|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 Company assesses its partnerships and joint ventures to determine if the entity meets the qualifications of a VIE. The Company performs a qualitative assessment of each VIE to determine if 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 examines specific criteria and uses judgment when determining whether an entity is a VIE and whether it is the primary beneficiary. The Company performs this review initially at the time it enters into a partnership or joint venture agreement and reassess upon reconsideration events.
VIEs - Consolidated
The Company is required to consolidate VIEs in which it has determined it is the primary beneficiary.
The Company's education and other lending subsidiaries are engaged in the securitization of finance assets. These lending subsidiaries hold beneficial interests in eligible loans, subject to creditors with specific interests. The liabilities of the Company's lending subsidiaries are not the direct obligations of Nelnet, Inc. or any of its other subsidiaries. Each 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 lending subsidiaries and owns the residual interest of the securitization trusts. For accounting purposes, the transfers of 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.
VIEs - Not consolidated
The Company is not required to consolidate VIEs in which it has determined it is not the primary beneficiary.
The Company makes investments in entities that promote renewable energy sources (solar). The Company’s investments in these entities generate a return primarily through the realization of federal income tax credits, operating cash flows, and other tax benefits, such as tax deductions from operating losses of the investments, over specified time periods. These investments are included in "investments" on the consolidated balance sheets and accounted for under the HLBV method of accounting. The carrying value of these investments are reduced by tax credits earned when the solar project is placed in service. The Company’s unfunded capital and other commitments related to these unconsolidated VIEs are included in “other liabilities” on the consolidated balance sheet. The Company’s maximum exposure to loss from these unconsolidated VIEs include the investment, unfunded capital commitments, and previously recorded tax credits which remain subject to recapture by taxing authorities based on compliance features required to be met at the project level. The tax credit recapture period ratably decreases over five years from when the project is placed in service. While the Company believes potential losses from these investments are remote, the maximum exposure was determined by assuming a scenario where the energy-producing projects completely fail and do not meet certain government compliance requirements resulting in recapture of the related tax credits.
The following table provides a summary of solar investment VIEs that the Company has not consolidated:
|As of December 31,|
|Investment carrying amount||$||(30,373)||7,562 |
|Tax credits subject to recapture||117,740 ||67,069 |
|Unfunded capital and other commitments||17,462 ||14,006 |
|Maximum exposure to loss (a)||$||104,829 ||88,637 |
(a) Amounts include $15.6 million and $3.0 million as of December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, syndicated to other investors in certain solar projects.
As of December 31, 2020, the Company owned 45 percent of the economic rights of ALLO Communications LLC and has a disproportional 43 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. See note 2, “Recent Developments - ALLO Recapitalization,” for disclosure of ALLO’s recapitalization and the Company’s recognition of its voting interest/equity method and non-voting preferred membership investments, which is the Company’s maximum exposure to loss.
Accounting Standard Adopted in 2020
In June 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued ASU No. 2016-13, Financial Instruments – Credit Losses (“ASC 326”), which replaces the incurred loss methodology with an expected loss methodology that is referred to as the
current expected credit loss ("CECL") methodology. Since its original issuance in 2016, the FASB has issued several updates to the original ASU.
The CECL methodology utilizes a lifetime “expected credit loss” measurement objective for the recognition of credit losses for financial assets measured at amortized cost at the time the financial asset is originated or acquired, including, for the Company, loans receivable, accounts receivable, and held-to-maturity beneficial interests in loan securitizations. The expected credit losses are adjusted each period for changes in expected lifetime credit losses. In addition, ASC 326 made changes to the accounting for available-for-sale debt securities. For available-for-sale debt securities where fair value is less than amortized cost, credit-related impairment, if any, is recognized through an allowance for credit losses and adjusted each period for changes in credit risk.
On January 1, 2020, the Company adopted ASC 326 using the modified retrospective method for all financial assets measured at amortized cost. Results for reporting periods beginning after January 1, 2020 are presented under ASC 326 (recognizing estimated credit losses expected to occur over the asset's remaining life) while prior period amounts continue to be reported in accordance with previously applicable GAAP (recognizing estimated credit losses using an incurred loss model); therefore, the comparative information for 2019 is not comparable to the information presented for 2020. Adoption of the new guidance primarily impacted the allowance for loan losses related to the Company's loan portfolio. Upon adoption, the Company recorded an increase to the allowance for loan losses of $91.0 million, which included a reclassification of the non-accretable discount balance and premiums related to loans purchased with evidence of credit deterioration, and decreased retained earnings, net of tax, by $18.9 million. The following table illustrates the impact of the adoption of ASC 326.
|Balances at |
December 31, 2019
|Impact of ASC 326 adoption||Balances at |
January 1, 2020
|Loans and accrued interest receivable, net of allowance|
|Loans receivable||$||20,798,719 ||— ||20,798,719 |
|Accrued interest receivable||733,497 ||— ||733,497 |
|Loan discount, net||(35,036)||33,790 ||(1,246)|
|Non-accretable discount||(32,398)||32,398 ||— |
|Allowance for loan losses||(61,914)||(91,014)||(152,928)|
|Loans and accrued interest receivable, net of allowance||21,402,868 ||(24,826)||21,378,042 |
|Other liabilities (deferred taxes)||303,781 ||(5,958)||297,823 |
|Retained earnings||2,377,627 ||(18,868)||2,358,759 |
The Company adopted ASC 326 using the prospective transition approach for loans receivable purchased with credit deterioration ("PCD") that were previously classified as purchased credit impaired ("PCI"). In accordance with the standard, the Company did not reassess whether PCI assets met the criteria of PCD assets as of the date of adoption. On January 1, 2020, the unamortized cost basis of the PCD assets were adjusted to reflect the addition of $32.4 million in the allowance for loan losses (as reflected in the table above). The remaining noncredit premium on these loans as of January 1, 2020 (based on the adjusted amortized cost basis) will be amortized into interest income over the life of the loans. Changes to the allowance for loan losses on these loans after adoption are recorded through provision expense.
Summary of Significant Accounting Policies Affected by Implementation of ASC 326
Allowance for Loan Losses
The allowance for loan losses is a valuation account that is deducted from the loans’ amortized cost basis to present the net amount expected to be collected on the loans as of the balance sheet date. Such allowance is based on the credit losses expected to arise over the life of the asset which includes consideration of prepayments. Loans are charged off when management determines the loan is uncollectible. Charge-offs are recognized as a reduction to the allowance for loan losses. Expected
recoveries of amounts previously charged off, not to exceed the aggregate of the amount previously charged off, are included in the estimate of the allowance for loan losses at the balance sheet date.
The Company aggregates loans with similar risk characteristics into pools to estimate its expected credit losses. The Company evaluates such pooling decisions each quarter and makes adjustments as risk characteristics change.
The Company determines its estimated credit losses for the following financial assets as follows:
Management has determined that the federally insured, private education, and consumer loan portfolios each meet 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 loan 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 utilizes an undiscounted cash flow methodology in determining its lifetime expected credit losses on its federally insured and private education loan portfolios and a remaining life methodology for its consumer loan portfolio. For the undiscounted cash flow models, the expected credit losses are the product of multiplying the Company’s estimates of probability of default and loss given default and the exposure of default over the expected life of the loans. For the remaining life method, the expected credit losses are the product of multiplying the Company’s estimated net loss rate by the exposure at default over the expected life of the loans. Management estimates the allowance balance using relevant available information, from internal and external sources, relating to past events, current economic conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts. The Company has determined that, for modeling current expected credit losses, the Company can reasonably estimate expected losses that incorporate current economic conditions and forecasted probability weighted economic scenarios up to a one-year period. Macroeconomic factors used in the models include such variables as unemployment rates, gross domestic product, and consumer price index. After the "reasonable and supportable" period, the Company reverts to its actual long-term historical loss experience in the historical observation period. The Company uses a straight line reversion method over two years. Historical credit loss experience provides the basis for the estimation of expected credit losses. A portion of the allowance is comprised of qualitative adjustments to historical loss experience.
Qualitative adjustments consider the following factors, as applicable, for each of the Company’s loan portfolios: student loans in repayment versus those in nonpaying status; delinquency status; type of private education or consumer loan program; trends in defaults in the portfolio based on Company and industry data; past experience; trends in federally insured student loan claims rejected for payment by guarantors; changes in federal student loan programs; and other relevant qualitative factors.
