February really is the cruelest month because, on top of all this snow, one is forced to start contemplating death, or at least filling out one's taxes. (The distinction was always lost on us.) You might be left scratching your head, and wishing you had a better accountant, when you hear how Facebook is getting hundreds of millions in a tax refund this year.
Thanks to a statement from Citizens for Tax Justice, Bloomberg Businessweek's Peter Coy brought an interesting little nugget of information from Facebook's public filing to our attention. Because of the way Facebook treats stock options distributed to investors and employees instead of cash compensation on its balance sheets, the company is able to claim paying a tax liability worth hundreds of millions of dollars when the reality is they're getting paid:
You won’t find any $429 million tax refund in Facebook’s financial statements. Indeed, the company says it had a $559 million federal tax liability in 2012. But that liability isn’t an actual payment. In a footnote, the company also said that it had a $1.03 billion “excess tax benefit” last year related to “stock option exercises and other equity awards.” That benefit is what flips the federal tax liability into a refund. (A small portion is applied against state taxes.)
So, y'know, hope your return this year is that big. You can read more about the mechanics behind Facebook's accounting in Coy's explanation.