Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part II – Deduction Disallowances for Entertainment Expenses and Certain Fringe Benefits

Post by
November 3, 2017

Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee released the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Bill”), a bill that, if enacted, would represent the most substantial overhaul of the U.S. tax code in decades.  This is the second in a series of posts discussing the effect of the Bill on topics of interest to our readers.  (See our first post discussing the effect of the Bill on various exclusions for employer-provided benefits here.)  Section 3307 of the Bill makes several changes to the deduction limitations under section 274 related to meals and entertainment expenses.  The Bill also expands the reach of the deduction limitations to disallow deductions for de minimis fringe benefits excluded from income under Code section 132(e), unless the employer includes such amounts in the employee’s taxable income. With respect to tax-exempt entities, section 3308 of the Bill would treat funds used to provide employees transportation fringe benefits and on-premises gyms and other athletic facilities as unrelated business taxable income.

Total Disallowance of Deductions for Entertainment Expenses.  Under Code section 274(a), a taxpayer may not deduct expenses for entertainment, amusement, or recreation (“entertainment expenses”), unless the taxpayer establishes that the item was directly related to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s business, subject to a number of exceptions in Code section 274(e) (e.g., reimbursed expenses; expenses treated as compensation to (or included in the gross income of) the recipient; recreational, social, and similar activities primarily for the benefit of employees other than highly compensated employees; entertainment sold to customers).  If the taxpayer establishes that the entertainment expenses were directly related to the active conduct of its trade or business, section 274(n) limits the deduction to 50 percent of expenses relating to entertainment, subject to a number of exceptions, many of which are the same exceptions that apply to the 100 percent disallowance under Code section 274(a) (e.g., reimbursed expenses; expenses treated as compensation to (or included in the gross income of) the recipient; recreational, social, and similar activities primarily for the benefit of employees other than highly compensated employees; entertainment sold to customer).

The Bill would amend section 274(a) to eliminate the exception for entertainment expenses directly related to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s business.  Accordingly, deductions for entertainment expenses would be fully disallowed unless one of the exceptions under Code section 274(e) applies.  The Bill would also make changes to some of the exceptions under Code section 274(e), described below.

Disallowance of Deductions for On-Site Athletic Facilities.  Similarly, the Bill would fully disallow a deduction for on-site gyms or athletic facilities as defined in Code section 132(j)(4)(B).  Such facilities are gyms and athletic facilities that are located on the premises of the employer, operated by the employer, and substantially all the use of which is by employees of the employer, their spouses, and their dependent children.  Although the Bill would add such expenses to the list of disallowed deductions under Code section 274(a), the Bill does not eliminate the exclusion from employee’s income under Code section 132.  Accordingly, employers will be left to choose between (1) losing the deduction for the cost of such facility or (2) retaining the deduction by imputing the fair market value of the use of the facility to employees. The Bill includes instructions to the Treasury Department to issue regulations providing appropriate rules for allocation of depreciation and other costs associated with an on-site athletic facility.

Disallowance of Deductions for Qualified Transportation Fringes and Parking Facilities.  The Bill would also fully disallow a deduction for qualified transportation fringes as defined in Code section 132(f) and parking facilities used in connection with qualified parking as defined in Code section 132(f)(5)(C).  These fringe benefits are popular with employees and permit employees to either pay for an employee’s public transportation, van pool, bicycle, or parking expenses related to commuting on a pre-tax basis or allow employees to elect to receive a portion of their compensation in the form of non-taxable commuting benefits.  Like with athletic facility expenses, the Bill would add such expenses to the list of disallowed deductions under Code section 274(a), but retain the exclusion from employee’s income under Code section 132.  As a result, employers will be left to choose between (1) losing the deduction for the cost of providing these benefits or (2) discontinuing the benefits.  The Bill includes instructions to the Treasury Department to issue regulations providing appropriate rules for allocation of depreciation and other costs associated with a parking facility.

