credit spreads, relying first on observable data from active markets. Depending on current market conditions, additional adjustments to fair value may be based on factors such as liquidity, credit, and bid/offer spreads. In some cases fair values are based on estimates using present value or other valuation techniques. Those techniques are significantly affected by the assumptions used, including the discount rate and estimates of future cash flows. Transaction costs are not included in the determination of fair value. When possible, the Company seeks to validate the model's output to market transactions. Depending on the availability of observable inputs and prices, different valuation models could produce materially different fair value estimates. The values presented may not represent future fair values and may not be realizable. Additionally, there may be inherent weaknesses in any calculation technique, and changes in the underlying assumptions used, including discount rates and estimates of future cash flows, could significantly affect the estimates of current or future values.
The Company categorizes its fair value estimates based on a hierarchical framework associated with three levels of price transparency utilized in measuring assets and liabilities at fair value. Classification is based on the lowest level of input that is significant to the fair value of the instrument. The three levels include:
Level 1: Quoted prices for identical instruments in active markets. The types of financial instruments included in Level 1 are highly liquid instruments with quoted prices.
Level 2: Quoted prices for similar instruments in active markets; quoted prices for identical or similar instruments in markets that are not active; and model-derived valuations whose inputs are observable or whose primary value drivers are observable.
Level 3: Instruments whose primary value drivers are unobservable. Inputs are developed based on the best information available; however, significant judgment is required by management in developing the inputs.
The Company's accounting policy is to recognize transfers between levels of the fair value hierarchy at the end of the reporting period.
The Company recognizes revenue when (i) persuasive evidence of an arrangement exists between the Company and the customer, (ii) delivery of the product to the customer has occurred or service has been provided to the customer, (iii) the price to the customer is fixed or determinable, and (iv) collectability of the sales price is reasonably assured. Additional information related to the Company's revenue recognition of specific items is further provided below.
Loan interest income - Loan interest on federally insured student loans is paid by the Department or the borrower, depending on the status of the loan at the time of the accrual. In addition, the Department makes quarterly interest subsidy payments on certain qualified FFELP loans until the student is required under the provisions of the Higher Education Act to begin repayment. Borrower repayment of FFELP loans normally begins within six months after completion of the borrower's course of study, leaving school, or ceasing to carry at least one-half the normal full-time academic load, as determined by the educational institution. Borrower repayment of PLUS and Consolidation loans normally begins within 60 days from the date of loan disbursement. Borrower repayment of private education loans typically begins six months following the borrower's graduation from a qualified institution, and the interest is either paid by the borrower or capitalized annually or at repayment. Repayment of consumer loans typically starts upon origination of the loan.
The Department provides a special allowance to lenders participating in the FFEL Program. The special allowance is accrued based upon the fiscal quarter average rate of 13-week Treasury Bill auctions (for loans originated prior to January 1, 2000), the fiscal quarter average rate of the daily three-month financial commercial paper rates (for loans originated on and after January 1, 2000) or the fiscal quarter average rate of daily one-month LIBOR rates (for loans originated on and after January 1, 2000, and for lenders which elected to change the special allowance index to one-month LIBOR effective April 1, 2012) relative to the yield of the student loan.
The Company recognizes loan interest income as earned, net of amortization of loan premiums and deferred origination costs and the accretion of loan discounts. Loan interest income is recognized based upon the expected yield of the loan after giving effect to interest rate reductions resulting from borrower utilization of incentives such as timely payments ("borrower benefits") and other yield adjustments. Loan premiums or discounts, deferred origination costs, and borrower benefits are amortized/accreted over the estimated life of the loans, which includes an estimate of forecasted payments in excess of contractually required payments. The Company periodically evaluates the assumptions used to estimate the life of the loans and prepayment rates. In instances where there are changes to the assumptions, amortization/accretion is adjusted on a cumulative basis to reflect the change since the acquisition of the loan.
