Category Archives: Business Taxes

Good eats, tax breaks: Deducting employee meal costs

One thing about human resources — they need to eat. Just about every employer encounters situations in which it needs to provide meals to its employees. No matter how often you do so, be sure you’re aware of the tax rules for deducting these costs.

Claim half or all1

Generally, a business may deduct only 50% of the cost of business meals for federal tax purposes. But food provided to employees may be fully deductible in circumstances such as when meals:

  • Are provided as additional compensation (and thus included in employee taxable income), or
  • Qualify as tax-free de minimis fringe benefits.

You may also write off food, and exclude it from employees’ income, if it’s furnished for your convenience and on your premises.

Furnish with a purpose

Under IRS regulations, the “convenience of the employer test” is met only if meals are furnished for a “substantial noncompensatory business purpose.” Although whether meals pass this test depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, the IRS has given examples of a number of acceptable circumstances.

For instance, food provided to keep employees available for emergency calls during the meal period generally qualifies for the full deduction. But such calls must actually occur or be reasonably expected to occur.

Another example is when the nature of the employer’s business tends to shorten a meal to, say, 30 to 45 minutes. The furnishing of meals, however, isn’t considered to be for a substantial noncompensatory business purpose if a meal period is shortened in order to allow employees to leave early.

A third instance is when employees cannot otherwise secure proper meals within a reasonable period. The regulations state that meals are fully deductible under this test if there aren’t enough eateries near the workplace.

Important note: Under the current tax rules, if more than 50% of the employees fed on premises are furnished meals for the employer’s convenience, then all meals furnished on premises are treated as furnished for the employer’s convenience. Therefore, these meals are excludable from employees’ income, regardless of whether every employee meets the convenience test.

Enjoy your meals

From a tax perspective, providing meals to employees can be deceptively simple. On their face, the rules seem straightforward, but many exceptions and caveats apply. Stay apprised of the latest IRS guidance and double-check your company’s meal deductions every year.

Sidebar: Considering a cafeteria?

Years ago, only the largest companies had on-site cafeterias. But some midsize businesses are now establishing them, too. There are a number of potential advantages to doing so. Keeping employees on your premises can cut down on excessively long lunch breaks and foster collaboration among team members. A good cafeteria could also attract better job candidates.

From a tax perspective, an employer-operated eating facility is usually considered a de minimis fringe benefit. So the costs of providing meals there are generally 100% deductible as long as the cafeteria is located on or near your premises.

But there are a number of complex rules involved. For instance, the eating facility’s revenue must normally equal or exceed its direct operating costs. We would be glad to work with you to ensure that the facility qualifies for tax-advantaged treatment when established and on an annual basis.

Road rules: Deducting business travel expenses

This article was originally published in Hershey Advisors’ monthly Tax and Business Alert.

If you travel for business, you’ll want to ensure that the expenses you incur while doing so are tax deductible. IRS rules are strict, and improperly substantiated deductions can cost you.

Away from home rule

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Generally, ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for work are deductible. For the expenses to qualify, you must be away from your tax home — your regular place of business — substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work and need to sleep or rest to meet the work demands while away.

You don’t necessarily have to stay away from home overnight to satisfy the rest requirement. If you travel for business purposes throughout the day but return home that night to sleep, you may still be considered “away from home” for tax purposes. In this case, expenses you incur for such trips are still deductible.

Also, the trip must be primarily for business purposes. If your trip involves both business and personal activities, a portion of the travel expenses may be nondeductible personal expenses.

Deductible travel expenses

Most airfare, taxis, rental cars, lodging, meals (with exceptions), tips and business phone calls are tax deductible. But you can’t write off “lavish or extravagant” travel expenses, so be prepared to prove that your patronage of a high-end restaurant or five-star hotel was reasonable under the circumstances.

Generally, only 50% of business-related meal and entertainment expenses are deductible. If your employer reimburses you under an accountable plan (see below), the 50% limit applies to your employer rather than you.

You must substantiate deductions for lodging — and for other travel expenses greater than $75 — with adequate records. These include credit card receipts, canceled checks or bills. Records should indicate the amount, date, place, essential character of the expense and business purpose.

Be accountable

If your employer reimburses your travel expenses, an accountable plan enables the company to deduct the reimbursements, but the reimbursements aren’t included in your income as salary and aren’t subject to FICA and other payroll tax obligations. Although you may still be able to deduct some or all business travel expenses without an accountable plan, such deductions are available only if you itemize and your expenses and other miscellaneous deductions exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

For reimbursed expenses to qualify under an accountable plan, you must have paid or incurred them while on company business and reported the expenses to your employer within a reasonable time (usually within 60 days). You also must return any excess reimbursements — usually within 120 days after they were paid or incurred.

Generally, to be reimbursable on a tax-free basis, your travel must meet the “away from home” rule discussed earlier. However, your employer can reimburse local lodging expenses if the lodging is temporary and necessary for you to participate in or be available for a bona fide business meeting or function. The expenses involved must be otherwise deductible by you as a business expense (or be expenses that would otherwise be deductible if you paid them).

Exceptions happen

As with most IRS rules, there are exceptions to which travel expenses you can deduct. If you’re unsure about some expenses, give us a call.

IRS Tax Tips for Starting a Business

The following is IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-15:

When you start a business, a key to your success is to know your tax obligations. You may not only need to know about income tax rules, but also about payroll tax rules. Here are five IRS tax tips that can help you get your business off to a good start.

  1. Business Structure. An early choice you need to make is to decide on the type of structure for your business. The most common types are sole proprietor, partnership and corporation. The type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you will file.
  2. Business Taxes.  There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. In most cases, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure you set up. You may need to make estimated tax payments. If you do, use IRS Direct Pay to pay them. It’s the fast, easy and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account.
  3. Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on IRS.gov to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.
  4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that you use to determine when to report income and expenses. You must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash and accrual methods. Under the cash method, you normally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you receive or pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you earn or incur them. This is true even if you get the income or pay the expense in a later year.
  5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

    The employer shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act affect employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees). These employers’ are called applicable large employers. ALEs must either offer minimum essential coverage that is “affordable” and that provides “minimum value” to their full-time employees (and their dependents), or potentially make an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS. The vast majority of employers will fall below the ALE threshold number of employees and, therefore, will not be subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

    Employers also have information reporting responsibilities regarding minimum essential coverage they offer or provide to their full-time employees.  Employers must send reports to employees and to the IRS on new forms the IRS created for this purpose.

Get all the tax basics of starting a business on IRS.gov at the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center.

Additional IRS Resources: