Preparing for the New Year: Expense Reimbursements

As we enter the new year, it’s important to take a look and ensure you’re entering 2018 on the right foot. There are several things you need to remember to keep your business in compliance. One of these things is your expense reimbursement policies.

The IRS defines business expenses as ordinary and necessary costs for carrying out your trade or business. So when we talk expense reimbursement, we’re referring to paying your employees back for what they spent (of their own money) on business-related expenses.

Not only should your business have an expense reimbursement policy, but that policy has to be compliant with the IRS and Department of Labor.

An Accountable Plan

The IRS states the following conditions must be met for your expense reimbursement to be in compliance:

  • A business reason. There has to be a business reason for the expense. In other words, you can’t just go out for drinks and submit it for reimbursement. It has to have a connection with the services your employee is performing.
  • It has to be validated. You have to have receipts or invoices that document the amount and nature of the expense being submitted for reimbursement.
  • No excess. Your employees need to return any amounts that were paid in excess of the validated expenses.

When these three conditions are met, it’s referred to as an accountable plan. This is important to know because if you’re deemed to have a non-accountable plan, the amounts reimbursed to your employees could be considered income and need to be included on the Form W-2. An accountable plan, on the other hand, allows reimbursements to not be considered taxable.

The Five “Ws” and a few other items

Meal Reimbursements
One of the key expenses often paid through reimbursement are meals. Yes, the IRS has specific rules about this.

If you’re not using a per diem allowance (go here to learn more), the IRS has specific requirements to substantiate your actual meal receipts. It’s known as the five “Ws”:

  • Who was there?
  • Why is the meal considered official business?
  • Where did the meal occur?
  • What was the cost of the meal?
  • When did the meal occur?

Automobile Expenses

The IRS also has rules when it comes to automobile expense reimbursements. Again we go back to the rule of substantiation. The policy related to automobile expense reimbursements must describe how your employees use a vehicle for business expenses. This applies to both an automobile owned/leased by your company as well as mileage reimbursement and personal use.

As a note, personal use of a company vehicle have to be included in taxable income.

The Department of Labor

The Department of Labor also has rules when it comes to expense reimbursements. These rules include:

  • The Five “ws”. The DOL also adheres to the 5 Ws when documenting all expenses to be reimbursed. Further, they also require your employees provide the original receipt and written description. If the receipt is lost, your policy has to state that you require a signed statement from the employee regarding the lost receipt.
  • Substantiation for all. The IRS has an exception that allows you to not have to keep records for any expense (excluding lodging) that is less than $75. This is not true with the DOL. The DOL states that all reimbursed expenses have to have the proper records.
  • For meal expenses, the DOL requires itemized receipts. In other words, the credit card slip won’t work. You need the actual ticket that details what each person ordered, as well as the credit card slip that indicates how much tip was left.
  • Automobile rules. When it comes to organization owned leases/vehicles, employees must furnish date of travel, number of miles driven, whether it was for personal or business and the odometer reading. If your policy also includes reimbursement for personal vehicles, the DOL states you have to have at least one record that includes date of travel, locations traveled to and from, number of miles and business purpose.

The moral of the story

Make sure your policy for expense reimbursements is in compliance as we kick off the new year. By setting these rules in place, you’ll ensure your employees not only have the information they need as they travel for work, but that your business is in compliance with the IRS and the DOL.



The Gift of Per Diem Rates

Business travel expenses are enough to make anyone’s head spin. There are so many things to remember, both for the employee traveling, as well as the business owner. There are the receipts and the records and the purpose of the travel … you can see how this begins to add up.

There is another option for business travel, known as per diem rates. Per diem rates are the daily fixed allowances employees are paid or reimbursed for work travel. These could include:

  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Tips
  • Ground transportation
  • Other incidental charges (dry cleaning, wi-fi, etc.)

One thing per diem rates don’t cover is the cost of transportation to the work function or site. So if your employees are flying or driving, that’s paid separately by you.

Per diem rates are based on IRS-approved rates for your location. The General Services Administration issues these rates within the continental United States. They’re updated each year (check out the most recent update here).

So why use per diems? Well receipts usually aren’t required for per diem, meaning less paperwork. Another benefit of per diems is that qualified per diem reimbursements usually aren’t subject to income or payroll tax and therefore aren’t reported on an employee’s W-2.