Disallowance of Deductions for Certain De Minimis Fringe Benefits.  The Bill would likewise disallow deductions for what it refers to as “amenities.”  Amenity is defined as a de minimis fringe benefit that is primarily personal in nature and involving property or services that are not directly related to the taxpayer’s business.  This would seemingly subject expenses related to the provision of most de minimis fringe benefits to a full deduction disallowance unless the expense qualified for one of the exceptions under Code section 274(e) (e.g., expenses for food and beverages (and facilities used in connection therewith) furnished on the business premises of an employer primarily for its employees; reimbursed expenses; expenses treated as compensation to (or included in the gross income of) the recipient; recreational, social, and similar activities primarily for the benefit of employees other than highly compensated employees; items available to the public; entertainment sold to customers).  It would perhaps leave unaffected some de minimis fringe benefits such as personal use of a copy machine.  Even with respect to de minimis fringe benefits that would likely qualify as amenities, it is unclear how much of an impact this would have, because many de minimis fringe benefits would likely qualify for one of the exceptions (for example, coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks, and occasional cocktail parties would likely remain fully deductible under Code sections 274(e)(1) and 274(n)(2)(B), provided they are provided to employees on the business premises of the employer).  Others, however, such as occasional sporting or theater tickets, gifts given on account of illness, and traditional holiday or birthday gifts, may well be affected by the disallowance.  The Bill includes instructions to the Treasury Department to define amenity in regulations.

Deduction Limited to Amounts Actually Included in Income.Code section 274(e)(2) contains an exception to the disallowance under Code section 274(a) to the extent an expense is treated as compensation to an employee.  Code section 274(e)(9) includes a similar provision for expenses treated as includible in the gross income of the recipient that is not an employee of the taxpayer as compensation or as a prize or award.  The Bill would limit the exception for entertainment expenses treated as compensation to (or included in the gross income of) the recipient to the amount actually treated as compensation (or included in gross income of) the recipient as it is with employees that are “specified individuals” under current law.  Code section 274(e)(2)(B) was adopted to impose this limitation with respect to certain senior executives following the decision in Sutherland Lumber-Southwest, Inc. v. Commissioner.  The Bill would extend the effect of Code section 274(e)(2)(B) to all recipients.  The limitation prevents a taxpayer from deducting a cost in excess of the amount required to be included in the recipients income, such as in the case of vacation travel on board corporate aircraft, where the cost of operating the flight often far exceeds the amount required to be included in the employee’s income under Treasury Regulations.

Deduction Disallowance Applies with Respect to Expenses Reimbursed by a Tax-Exempt Entity.  Under section 274(e)(3), a taxpayer that incurs an expense subject to the deduction disallowance in section 274(a) or 274(n) may fully deduct the expense if the expense is reimbursed by another party, provided that certain requirements are met.  The rule allows two parties as part of a reimbursement arrangement to effectively shift the burden of the deduction disallowance to the party between them.   Section 3307 of the Bill amends section 274(e)(3) to prevent the use of tax-exempt entity (that is not affected by the deduction disallowance under current law) to avoid the effect of the disallowance.

Full Deduction for Meals Excluded from Employee’s Income under Code Section 119.  Under Code section 119, the value of meals provided to employees for the convenience of the employer are excludable from the employee’s income.  Such meals, however, are currently subject to the 50% deduction disallowance under Code section 274(n) unless the meals are treated as being provided at an employer-operated eating facility that is a de minimis fringe benefit under Treasury Regulation § 1.132-7.  (This was the issue in the Boston Bruins decision (earlier coverage).)  Running counter to the general approach of the legislation—which seeks to eliminate corporate deductions for amounts not included in employee income—the Bill would amend Code section 274(n)(2)(B) include meals excludable from an employee’s income under section 119 in addition to amounts being excludable under section 132(e).  This change would appear to expand the ability of employer’s to fully deduct more meals provided to their employees.

With the exception of the last change, the Bill would seek to limit the ability of taxpayers to deduct entertainment expenses and expenses related to the provision of various excludable fringe benefits.  The provisions would be effective for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017.