Changes in the allowance for the year ended December 31, 2020 were primarily a result of the adoption of ASC 326 and changes in macroeconomic factors that were impacted by COVID-19.
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. Federally insured student loans disbursed prior to October 1, 1993 are fully insured. Private education and consumer loans are unsecured, with neither a government nor a private insurance guarantee. Accordingly, the Company bears the full risk of loss on these loans if the borrower and co-borrower, if applicable, default. The Company places private education 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. The Company places 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 or 180 days past due, depending on type of loan program. Collections, if any, are reflected as a recovery through the allowance for loan losses.
Purchased Loans Receivable with Credit Deterioration (“PCD”)
The Company has purchased federally insured rehabilitation loans that have experienced more than insignificant credit deterioration since origination. Rehabilitation loans are loans that have previously defaulted, but for which the borrower has made a specified number of on-time payments. Although rehabilitation loans benefit from the same guarantees as other federally insured loans, rehabilitation loans have generally experienced redefault rates that are higher than default rates for federally insured loans that have not previously defaulted. These PCD loans are recorded at the amount paid. An allowance for loan losses is determined using the same methodology as for other loans held for investment. The sum of the loans’ purchase
price and allowance for loan losses becomes its initial amortized cost basis. The difference between the initial amortized cost basis and the par value of the loan is a noncredit discount or premium, which is amortized or accreted into interest income over the life of the loan. Subsequent changes to the allowance for credit losses are recorded through provision expense.
Loan Accrued Interest Receivable
The Company has elected to present its loan accrued interest receivable balance combined in its consolidated balance sheets with the loans receivable amortized cost balance.
For the Company’s federally insured loan portfolio, the Company has elected to measure an allowance for credit losses for accrued interest receivables. For federally insured loans, accrued interest receivable is typically charged-off when the contractual payment of principal or interest has become greater than 270 days past due. Charge-offs of accrued interest receivable are recognized as a reduction to the allowance for loan losses.
For the Company’s private education and consumer loan portfolios, the Company has elected not to measure an allowance for credit losses for accrued interest receivables. For private education and consumer loans, the accrual of interest is discontinued when the contractual payment of principal or interest has become 90 days past due. Charge-offs of accrued interest receivable are recognized by reversing interest income.
Certain amounts previously reported have been reclassified to conform to the current period presentation. These reclassifications include:
•Reclassifying the line item "accrued interest receivable" on the Company's consolidated balance sheet to "loans and accrued interest receivable" and "investments";
•Reclassifying "gain on sale of loans" that was previously included in "other income" to a new line item on the Company's consolidated statements of income; and
•Reclassifying “impairment expense” that was previously included in “other expenses” to a new line on the Company’s consolidated statements of income.
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.
In addition, the Company has established multiple entities for the purpose of investing in renewable energy (solar) and federal opportunity zone programs in which it has noncontrolling members.
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, 2020 and 2019.
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 and ten years. Consolidation loans have repayment periods of to thirty years. FFELP loans do not require repayment while the borrower is in-school, and during the grace period immediately upon leaving school. Under the Higher Education Act a 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 thirty 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 six years.
Allowance for Loan Losses – Prior to Adoption of ASC 326
Prior to the adoption of ASC 326 effective January 1, 2020, the allowance for loan losses represented management's estimate of probable losses on loans. The provision for loan losses for periods ended prior to January 1, 2020 reflected the activity for the applicable period and provided an allowance at a level that the Company's management believed was appropriate to cover probable losses inherent in the loan portfolio. The Company evaluated the adequacy of the allowance for loan losses using a historical loss rate methodology adjusted for qualitative factors separately on each of its federally insured, private education, and consumer loan portfolios. These evaluation processes were subject to numerous judgments and uncertainties including the selection of loss rates over time and determination of the loss emergence period.
In determining the appropriate allowance for loan losses, the Company considered several factors, as applicable, for each of the Company’s loan portfolios, including: 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, type of program, current economic conditions, and other relevant qualitative factors.
