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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things that Should Scare Small Business Owners

HalloweenWhen you’re running a business, there are a lot of things to consider. From payroll to people to marketing, you have a lot on your plate. In fact, we’re guessing there’s more than a few things that keep you up at night.

There are all sorts of scares lurking around the corner when it comes to owning and running a small to mid-sized business. Here are a few of the ones we find particularly frightening:

You hire without doing your research.

It’s true, you wear a lot of hats as a small business owner. It’s also true that quite a few of those hats are ones you don’t know anything about. Small business owners normally get into business because they have a dream to pursue, not to worry about the day-to-day details of running a business.

To solve that problem, you hire quickly for areas you don’t know anything about. Sounds good right? Not so fast …

  • Are they qualified? When you don’t know anything about the position you’re hiring for, you don’t know if the person (or consultant) is qualified to take on that role. For example, if you’re thinking about hiring someone to look at your financials, do you want a bookkeeper or a CFO? Or somewhere in between? There are several differences, including experience, duties and even pay.
  • How do you measure success? If you don’t know anything about the subject or position you’re hiring for, how do you measure success for that individual? How do you know your expectations and proposed timelines are reasonable?
  • Have you checked all the boxes when it comes to hiring? Another thing to consider is the entirety of the hiring process. Maybe you found the perfect candidate and you want them to start right away. But have you taken into account the necessary steps when it comes to hiring? There are several forms to fill out, items to consider and that pesky thing called onboarding. All of this has to be taken into account before you make that hire.

We’re all for hiring (whether it’s an employee or a consultant) to help you run your business. Just make sure you do the research and know what you want and need in order to help your business run more effectively.

You don’t take your financials seriously.

Having up-to-date, accurate financials is of paramount importance. If you don’t, you’re in for a world of hurt. Without it, you don’t know how much money you’re making (or losing), nor can you even begin to understand the basic state of your business.

Further, you won’t be able to make strategic business decisions and set a course for the future of your business. Plus, financial information is pretty important to creditors, investors and buyers.

Only 40% of small businesses say they are “extremely” or “very knowledgeable” in accounting and finance. (source)

Bookkeeping is not as simple as just throwing numbers into a spreadsheet. You need to understand basic accounting terminology in order to make informed decisions. For instance, just because your books say there’s money coming in, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Cash flow and profit are two different things.

The solution? Invest in accurately tracking your business financials. Find a consultant or hire an accountant (once you’ve done your research) who can help you navigate your current situation and also look out for potential pitfalls.

You don’t have accountability.

Success matters to small businesses, especially in the early stages of your company. But what does success mean? Can you define it in a measurable way? Can your employees?

Businesses work when roles are defined and individuals understand their performance expectations. That’s why it’s important to have KPIs (key performance indicators) in place for your company and your employees.

It’s here where we remind you that KPIs are quantifiable measurements for critical success. Quantifiable is key as it helps you track progress and whether or not you’re accomplishing your goals. If you’re not tracking, then you have no idea if it’s working or if you need to find ways to improve.

You don’t value your product … or yourself.

Let’s start with the basics … one of the keys to starting a business is that you have a product or service people actually want. Once you’ve got that, the next step is pricing it effectively.

Often, business owners play the cheapest option game to get their product into the market. This path undermines the real value of your product. Plus, it’s a lot of work to come back from under pricing your product.

Take the time, instead, to do some market research and really find a price point that shows the value of your product and also allows for market entry. Also, ensure the price point you’ve chosen will help your business financially … which is why it helps to have up-to-date financial information from the beginning.

But let’s not forget about YOU. In addition to your product’s value, you have value as the business owner. At the beginning you’re trying to do it all. It’s important to realize when you’re in too deep and you need help.

“Your new venture demands that every aspect is handled by someone who understands what they’re doing. And no amount of good intention will turn an IT specialist into a good bookkeeper.” (source)

The moral of the story here is to value yourself. Value your time, know your strengths and why you got into business. Let someone whose passion is for numbers or marketing or HR or whatever the subject may be handle the tasks you need done. And remember, if you don’t want to hire someone full time, you can always outsource it.

You’re not playing by the rules.

To say there are more than a few updates to rules and regulations affecting small businesses each year would be an understatement. Did you know, for instance, the General Services Administration annually updates the federal maximum per diem rates? This update would affect any business that has employees travel for work.

Or did you know that several states and cities are now introducing mandatory paid sick leave policies? If you have workers, your policies (if your business is in any of the affected areas) will have to align with this new ruling.

These are just a few examples of the rules and updates small business owners face on a regular basis. Many of these rules directly affect your financials, how you report information about your company and its customers and the benefits and rights your employees get.

That’s why it’s important to know what’s going on and ensure you’re in compliance. Find a consultant who can stay on top of these updates and regulations and ensure your business is following the rules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updates to Per Diem Rates

Back in August, the General Services Administration (a.k.a GSA) issued its annual update on federal maximum per diem rates. These new rates pertain to locations within the continental United States – otherwise known as CONUS. This includes the lower 48.

Before we go into detail on the new rates, let’s do a little refresher.

Per Diem: A Latin word that translates to per day, or for each day. In the case of this post, per diem is being discussed as the daily allowance employees are paid and reimbursed for when they travel for work. Common expenses covered under per diem rates include:

  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Tips
  • Ground Transportation
  • Wi-Fi Charges
  • Other incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning

Another simple way to put it: it is the amount of money an employee is able to spend, per day, on a business trip, attending conferences and events related to work and traveling to work away from the home office. Think of it as an allowance. However, it is important to note the per diem rate doesn’t include the cost of transportation to the site, such as flights or driving. Those costs are usually paid separately by the employers.

So, let’s get back to the main point: these rates are changing, and if you or your employees travel for work, it’s important to know them and stay in compliance!

The new FY18 rates apply to work travel on or after October 1, 2017. If the per diem allowance given to an employee is equal to or less than the federal rates, the allowance is excludable from income tax; those over the federal rates are subject to employment taxes.

Let’s take a look at what FY18 per diem rates have to offer.

The first takeaway to note is the CONUS meal and incidental expense (M&IE) rate hasn’t changed – it is staying at $51. The M&IE rates for non-standard areas – areas still within CONUS which have different rates for travel – will also stay the same. However, all locations in CONUS that don’t appear on the non-standard area list will have an increase in the lodging per diem rate. This has gone up from $91 to $93.

There are also some changes to the non-standard areas list. While no new locations were added, there were 14 locations removed for FY18. They include:

  • Redding, CA
  • Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Bonner’s Ferry/Sandpoint, ID
  • Dickinson/Beulah, ND
  • Watertown, NY
  • Youngstown, OH
  • Enid, OK
  • Mechanicsberg, PA
  • Scranton, PA
  • Laredo, TX
  • McAllen, TX
  • Pearsall, TX
  • San Angelo, TX
  • Gillette, WY

These removed locations are now considered part of the regular CONUS, and follow CONUS standard rates.

You might also be wondering about rates in places that aren’t part of the CONUS, such as Alaska, Hawaii or even Puerto Rico. If your employees are lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for work, it’s important to note these rates are not updated annually, but rather on an irregular basis.

The Department of State steps in and updates per diem rates for foreign travel, but also on an irregular schedule.

To find these rates, as well as the CONUS rates, be sure to check out the GSA website.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling to understand how much to reimburse your employees for their travels, reach out to us. We would be happy to help!