But before you get all excited, here are some tips for implementing a per diem program that actually qualifies for tax-free reimbursements.

  • Is there a business purpose? Per diem rates are deductible when they have a purpose. In other words, the expenses your employees incur while traveling for work must be ordinary and necessary business expenses associated with travel away from home in connection with the performance of duties for a job, profession or business.
  • Are you away from “home”? Per diem rates only work when the employee is actually away from their tax home. The basic rule of thumb here is that per diem rates apply when the employee is away from home longer than an ordinary day’s work and reasonably could not be expected to make the trip home without obtaining sleep or rest. This is also known as the “sleep or rest rule.”

The establishment of a tax home is important. Temporary employees who hop around to different work assignments in various locations are not eligible for per diem rates. When in doubt, think about if the employee incurs substantial continuing living expenses related to their tax home location.

  • Is the assignment long term? Per diem allowances do not work for employee assignments that last over a year. In order for per diems to apply, the assignment has to have a definite period (beginning and end) and be documented.
  • Have you been keeping track? Yes, one of the benefits of a per diem allowance is the less stringent recordkeeping. However, documentation is still required. Typical documentation for per diems includes: days worked, location and business purpose.
  • Do you know the IRS-approved rates? The rates for per diem allowances differ based on location. If you pay over the location based amount, the excess will be classified as taxable income for your employee.
  • Are you giving breaks? Sometimes you put an employee at a job for multiple assignments. But what if that assignment lasts longer than a year? Make sure the breaks between assignments in the same location are legitimate. Typically, the IRS has said breaks of three weeks or less might not be considered a break at all. So pay attention to the length of contracts and the breaks between assignments.







Gift Giving & Taxes

The holiday season is nearly here, and you might be starting to think about gift giving this year. If you’re planning on thanking your employees for their great work throughout the year with gifts, or maybe even a holiday party, there are a few tax rules you should keep in mind.

In general, all types of compensation are subject to income tax – unless excluded by the tax code.

De Minimis fringe benefits may allow employers to provide holiday gifts of property – not cash or cash equivalents – with a low fair market value, without the employee having to pay additional taxes on the gift. De Minimis (reminder found here) in simple terms refers to something too minor or small to be considered. In other words, it is something small enough it is not practical to track or administer the value and has little to no impact on the employees’ income.

The frequency and availability of these gifts can determine whether or not they are considered de minimis.  As a general rule, as long as all employees are receiving the same gifts, the frequency isn’t an issue.

Some items that do qualify as de minimis fringe benefits and gifts – and are therefore excludable from income tax – include:

  • Traditional holiday gifts with a low fair market value. This includes your turkeys, hams or any other small non-cash
  • Occasional cocktail parties – this means your company holiday party, employee picnics, etc.
  • Occasional sporting event or theater tickets.
  • Occasional coffee, donuts and snacks in the office.
  • Special occasion gifts, such as sympathy flowers.

Each of the above items include a time frame… occasionally. These small gifts are considered excludable as long as they are not being given on a regular or excessive basis.

Now that we know what is excludable, let’s take a look at what is considered taxable.

The larger the gift, the better the chance it is taxable compensation. For example, if you’re considering giving your employees season tickets to see their favorite football team, those tickets are considered taxable and must be reported as income.

Other examples of taxable gifts include:

  • Gifting your employee a weekend away at an employee-owned facility, such as a hunting cabin or timeshare.
  • Providing your employee a membership in a country club or a gym.
  • Allowing your employee to use a company vehicle for commuting or other personal use more than one day a month.

Some employers provide some of these benefits throughout the year, while others may give them for the holidays. If you’re planning on giving any of these gifts, make sure you include them as income!

You might have noticed we haven’t touched on a very common gift employers give for the holidays – gift cards, gift certificates and even cash.

When it comes to gift cards, certificates and cash, the rule is pretty straightforward: no matter how large or small the amount, it will always be taxable (with a few small exceptions of course). If you’re thinking of giving your employee a $5 Target gift card or even a $500 general use gift card, you guessed it – it must be reported!

The moral of the story? Pay attention to the value of your gifts to make sure you’re in compliance. If you want to give your employees great gifts but aren’t quite sure what you should be reporting, let us know. We are here to help you and your employees have a great holiday season!

Fringe Benefits: What You Need to Know

As an employer, you want to ensure your employees are happy and thriving in your business. From time to time, you may even reward them for a job well done. But before you give a reward that’s outside the scope of their pay rate, think twice.