For loans purchased where there was evidence of credit deterioration since the origination of the loan, the Company recorded a credit discount, separate from the allowance for loan losses, which was non-accretable to interest income. Remaining discounts and premiums for purchased loans were recognized in interest income over the remaining estimated lives of the loans. The Company continued to evaluate credit losses associated with purchased loans based on current information and changes in expectations to determine if additional allowance for loan losses on such portfolios were needed.
Cash and Cash Equivalents and Statements 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 $92.3 million, $112.9 million, and $181.0 million in 2020, 2019, and 2018, respectively.
The Company classifies its debt securities, primarily student loan and other asset-backed securities, as available-for-sale. These securities are carried at fair value, with the changes in fair value, net of taxes, carried as a separate component of shareholders’ equity. The amortized cost of debt securities in this category is adjusted for amortization of premiums and accretion of discounts, which are amortized using the effective interest rate method. When an investment is sold, the cost basis is determined through specific identification of the security sold.
The Company classifies its residual interest in federally insured and consumer loan securitizations as held-to-maturity beneficial interest investments. The Company measures accretable yield initially as the excess of all cash flows expected to be collected attributable to the beneficial interest estimated at the acquisition/transaction date over the initial investment and recognizes interest income over the life of the beneficial interest using the effective interest method. The Company continues to update, over the life of the beneficial interest, the expectation of cash flows to be collected. Beneficial interest investments are evaluated for impairment by comparing the present value of the remaining cash flows as estimated at the initial transaction date (or the last date previously revised) to the present value of the cash flows expected to be collected at the current financial reporting date, both discounted using the same effective rate equal to the current yield used to accrete the beneficial interest. If the present value of remaining cash flows is less than the present value of cash flows expected to be collected, the Company records an allowance for credit losses for the difference. Subsequent favorable changes, if any, decreases the allowance for credit losses. The Company reflects the changes in the allowance for credit losses in provision for beneficial interests on the consolidated statements of income.
Equity investments with readily determinable fair values are measured at fair value, with changes in the fair value recognized through net income (other than those equity investments accounted for under the equity method of accounting or those that result in consolidation of the investee).
For equity investments without readily determinable fair value, the Company uses the measurement alternative of cost minus impairment, if any, plus or minus changes resulting from observable price changes in orderly transactions for the identical or a similar investment of the same issuer. The Company uses qualitative factors to identify impairment on these investments.
The Company accounts for equity 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.
The Company accounts for its solar investments and equity investments in ALLO under the HLBV method of accounting. The HLBV method of accounting is used by the Company for equity method investments when the liquidation rights and priorities as defined by an equity investment agreement differ from what is reflected by the underlying percentage ownership or voting interests. The Company applies the HLBV method using a balance sheet approach. A calculation is prepared at each balance sheet date to determine the amount that the Company would receive if an equity investment entity were to liquidate its net assets and distribute that cash to the investors based on the contractually defined liquidation priorities. The difference between the calculated liquidation distribution amounts at the beginning and the end of the reporting period, after adjusting for capital contributions and distributions, is the amount the Company recognizes for its share of the earnings or losses from the equity investment for the period.
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 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 Education Technology, Services, and Payment Processing
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 (as of November 30) 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, 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.
For the 2020, 2019, and 2018 annual reviews of goodwill, the Company assessed qualitative factors and concluded it was not more likely than not that the fair value of its reporting units were less than their carrying amount. As such, the Company was not required to perform further impairment testing and concluded there was no impairment of goodwill.
The Company uses estimates to determine the fair value of acquired assets to allocate the purchase price to acquired intangible 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 intangible 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 estimate fair value if such methods are determined to be more appropriate.
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.
At the inception of an arrangement, the Company determines if the arrangement is, or contains, a lease and records the lease in the consolidated financial statements upon lease commencement, which is the date when the underlying asset is made available by the lessor. The Company primarily leases office and data center space. Leases with an initial term of 12 months or less are not recorded on the balance sheet. The lease expense for these leases is recognized on a straight-line basis over the lease term. All other lease assets (ROU assets) and lease liabilities are recognized based on the present value of lease payments over the lease term at the commencement date. The Company classifies each lease as operating or financing, with the income statement reflecting lease expense for operating leases and amortization/interest expense for financing leases. When the discount rate implicit in the lease cannot be readily determined, the Company uses its incremental borrowing rate.