In the third quarter of 2016, the Company revised its policy to correct for an error in its method of applying the interest method used to amortize premiums and deferred origination costs and accrete discounts on its loan portfolio. Previously, the Company amortized premiums and deferred origination costs and accreted discounts by including in its prepayment assumption forecasted payments in excess of contractually required payments as well as forecasted defaults. The Company has determined that only payments in excess of contractually required payments (excluding forecasted defaults) should be included in the prepayment assumption. Under the Company's revised policy, as of September 30, 2016, the constant prepayment rate used by the Company to amortize/accrete loan premiums/discounts was decreased. The constant prepayment rates under the Company's revised policy are 5 percent for Stafford loans and 3 percent for Consolidation loans. The constant prepayment rates under the Company's prior policy in effect before this correction were 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. During the third quarter of 2016, the Company recorded an adjustment to reflect the cumulative net impact on prior periods for the correction of this error that resulted in an $8.2 million reduction to the Company's net loan discount balance and a corresponding pre-tax increase to interest income. The Company concluded this error had an immaterial impact on 2016 results as well as the results for prior periods.
The Company also pays the Department an annual 105 basis point rebate fee on Consolidation loans. These rebate fees are netted against loan interest income.
Loan systems and servicing revenue – Loan systems and servicing revenue consists of the following items:
Loan and guaranty servicing fees – Loan servicing fees are determined according to individual agreements with customers and are calculated based on the dollar value of loans, number of loans, or number of borrowers serviced for each customer. Guaranty servicing fees were generally calculated based on the number of loans serviced, volume of loans serviced, or amounts collected. Revenue is recognized over the period in which services are provided to customers, and when ultimate collection is assured.
Software services revenue – Software services revenue is determined from individual agreements with customers and includes license and maintenance fees associated with student loan software products. Computer and software consulting and remote hosting revenues are recognized over the period in which services are provided to customers.
Outsourced services revenue - Outsourced services revenue is determined from individual agreements with customers and generally recognized over the period in which services are provided to customers.
Guaranty collections revenue – Guaranty collections revenue was earned when collected. Collection costs paid to third parties associated with this revenue was expensed upon successful collection.
Tuition payment processing, school information, and campus commerce revenue - Tuition payment processing, school information, and campus commerce revenue includes actively managed tuition payment solutions, remote hosted school information systems and learning management software, professional development and educational instruction services, assistance with financial needs assessment and donor management, and payment processing services. Fees for these services are recognized over the period in which services are provided to customers. Cash received in advance of the delivery of services is included in deferred revenue.
Communications revenue - Communications revenue based on a flat fee, derived principally from internet, television, and telephone services are billed in advance and recognized in subsequent periods when the services are provided. Revenues for usage-based services, such as access charges billed to other telephone carriers for originating and terminating long-distance calls on the Company's network, are billed in arrears. The Company recognizes revenue from these services in the period the services are rendered rather than billed. Earned but unbilled usage-based services are recorded in accounts receivable.
Costs to provide communication services is primarily associated with television programming costs. The Company has various contracts to obtain video programming from programming vendors whose compensation is typically based on a flat fee per customer. The cost of the right to exhibit network programming under such arrangements is recorded in the month the programming is available for exhibition. Programming costs are paid each month based on calculations performed by the Company and are subject to periodic audits performed by the programmers. Other costs included in costs to provide communication services include connectivity, franchise, and other regulatory costs directly related to providing internet and voice services.
Enrollment services revenue - Enrollment services revenue was derived from fees which were earned through the delivery of qualified inquiries or clicks. Delivery was deemed to have occurred at the time a qualified inquiry or click was delivered to the customer, provided that no significant obligations remained.
For a portion of this revenue, the Company had agreements with providers of online media or traffic ("inquiry generation vendors") used in the generation of inquiries or clicks. The Company received a fee from its customers and paid a fee to the inquiry generation vendors either on a cost per inquiry, cost per click, or cost per number of impressions basis. The Company was the primary obligor in the transaction. As a result, the fees paid by the Company's customers were recognized as revenue and the fees paid to its inquiry generation vendors are included in "cost to provide enrollment services" in the Company's consolidated statements of income.
On February 1, 2016, the Company sold 100 percent of the membership interests in Sparkroom LLC, which included the Company's inquiry management products and services. After this sale, the Company no longer earns enrollment services revenue.
