The term cost has a number of meanings in the context of actions taken by the Federal Government, depending on the method by which it is calculated, the type of program involved, and the method by which it is administered, as examples. It is particularly important in credit programs, where different forms exist for calculating the resources required to accomplish the intended policy result.
Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990
[Title V of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974]
sec. 502. definitions.
For purposes of this title—
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(5)(A) The term “cost” means the estimated long-term cost to the Government of a direct loan or loan guarantee or modification thereof, calculated on a net present value basis, excluding administrative costs and any incidental effects on governmental receipts or outlays.
(B) The cost of a direct loan shall be the net present value, at the time when the direct loan is disbursed, of the following estimated cash flows:
(i) loan disbursements;
(ii) repayments of principal; and
(iii) payments of interest and other payments by or to the Government over the life of the loan after adjusting for estimated defaults, prepayments, fees, penalties, and other recoveries;
including the effects of changes in loan terms resulting from the exercise by the borrower of an option included in the loan contract.
(C) The cost of a loan guarantee shall be the net present value, at the time when the guaranteed loan is disbursed, of the following estimated cash flows:
(i) payments by the Government to cover defaults and delinquencies, interest subsidies, or other payments; and
(ii) payments to the Government including origination and other fees, penalties and recoveries;
including the effects of changes in loan terms resulting from the exercise by the guaranteed lender of an option included in the loan guarantee contract, or by the borrower of an option included in the guaranteed loan contract.
GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)
The price or cash value of the resources used to produce a program, project, or activity. This term is used in many different contexts. When used in connection with federal credit programs, the term means the estimated long-term cost to the government of a direct loan or loan guarantee, calculated on a net present value basis over the life of the loan, excluding administrative costs and any incidental effects on governmental receipts or outlays. (See also Credit Subsidy Cost under Federal Credit; Expense.)
For federal proprietary accounting, the monetary value of resources used or sacrificed or the liabilities incurred to achieve an objective.
In economic terms, it is a measure of what must be given up in order to obtain something, whether by purchase, exchange, or production. Economists generally use the concept of opportunity cost, which is the value of all of the things that must be forgone or given up in obtaining something. The opportunity cost measure may, but will not always, equal the money outlays used to measure accounting costs.
Economists sometimes distinguish between the private costs of a good or activity to the consumer or producer and the social costs imposed on the community as a whole.