Welcome to the world of fringe benefits.

What are fringe benefits?

Fringe benefits are any form of payment that is considered compensation beyond your employee’s normal pay rate. This could include property, services or cash.

Why do I need to think twice?

Often, fringe benefits are taxable to the employee. And if it’s taxable, you have to report it on the employee’s W-2.

Fringe benefits that are taxable include:

  • Vacations
  • Personal use of an employer-provided vehicle
  • Gym memberships
  • Bonuses
  • Moving expenses (those in excess of your qualified expenses)
  • Group term life insurance
  • Gift cards

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should at least get you thinking.

What else do I need to know?

When we talk about fringe benefits, we’re often talking about value. The IRS has a little rule called de minimis fringe benefit, otherwise known as “one for which, considering its value and the frequency with which it is provided, is so small as to make accounting for it unreasonable or impractical.”

In other words, when you talk about value in regard to de minimis fringe benefits, if the benefit is so small it makes reporting it impractical, you don’t have to worry about it. And before you ask, there’s no specific dollar amount given.

One thing to remember is that cash or cash-equivalent gifts are NEVER non-taxable. For example, gift cards have an easily ascertainable value and can be redeemed for merchandise or a cash equivalent. So they need to be reported as part of an employee’s wages.

If you give items that are not cash, you will more than likely utilize fair market value. For instance, say you have a drawing during your company holiday party and an employee wins a 60 inch TV. This would not be considered de minimis and would need to be included in their income so taxes could be withheld. In this instance you can easily ascertain the value of the TV.

In the above example, you utilize fair market value. However, there are items that don’t have an easily discernible value. In that case, look at what a willing buyer would pay for that particular item. If you need a little more help, the IRS lays out guidelines for the valuation of certain items, like the lease of an employer-provided vehicle. You can find more information on that here.

So what would be considered de minimis?

So what would be considered de minimis? An example would be giving each of your employees a T-shirt, turkey, or something similar in value. The key here is that it HAS to be something tangible (as a reminder, this doesn’t mean cash or anything with a value attached … even a $5 gift card counts).

The moral of the story?

Fringe benefits are a great way to reward your employees and help you stand out from your competition. However, you need to be careful that you’re actually reporting these benefits as part of your employee’s wages.

1099 Reminder

Way back in July, we taught you the basics of the 1099 forms. Now that the deadlines for these forms are coming into view, we thought we would give you some tips and helpful reminders for getting them filled out.

Wait, what are these for again?

The most common type of 1099, the 1099-MISC, needs to be completed for anyone who has provided services to you amounting to $600 or more. This can be anything from accounting services to snow removal – if it was $600 or greater worth of work, it goes on the 1099-MISC. However there are a few exceptions to the rule (go figure!). A 1099-MISC isn’t required if:

  • The company providing the services is incorporated – except with lawyers.
  • The person who provided services is your employee.
  • The amount of services provided is less than $600 worth.

Do I need to report anything else on the form?

The 1099-MISC requires you to report any rent paid to an individual or business that isn’t incorporated. It also requires you to report royalties of $10 or more and any other income payments such awards and prizes, and even employee wages paid after death. In other words, most miscellaneous payments are reported on the 1099-MISC.

Any other forms I should know about?

Another common 1099 is the 1099-INT. This form focuses on – you guessed it – interest reporting. Any interest paid amounting to $10 or more, any foreign tax and interest or backup federal withholdings – regardless of the interest payment amount — must be reported on this form.

So, when are they due?

Depending on the type of form you are filing, the due dates may vary. The IRS website gives a great picture of when each form is due. You can check it out here.

Anything else I should know before I get to work filling these out?

As always, these forms are more complex than meets the eye, and this list of items to include is not all-inclusive. Our pals at the IRS do a great job of explaining them, and we’ve also crafted a handy blog to help you get a picture of what these forms include.

We’re hopeful these reminders will give you the information (see what we did there?) you need to fill out the 1099. If your head is still spinning, let us know. We’re always here to help!

Taxable v. Nontaxable Income

Tax season will be here soon, which means your friendly numbers nerds are getting ready! From balance sheets to calculators and everything in between, this is a busy time of year with a lot of moving parts. Tax day, Tuesday, April 17th, will be here in just 162 days. It’s a good idea to think ahead.