Other income - Other income consists primarily of the following items:
Realized and unrealized gains and losses on investments
Borrower late fee income - Late fee income is earned by the education lending subsidiaries and is recognized when payments are collected from the borrower.
Investment advisory income - Investment advisory services are provided by the Company through an SEC-registered investment advisor subsidiary under various arrangements. The Company earns annual fees based on the outstanding balance of investments and certain performance measures, which are recognized monthly as earned.
Digital marketing and content solutions - The Company earned revenue related to digital marketing and content solution products and services under the brand name Peterson's. These products and services included test preparation study guides, school directories and databases, career exploration guides, on-line courses and test preparation, scholarship search and selection data, career planning information and guides, and on-line information about colleges and universities. Several content solutions services included services to connect students to colleges and universities, and were sold based on subscriptions. Revenue from sales of subscription services was recognized ratably over the term of the contract as it was earned. Subscription revenue received or receivable in advance of the delivery of services was included in deferred revenue. Revenue from the sale of print products was generally earned and recognized, net of estimated returns, upon shipment or delivery. All other digital marketing and content solutions revenue was recognized over the period in which services were provided to customers. On December 31, 2017, the Company sold Peterson's. See note 10 for additional information regarding this sale.
Interest expense is based upon contractual interest rates, adjusted for the amortization of debt issuance costs and the accretion of discounts. The amortization of debt issuance costs and accretion of discounts are recognized using the effective interest method.
Transfer of Financial Assets and Extinguishments of Liabilities
The Company accounts for loan sales and debt repurchases in accordance with applicable accounting guidance. If a transfer of loans qualifies as a sale, the Company derecognizes the loan and recognizes a gain or loss as the difference between the carrying basis of the loan sold and the consideration received. The Company from time to time repurchases its outstanding debt and records a gain or loss on the early extinguishment of debt based upon the difference between the carrying amount of the debt and the amount paid to the third party. The Company recognizes the results of a transfer of loans and the extinguishment of debt based upon the settlement date of the transaction.
Effective June 10, 2013, all over-the-counter derivative contracts executed by the Company are cleared post-execution at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (“CME”), a regulated clearinghouse. Clearing is a process by which a third-party, the clearinghouse, steps in between the original counterparties and guarantees the performance of both, by requiring that each post liquid collateral on an initial (initial margin) and mark-to-market (variation margin) basis to cover the clearinghouse’s potential future exposure in the event of default.
Prior to January 3, 2017, the Company accounted for variation margin payments to the CME as collateral against its derivative position. As such, these payments were treated as a separate unit of account from the derivative instrument and reported as a liability for cash collateral received and an asset (restricted cash) for cash collateral paid. Effective January 3, 2017, the CME amended its rulebooks to legally characterize variation margin payments for over-the-counter derivatives they clear as settlements of the derivatives’ exposure rather than collateral against the exposure. Based on these rulebook changes, for accounting and presentation purposes, the Company considers variation margin and the corresponding derivative instrument as a single unit of account. As such, effective January 3, 2017, the variation margin received or paid is no longer accounted for separately as a liability or asset ("collateralized-to-market"). Instead, these payments are considered in determining the fair value of the centrally cleared derivative portfolio ("settled-to-market"). The principal difference for accounting and presentation purposes is that prior to January 3, 2017, the Company recorded the fair value of collateralized-to-market derivative contracts on its balance sheet as "fair value of derivative instruments" with an equal amount of variation margin collateral accounted for separately as an asset or liability. Subsequent to January 3, 2017, the Company records settled-to-market derivative contracts on its balance sheet with a fair value of zero and no collateral posted due to the payment or receipt of variation margin between the Company and the CME settling the outstanding mark-to-market exposure on such derivatives to a balance of zero on a daily basis, and records the underlying daily changes in the market value of such derivative contracts that result in such receipts or payments on its income statement as realized derivative market value adjustments in "Derivative market value and foreign currency transaction adjustments and derivative settlements, net."
