Are your employees reimbursed for work-related travel expenses? If not, you might want to reconsider. Changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act make reimbursements even more attractive to employees.
The new tax code implemented significant changes to moving and travel expenses, including business-related travel expenses incurred by employees. Under the previous law, work-related travel expenses that weren’t reimbursed were generally deductible on an employee’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, many employees weren’t able to take advantage of the deduction because they a) didn’t itemize deductions, or b) didn’t have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor that applied.
With the new tax code, business travel is still entirely deductible, but not by individual taxpayers because miscellaneous itemized deductions, including employee business expenses, are no longer permitted to be claimed on individual tax returns. Instead, only businesses are able to deduct these expenses, which is why business travel expense reimbursements are now more significant to current employees and more attractive to prospective employees.
In order to be deductible, travel expenses must be valid business expenses and the reimbursements must adhere to IRS rules – either with an accountable plan or the per diem method.
Employee expenses reimbursed under an employer’s accountable plan do not contribute to the employee’s income. The accountable plan is a formal agreement to advance, reimburse or grant allowances for business expenses. To qualify as an accountable plan, it must meet the following criteria:
- Payments must be for “ordinary and necessary” business expenses
- Employees must substantiate these expenses (including amounts, times, and places) monthly
- Employees must return any advance or allowances they can’t substantiate within a reasonable time, typically 120 days
Plans that fail to meet these guidelines will be treated by the IRS as “non-accountable”,
and reimbursements will be included in the employee’s gross income as taxable wages subject to withholding and employment taxes (employer and employee).
In some cases, the per diem method may be used. Instead of tracking actual business travel expenses, employers use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meal, and incidental expenses. Substantiation of time, place, and amount must still be provided, and the IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely pay employees more than the appropriate per diem amount.
If you have any questions about the TCJA’s impact on your business, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.