Tax Reform Proposals Advance in the House and Senate

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November 17, 2017

Yesterday, the full House passed its tax reform proposal, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), on a party-line vote, 227-205.  In addition to the headline changes to the corporate and individual tax systems, the bill would make numerous changes to various fringe benefit exclusions, employer deductions for fringe benefits and executive compensation, cross-border withholding and sourcing, and employee retirement plans  (discussed here, here, here, herehere, here, and here).  Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee advanced its tax reform proposal, also on a party-line vote (14-12), with similar changes (discussed here and here).

Before advancing the proposal to the floor, the Senate Finance Committee adopted additional modifications to its existing proposal.  The new modifications included a change to the transition rule for the modified deduction limitation for executive compensation, a delay in the effective date of the new deduction disallowance for meals provided at the convenience of the employer and excluded from employee’s income under Code section 119 or 132(e)(6), and a definition of Mississippi River Delta flood disaster area and Mississippi River Delta flooding distribution for purposes of the retirement plan relief provided in the existing proposal:

  • The new transition relief for the deduction limitation under Code section 162(m) would apply the changes made in the proposal only to contracts entered into after November 2, 2017, and contracts materially modified after that date. The relief provided in the first modification to the chairman’s mark would have applied only if the compensation was no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture before 2017.
  • The modification would delay the effective date for the deduction disallowance for meals provided for the employer’s convenience and meals provided at employer-operated eating facilities until 2026.
  • The modification defines “Mississippi River Delta flood disaster area” as an area subject to a Presidential major disaster declaration before March 31, 2016, by reason of severe storms and flooding occurring in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi during March 2016. A “Mississippi River Delta flooding distribution” is a distribution from an eligible retirement plan made on or after March 1, 2016, and before January 1, 2018, to an individual whose principal residence on March 1, 2016, was located in the Mississippi River Delta flood disaster area and who sustained an economic loss by reason of the severe storms and flooding that resulted in the Presidential disaster declarations.  (The modification also provides for an enhanced ability to claim a casualty loss deduction as a result of such storms and flooding.)

Modified Senate Tax Proposal Would Repeal ACA Individual Mandate and Certain Employer Meal Deductions, and Establish Five-Year Deferral Election for Stock Options and RSUs of Privately-Held Corporations

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November 16, 2017

On November 14, the Senate Finance Committee released modifications to its tax reform proposal (discussed here).  The Senate modification contains key changes in the following areas:

  • Health Reform – Repeal the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).
  • Fringe Benefits – (1) Disallow deductions for meals provided for the employer’s convenience that are not occasional overtime meals, and meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility; and (2) expand the income exclusion for length of service awards for public safety volunteers.
  • Private Retirement Benefits – (1) Strike the proposed elimination of catch-up contributions for high-wage employees; (2) extend the rollover time period of certain outstanding plan loans; (3) allow re-contribution of retirement plan distributions due to incorrect IRS levies; and (4) allow qualified distributions for victims of Mississippi River Delta flooding.
  • NQDC and Executive Compensation – (1) Eliminate the repeal of Code section 409A and the new rules for non-qualified deferred compensation (“NQDC”) included in the original tax reform proposal; (2) allow deferral for up to five years for stocks pursuant to exercise of stock options and settlement of restricted stock units (“RSUs”) issued under broad-based plans of privately-held corporations; and (3) provide transition relief for the expanded application of Code section 162(m).
  • Worker Classification and Information Reporting – (1) Eliminate the proposed worker classification safe harbor that would have applied for all purposes of the Code; and (2) eliminate the proposed changes to the reporting thresholds for filing Forms 1099-MISC and Forms 1099-K under Code sections 6041(a), 6041A(a), and 6050W.
  • Employer Tax Credits – Provide employer tax credits in 2018 and 2019 for wages paid to employees on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

We have summarized the key changes in the Senate modification, which generally would be effective after 2017, except as otherwise noted below.

Health Reform

Elimination of Individual Mandate Penalties.  After multiple attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, including the individual and employer mandates (see discussions here), Senate Republicans are proposing to zero out penalties for failure to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate, effective starting in 2019, as part of the tax reform bill.  Incorporating this repeal into the tax reform proposal carries risks and rewards.  Although the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Tax Committee estimated that the repeal would raise $338 million over the next ten years (reducing the budget impact of the reform proposal), the CBO also estimates that the repeal would increase the number of uninsured people by 4 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2027.  This may complicate efforts to pass the tax reform package given the difficulty Republicans had in maintaining a majority during earlier efforts to repeal the ACA.

