Debt that is owed by a company, but because of alternative accounting or financing techniques, is not included on a company’s balance sheet. Investors need to read through the fine print in the footnotes of a company’s financial statements to find this debt. One type of off-balance-sheet debt that a company typically has is a lease for property or equipment that commits the company to a fixed-payment schedule for a multiyear period. Because the payment schedule is fixed, it isn’t much different than having a bank loan. While a capital lease (a long-term lease) is likely to be reported on a company’s balance sheet, an operating lease is generally only disclosed in a footnote.
Another example is when companies sell accounts receivables or credit card receivables through securitization (packaging debt into a group and then issuing new securities that are backed by the income from the pool). These transactions may be reported in the footnotes of a company, however they aren’t on the balance sheet as debt. They are more like debt because in many instances the companies remain liable if a borrower or customer defaults on payment. However, if the company has actually transferred the risk associated with owning them, and there is no danger that they will have to make the payment if the borrower defaults, then they really aren’t a debt of the company. Details of these types of obligations are found in a company’s financial statements, usually its form 10-K, which is filed annually with the SEC.