The new clearinghouse requirements did not alter or affect the accounting and presentation of the Company’s derivative instruments executed prior to June 10, 2013 and those derivatives that are not required to be cleared at a clearinghouse (non-centrally cleared derivatives). The Company records these derivative instruments in the consolidated balance sheets on a gross basis as either an asset or liability measured at its fair value. Certain non-centrally cleared derivatives are subject to right of offset provisions with counterparties. For these derivatives, the Company does not offset fair value amounts executed with the same counterparty under a master netting arrangement. In addition, the Company does not offset fair value amounts recognized for derivative instruments with respect to the right to reclaim cash collateral (a receivable) or the obligation to return cash collateral (a payable).
The Company determines the fair value for its derivative instruments using either (i) pricing models that consider current market conditions and the contractual terms of the derivative instrument or (ii) counterparty valuations. The factors that impact the fair value of the Company's derivatives include interest rates, time value, forward interest rate curve, and volatility factors, as well as foreign exchange rates. Pricing models and their underlying assumptions impact the amount and timing of realized and unrealized gains and losses recognized, and the use of different pricing models or assumptions could produce different financial results. Management has structured all of the Company's derivative transactions with the intent that each is economically effective; however, the Company's derivative instruments do not qualify for hedge accounting. As a result, the change in fair value of derivative instruments is reported in current period earnings. Changes or shifts in the forward yield curve and fluctuations in currency rates can significantly impact the valuation of the Company’s derivatives, and therefore impact the financial position and results of operations of the Company. Any proceeds received or payments made by the Company to terminate a derivative in advance of its expiration date, or to amend the terms of an existing derivative, are included in the Company's consolidated statements of income and are accounted for as a change in fair value of such derivative. The changes in fair value of derivative instruments, as well as the settlement payments made on such derivatives, are included in “derivative market value and foreign currency adjustments and derivative settlements, net” on the consolidated statements of income.
During 2006, the Company issued Euro-denominated bonds, which were included in “bonds and notes payable” on the consolidated balance sheets. Transaction gains and losses resulting from exchange rate changes when re-measuring these bonds to U.S. dollars at the balance sheet date were included in “derivative market value and foreign currency adjustments and derivative settlements, net” on the consolidated statements of income. On October 25, 2017, the Company completed a remarketing of its Euro notes which reset the principal amount outstanding on the notes to U.S. dollars.
Income taxes are accounted for under the asset and liability method. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are recognized for the future tax consequences attributable to differences between the financial statement carrying amounts of existing assets and liabilities and their respective tax bases and operating loss and tax credit carry forwards. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply to taxable income in the years in which those temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. The effect on deferred tax assets and liabilities of a change in tax rates is recognized in income in the period that includes the enactment date.
Income tax expense includes deferred tax expense, which represents the net change in the deferred tax asset or liability balance during the year, plus any change made in the valuation allowance, and current tax expense, which represents the amount of tax currently payable to or receivable from a tax authority plus amounts for expected tax deficiencies.
Compensation Expense for Stock Based Awards
The Company has a restricted stock plan that is intended to provide incentives to attract, retain, and motivate employees in order to achieve long term growth and profitability objectives. The restricted stock plan provides for the grant to eligible employees of awards of restricted shares of Class A common stock. The fair value of restricted stock awards is determined on the grant date based on the Company's stock price and is amortized to compensation cost over the related vesting periods, which range up to ten years. For those awards with only service conditions that have graded vesting schedules, the Company recognizes compensation expense on a straight-line basis over the requisite service period for each separately vesting portion of the award, as if the award was, in substance, multiple awards. Holders of restricted stock are entitled to receive dividends from the date of grant whether or not vested.
The Company also has a directors stock compensation plan pursuant to which non-employee directors can elect to receive their annual retainer fees in the form of fully vested shares of Class A common stock, and also elect to defer receipt of such shares until the termination of their service on the board of directors. The fair value of grants under this plan is determined on the grant date based on the Company's stock price, and is expensed over the board member's annual service period.
In accordance with the corporate laws of the state in which the Company is incorporated, all shares repurchased by the Company are legally retired upon acquisition by the Company.