The Company accounts for lease and non-lease components together as a single, combined lease component for its office and data center space. In addition, the Company identified itself as the lessor in its Communications operating segment for services provided to customers that include customer-premise equipment. The Company accounts for those services and associated leases as a single, combined component. The non-lease services are 'predominant' in those contracts. Therefore, the combined component is considered a single performance obligation under ASC Topic 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers.
Most leases include one or more options to renew, with renewal terms that can be extended. The exercise of lease renewal options for the majority of leases is at the Company's discretion. Renewal options that the Company is reasonably certain to exercise are included in the lease term.
Certain leases include escalating rental payments or rental payments adjusted periodically for inflation. None of the lease agreements include any residual value guarantees, a transfer of title, or a purchase option that is reasonably certain to be exercised.
Impairment of Long-Lived Assets
The Company reviews its long-lived assets, such as ROU assets, 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.
Assumptions and estimates about future cash flows generated by, remaining useful lives of, and fair values 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 applies the provisions of ASC Topic 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers ("ASC Topic 606"), to its fee-based operating segments. The majority of the Company’s revenue earned in its Asset Generation and Management operating segment, including loan interest and derivative activity, is explicitly excluded from the scope of ASC Topic 606. The Company recognizes revenue under the core principle of ASC Topic 606 to depict the transfer of control of products and services to the Company’s customers in an amount reflecting the consideration to which the Company expects to be entitled. In order to achieve that core principle, the Company applies the following five-step approach: (1) identify the contract with a customer, (2) identify the performance obligations in the contract, (3) determine the transaction price, (4) allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations in the contract, and (5) recognize revenue when a performance obligation is satisfied. The Company’s contracts with customers often include promises to transfer multiple products and services to a customer. Determining whether products and services are considered distinct performance obligations that should be accounted for separately versus together may require significant judgment.
Timing of revenue recognition may differ from the timing of invoicing to customers. The Company records deferred revenue when revenue is received or receivable in advance of the delivery of service. For multi-year contracts, the Company generally invoices customers annually at the beginning of each annual coverage period. Payment terms and conditions vary by contract type, although terms generally include a requirement of payment within 30 to 60 days. In instances where the timing of revenue recognition differs from the timing of invoicing, the Company has determined its contracts do not include a significant financing component.
The Company recognizes an asset for the incremental costs of obtaining a contract with a customer if it expects the benefit of those costs to be longer than one year. The Company has determined that certain sales incentive programs and pre-production contract fulfillment costs meet the requirements to be capitalized. Total capitalized costs to obtain a contract were immaterial during the periods presented and are included in “other assets” on the consolidated balance sheets.
Additional information related to revenue earned in its Asset Generation and Management operating segment is provided below. See note 16, "Disaggregated Revenue and Deferred Revenue" for additional information related to the Company's fee-based operating segments.
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. 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 constant prepayment rate). The constant prepayment rate used by the Company to amortize/accrete federally insured loan premiums/discounts is 5 percent for Stafford loans and 3 percent for Consolidation loans. 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.
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.
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.
All over-the-counter derivative contracts executed by the Company are cleared post-execution at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (“CME”), a regulated clearinghouse. Substantially all of the Company’s outstanding derivatives are over-the-counter contracts. 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.
The CME legally characterizes variation margin payments for over-the-counter derivatives they clear as settlements of the derivatives’ exposure rather than collateral against the exposure. For accounting and presentation purposes, the Company considers variation margin and the corresponding derivative instrument as a single unit of account. As such, variation margin payments are considered in determining the fair value of the centrally cleared derivative portfolio. The Company records derivative contracts on its balance sheet with a fair value of zero 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. 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 market value of derivative instruments is reported in current period earnings. Changes or shifts in the forward yield curve can significantly impact the valuation of the Company’s derivatives, and therefore impact the results of operations of the Company. The changes in fair value of derivative instruments, as well as the settlement payments made on such derivatives, are included in “derivative market value adjustments and derivative settlements, net” on the consolidated statements of income.
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. The Company uses the deferred method of accounting for its credits related to state tax incentives and investments that generate investment tax credits. The investment tax credits are recognized as a reduction to the related asset.
Income tax expense includes deferred tax expense, which represents a portion of 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 accounts for forfeitures as they occur.
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.