Operating Lease: Meaning, Features and Advantages

Operating Lease: Meaning, Features and Advantages

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Chanchal Aggarwal
Senior Executive Content
Updated on Nov 23, 2023 01:03 IST

An operating lease is a type of lease where a company rents equipment or assets for a relatively short term compared to the asset’s expected useful life. It offers advantages like lower upfront costs, flexibility to upgrade, and maintenance coverage by the lessor. Operating leases are treated as operational expenses, allowing businesses to efficiently manage resources and keep their balance sheets more favorable.


An operating lease is a leasing arrangement commonly used by businesses to acquire equipment, machinery, or other assets without the commitment of ownership. In this arrangement, the lessee rents the asset for a specified period, usually shorter than its useful life, from the lessor. Operating leases offer advantages such as lower initial costs, flexibility for upgrades, and maintenance relief, allowing companies to effectively manage their resources and adapt to changing needs. Unlike capital leases, operating leases are treated as operational expenses, providing businesses with financial flexibility and the ability to maintain up-to-date assets.

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Table of Content

What is Operating Lease?

An operating lease is a type of leasing arrangement in which a company (lessee) rents an asset from another company (lessor) for a specific period. This type of lease is commonly used for equipment, machinery, vehicles, or other tangible assets. Unlike a capital lease, which is treated more like a purchase for accounting purposes. An operating lease is treated as a rental expense on the lessee’s financial statements.

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Characteristics of Operating Lease

Key characteristics of an operating lease include:

Short-term: Operating leases are typically shorter in duration compared to the useful life of the leased asset. They often cover a significantly less period than the asset’s expected economic life.

No Ownership Transfer: At the end of the lease term, the lessee does not have the option to purchase the asset at a predetermined price, as is common with capital leases. Instead, the asset is returned to the lessor.

Maintenance and Upkeep: The lessor usually retains responsibility for maintenance, repairs, and insurance of the leased asset. This can benefit the lessee, as it reduces the burden of upkeep costs.

Accounting Treatment: The lessee’s income statement treats operating lease payments as operating expenses. This approach keeps the asset and related liability off the lessee’s balance sheet, which can benefit companies looking to maintain certain financial ratios.

Flexibility: Operating leases offer more flexibility to businesses as they allow for easy upgrades or replacements of assets at the end of the lease term. This is particularly useful for industries where technology or equipment rapidly evolves.

Tax Benefits: Operating lease payments are usually deductible as an operating expense, providing potential tax benefits to the lessee.

It’s important to note that accounting regulations, such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), have guidelines for distinguishing between operating leases and capital leases. These regulations determine how leases are treated regarding financial reporting and disclosure.


Advantages of Operating Lease

Lower Initial Costs

Operating leases are like renting instead of buying. This means you don’t have to pay a huge amount upfront to start using things like equipment or vehicles for your business. It’s like paying less to get access to what you need without the big financial burden.

Cash Flow Management

You pay smaller amounts regularly instead of a big lump sum when you lease. This helps you manage your money better because you know exactly how much you must set aside. It’s like paying in small instalments, making controlling your business’s finances easier.


Operating leases allow you to keep up with the latest and better versions of things. When your lease is done, you can choose to get newer and improved equipment without being stuck with what you had before. This way, your business can stay up-to-date and efficient.

Maintenance Relief

With operating leases, you don’t have to worry about fixing or maintaining the stuff you’re using. The company you lease from takes care of that. This saves you time and money because you’re not responsible for repairs, making things simpler for your business.

Off-Balance Sheet Treatment

When you lease, the things you use don’t appear as debts on your financial statements. This is like keeping your financial report card looking better. It makes your business appear stronger because lots of debt do not weigh you down.

Tax Benefits

Leasing can help you save on taxes. The payments you make for leasing are often considered business expenses, and this can lower your taxable income. Simply put, you might pay less in taxes, leaving more money for your business needs.

Shorter Commitment

Operating leases are not for very long periods. This means you’re not tied down for years if you only need something temporarily. It’s like having the freedom to use what you need. Also, then move on when you’re done without any extra obligations.

Reduced Obsolescence Risk

Technology changes fast. With operating leases, you’re not stuck with outdated equipment. When your lease ends, you can get newer and more advanced stuff, helping your business stay competitive and efficient.

Cost Predictability

When you lease, you know exactly how much you will pay each time. This makes budgeting easier because you don’t have to worry about unexpected costs. It’s like knowing the exact amount you need to spend, helping you plan your finances better.

Quick Implementation

Leasing is quicker than buying. You can use what you need sooner without waiting to gather much money. This can be helpful if your business needs something urgently to operate smoothly.

Residual Value Handling

At the end of the lease, you don’t have to think about selling the equipment or worrying about its value. The company you leased from takes care of that. You can focus on the next steps for your business without any hassle.

Shared Risk

If something goes wrong with what you leased, the company you got it from helps you out. You’re not alone in dealing with issues. This shared responsibility means you can get support if anything unexpected happens.

What are the Disadvantages of Operating Lease?

Higher Overall Cost: While operating leases have lower upfront costs, they might cost more over time due to continuous lease payments without ownership. It’s like paying rent for a long time, which can add up.

No Ownership or Equity: With an operating lease, you’re renting the equipment. This means you won’t own it at the end of the lease. It’s similar to using something without the chance to build ownership or value.

Limited Customization: Operating leases might limit how much you can customize or modify the equipment since it doesn’t truly belong to you. This lack of ownership can restrict your ability to adapt the equipment to your exact needs.


An operating lease is a leasing arrangement that allows a company to use an asset for a limited period without transferring ownership. The lessee benefits from reduced financial commitment and flexibility, while the lessor benefits from consistent rental income and potential residual value from the asset at the end of the lease term.

Top FAQs on Operating Lease

What is an Operating Lease?

An operating lease is a leasing agreement where the lessee rents an asset for a shorter period than its useful life. The lessee gets the right to use the asset, while the lessor retains ownership. Operating leases are typically used for equipment and vehicles.

How is an Operating Lease Different from a Finance Lease?

Unlike a finance lease, an operating lease does not provide an option to purchase the asset at the end of the lease term. Also, in operating leases, the asset and associated liabilities are not recorded on the lessee's balance sheet.

What are the Financial Implications of an Operating Lease for a Business?

Operating leases are treated as operating expenses and are expensed on the income statement, which can improve certain financial ratios. They do not involve the capitalization of the asset, thus keeping the company's debt-to-equity ratio lower.

Who Bears the Maintenance Costs in an Operating Lease?

Typically, the lessor is responsible for maintenance, insurance, and other costs associated with the asset. However, terms can vary, and in some cases, the lessee might bear certain costs.

Can an Operating Lease be Cancelled?

Operating leases often have fixed terms, but cancellation policies depend on the lease agreement. Early termination might incur penalties or additional costs.

About the Author
Chanchal Aggarwal
Senior Executive Content

Chanchal is a creative and enthusiastic content creator who enjoys writing research-driven, audience-specific and engaging content. Her curiosity for learning and exploring makes her a suitable writer for a variety ... Read Full Bio