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Operating Lease


An operating lease is a type of lease where the lessee (renter) uses the asset for a shorter period than the actual life of the asset. Unlike a finance lease, at the end of the lease term, the lessee usually has no option to purchase the asset. The lessor (owner) maintains ownership throughout and bears the risk and reward of the property.


The phonetic spelling of “Operating Lease” is: Operating – /ˈɒpəreɪtɪŋ/Lease – /liːs/

Key Takeaways

Sure, here are three main takeaways about Operating Leases:

  1. Non-Ownership: In an operating lease, the lessee does not own the asset. Instead, they rent it for a period of time, often at a relatively low cost. This allows them to use the asset without incurring the expense and responsibility of ownership.
  2. Off-Balance Sheet Financing: Operating leases are often classified as off-balance sheet financing, which means that the leased assets and associated liabilities are not recorded on the lessee’s balance sheet. This can make a company’s financial picture look more favorable to investors and creditors.
  3. Flexible Terms: Operating leases are often more flexible than other types of leases. The lease agreements may include options to renew the lease, purchase the asset at the end of the lease term, or return the asset to the lessor. This gives the lessee more options and flexibility depending on their needs and financial situation.


The business/finance term “Operating Lease” is important as it allows companies to use and control an asset without bearing the ownership’s risks and benefits. This sort of lease is typically short-term and fully cancelable by the lessee before the end of the lease period. Operating leases are considered a form of off-balance-sheet financing—meaning a leased asset and associated liabilities are not included on the company’s balance sheet. This can improve a company’s financial ratios as they aren’t listed as debt but as operational expenses, making the company more attractive to investors. It also provides certain tax benefits, contributing to better cash flow management. Furthermore, it enables companies to often update or change equipment, maintaining competitiveness in the industry.


An operating lease, often used in the world of business and finance, provides a company the opportunity to utilize an asset without bearing the responsibility of ownership. It is typically used for items such as office space, vehicles or equipment, enabling the lessee (or renter) to access and use these assets for a specific period of time. Not only does this leasing scheme lessen the financial burden associated with buying assets outright, but it also allows businesses to stay abreast of technological advancement as they can upgrade or change their leased assets whenever the lease agreement expires.The purpose of an operating lease greatly focuses on the effective management of a company’s cash flow and balance sheet. Because payments for an operating lease are considered operational expenses rather than debt, lessees are not required to record the lease assets or associated liabilities on their balance sheets, which can make a company’s financial health appear stronger. Furthermore, operating lease agreements often include maintenance and repair services provided by the lessor (the owner of the asset), saving the lessee the costs and headache of asset upkeep. As a result, operating leases offer companies flexibility and efficiency in their asset management strategies.


1. Retail Store Space: A popular real-world example of an operating lease is the rental agreement between a retail store and the owner of a commercial space. The Retailer does not desire to own the retail space itself, but instead rents it to conduct their business operations without the financial burden of buying the property. The retail store pays the landlord a monthly rental fee for the term of the lease, and at the end of the lease, the retailer generally has options to extend the lease, relocate, or cease operations.2. Vehicle Fleet Management: Many companies, like delivery businesses, cab services, or sales organizations, use operating leases for their fleet of vehicles. In this type of arrangement, the company leases the vehicles for a certain period of time, during which they are responsible for lease payments. At the end of the lease, the company has the option to return the vehicles, extend the lease, or often switch to newer models. This helps them to keep up with the latest vehicle technology without significant upfront purchase costs.3. Equipment Leasing in Healthcare: Hospitals or health clinics often use operating leases for expensive and rapidly updating medical equipment like MRI machines or CT scanners. This allows them to provide high-quality service with up-to-date technology, but without the financial burden of owning and maintaining the equipment. At the end of the lease term, the hospital can choose to return it, buy it at a residual value, or lease new equipment with the latest features.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Operating Lease?

An Operating Lease is a contract that allows the use of an asset without ownership. It is often used for assets like real estate, vehicles, or equipment and typically lasts for a shorter period of time than the asset’s full life span.

How does an Operating Lease work?

In an Operating Lease, the lessee (the business using the asset) makes regular payments to the lessor (the owner of the asset) for the use of the asset for a certain period of time. Ownership of the asset always remains with the lessor.

Is an Operating Lease considered a liability?

No, an Operating Lease is not considered a liability on a company’s balance sheet. Rather, it is classified as an operating expense on the company’s profit and loss account.

How is an Operating Lease different from a Capital Lease?

A Capital Lease (also known as a finance lease) is a long-term lease where the lessee essentially has the benefits and drawbacks of ownership, whereas an Operating Lease is typically shorter-term, and the lessee can use the asset without the responsibilities of ownership.

Are Operating Lease payments tax-deductible?

In most cases, Operating Lease payments are tax-deductible as operational expenses.

What are the risks associated with an Operating Lease?

Risks for the lessee may include variability in payments if the lease has variable terms, potential for increased rental rates at the end of the lease term, and the lack of equity building in the asset. For the lessor, risks may include the residual value of the asset being less than expected at the end of the lease.

What impact does an Operating Lease have on a company’s financial statements?

Operating Leases do not appear as debt on a company’s balance sheet and can therefore make a company’s financial position appear healthier than it would if the lease were classified as a capital lease. However, the lease payments are reported as an expense on the income statement.

What happens at the end of an Operating Lease?

At the end of an Operating Lease, the lessee typically has the option to return the asset, renew the lease, or in some cases, to purchase the asset.

Related Finance Terms

  • Lessee
  • Lessor
  • Lease Term
  • Rental Payments
  • Lease Agreement

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