When it comes to income, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume it will be taxed. For example, salaries, bonuses, interest and business income are almost always taxable. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to what is and isn’t taxable. This stuff is important to know – different types of income can greatly impact your tax strategies for the upcoming year.

Everyone earns income in some shape or form, and knowing when you should and shouldn’t be paying tax is a must. As a business owner, it’s also important to realize what your employees may need to report on their tax filings, and how this might impact your business’ tax strategy.

To help you with your tax planning, we’re here to help break down which forms of income may be taxable.

The following types of income are taxable, and need to be reported properly:

  • Benefits from unemployment
  • Punitive damages
  • Income from bartering, which is based on the fair market value of the product or service you receive
  • Disability insurance income – if your employer paid the premiums
  • Fringe benefits you receive for performance of your services – think wellness benefits, company car use, etc.
  • Rent payments you receive for personal property – if you are operating your rental activity as a business
  • Gambling winnings and cash prizes

However, not everything is taxable. Here are some of the nontaxable types of income:

  • Workers’ compensation benefits – unless they are part of your retirement package
  • Disability insurance income – if you paid the premiums
  • Compensatory damages for getting sick or being injured
  • Cash rebates from the dealer or manufacturer of a service or product
  • Excluded fringe benefits, such as health insurance, parking and employee discounts
  • Child support payments
  • Rent money if you rent out your primary or vacation home fewer than 15 days a year. This is important to note if you use popular vacation rental sites, such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Also, note that if you rent it out more than 14 days, the activity is taxable.
  • Gifts and inheritances – if your great-great uncle passes away and leaves you his massive stamp collection, lucky you – no income tax!

It’s important to keep in mind these lists don’t include every taxable and nontaxable type of income under the sun, and there are often rules and exceptions that may apply. If you get confused, or aren’t sure if you should really be reporting something, check in with us. We’re here to help.

A version of this post first appeared in Eide Bailly’s Year End Tax Planning Guide.

Tax Planning & Your End Game: What Business Owners Need to Know

We can’t stress enough the importance of having an exit plan for your business from the start. An exit plan allows you to lay out transition of ownership and passing of responsibilities associated with your business. Ultimately, it will give you peace of mind as you work on your business, knowing you already have your end game in motion.

Plus, by working on your end game early on, you can hopefully save yourself some time and headache later. One of the key areas where this is especially applicable is taxes. Without the proper planning, taxes can trip you up at the end if you haven’t planned from the beginning.

Here are a few common exit options and some key tax issues:

Buy-sell agreement.

A buy-sell agreement lays out a roadmap for what happens to the business should a specified event occur (we’re talking retirement, disability, death, etc.). Among other things, it can lay out methods for setting a price for owner shares, allows for business continuity and provides a buyer with a way to fund the purchase of the business.

But what about the taxes?

Life or disability insurance associated with the business often helps fulfill the need for funding the purchase. One of the biggest advantages of utilizing life insurance this way is that proceeds are generally excluded from the taxable income of the beneficiary (the person receiving the benefit from the life insurance policy).

Family succession.

You do have the ability to transfer your business to a family member. This is done by giving them interests or selling them interests in your organization (or both).

But what about the taxes?

There’s an annual gift tax exclusion which allows you to gift up to $14,000 of ownership interest under your gift tax annual exclusion without incurring federal gift tax consequences.


Some individuals choose to transition their business to their employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). An ESOP is a qualified retirement plan created to purchase your company’s stock.

But what about the taxes?

There are all sorts of tax implications and benefits for ESOPs. Check out the National Center for Employee Ownership for a list of some of the major tax benefits of going this route.

Sale and acquisition.

You’ve built something from the ground up and now you’re ready to sell it. Or maybe, you’re ready to add on through acquiring another company. Either way, you need to have your business in a ready state, including transparent operations, updated financials and streamlined processes and procedures.

But what about the taxes?

Here are a few tax considerations to think about:

  • Asset v. stock sale
  • Tax-deferred transfer v. taxable sale
  • Installment sale

The moral of the story.

It’s safe to say taxes have far reaching implications on your business, including how you plan to transition out of that business. That’s why it’s important to consider your end game early and prepare for the tax implications that come with it.

A trusted tax adviser can help you navigate all these circumstances and discuss what will work best for your business and your goals. That way you’ll prepared for the end, before you actually get there.

A version of this post first appeared in our 2017-18 Tax Planning guide.