Information Reporting Implications.  As we have discussed in a previous post, zeroing out the individual mandate penalty would not directly affect the ACA’s information reporting requirements under Code sections 6055 and 6056.  As with earlier ACA repeal efforts, the Senate modification does not eliminate the requirement for providers of minimum essential coverage to report coverage on Form 1095-B (or Form 1095-C) or offers of minimum essential coverage on Form 1095-C despite eliminating the penalty imposed on individuals for failing to maintain coverage.  These forms would still be necessary for the IRS to administer the premium tax credit, which GOP tax reform bills have thus far left intact.

Fringe Benefits

Disallowance of Deduction for Meals Provided for Employer’s Convenience (that are not Occasional Overtime Meals) and Meals Provided at Employer-Operated Eating Facilities.  Under existing law, taxpayers may generally deduct 50 percent of food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business (e.g., meals consumed by employees on work-related travel and meals provided for the employer’s convenience under Code section 119), and fully deduct expenses for meals provided through an employer-operated eating facility that constitute de minimis fringe benefits under Treasury Regulation § 1.132‑7.  The initial Senate proposal would expand this 50-percent limitation to expenses of employer-operated eating facilities as defined under Code section 132(e)(6).  The Senate modification, however, would completely disallow deductions for meals provided for the employer’s convenience under Code section 119 or at an employer-operated eating facility.  Importantly, these changes would not affect the employer’s full deduction (and the employee’s full income exclusion) for occasional overtime meals that constitute de minimis fringe benefits under Treasury Regulation § 1.132‑6(d)(2).  This approach under the Senate modification differs from the House bill, which would not only maintain the full deduction for meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility that is a de minimis fringe benefit, but also remove the 50-percent deduction limitation on meals provided to employees for the employer’s convenience under Code section 119.

Expansion of Exclusion for Length of Service Awards for Public Safety Volunteers.  Under Code section 139B, bona fide volunteers (or their beneficiaries) may exclude “qualified payments,” which include reimbursement of reasonable expenses or other payment, including length of service awards, on account of performing qualified volunteer emergency response services.  The annual exclusion is limited to $30 multiplied by the number of months that the volunteer performs the services during the year.  The Senate modification would increase the exclusion for the aggregate amount of length of service awards to $6,000 in each service year, adjusted for cost of living.  Additionally, length of service awards structured as defined benefit plans would not have to comply with Code section 457, but the annual dollar limit would apply to the actuarial present value of the aggregate amount awards that have accrued under the plan.  This increased exclusion would not apply to other forms of qualified payments, such as reimbursements, which would still be subject to the $30 per service month limitation.

Private Employer Retirement Benefits

Repeal of Proposed Elimination of Catch-up Contributions for High-Wage Employees.  The Senate proposal would have repealed catch-up contributions for employees who receive wages of $500,000 or more for the preceding year.  The Senate modification would eliminate this change.

Extension of Time Period for Rollover of Certain Outstanding Plan Loans.  Under Code section 402(c)(3), a participant whose plan or employment terminates while he or she has an outstanding plan loan balance generally must contribute the loan balance to an individual retirement account (IRA) within 60 days of receiving an offset distribution.  Otherwise, the loan is treated as an impermissible early withdrawal and is subject to the 10‑percent early withdrawal penalty.  Like the House bill, the Senate modification would relax these rules by allowing these employees until the due date for their individual tax return to contribute the outstanding loan balance to an IRA.  The 10‑percent penalty would only apply after that date.

Re‑Contribution of Incorrect IRS Levies.  Under existing law, amounts withdrawn from a qualified retirement plan on account of an IRS levy is includible in income in the same manner as other distributions, but the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty would not apply.  While the IRS may return these amounts pursuant to Code section 6343 if the levy was wrongful or not compliant with IRS administrative procedures, existing law does not allow an individual to re‑contribute these amounts.  The Senate modification would allow an individual to re‑contribute such amounts and any applicable interest (in the case of wrongful levies, but not levies in violation of IRS administrative procedures), without regard to the normally applicable limits on plan contributions and rollovers.  The amounts (and applicable interest) may also be contributed to a different IRA or plan to which a rollover would be permitted.

Qualified Mississippi River Delta Flooding Distribution.  Under the Senate modification, the early withdrawal tax would not apply to a distribution of up to $100,000 to an individual whose place of abode on August 11, 2016, was located in the Mississippi River Delta area, and who suffered economic loss due to the storm and flooding that occurred in the area during August 2016.  The distribution must be made on or after August 11, 2016, and before January 1, 2018, to be exempt from the early withdrawal tax.  Additionally, any distribution required to be included in income as a result of this special distribution rule is included in income ratably over a three-year period, beginning with the year of distribution.  During this three-year period, amounts received may be re‑contributed to the plan and treated as a rollover, thus allowing the individual to file an amended return.  (For more information regarding special tax relief for victims of natural disasters, see our discussions of: (1) leave-based donation programs, leave-sharing programs, and relaxed plan loans and hardship withdrawal rules for victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma; and (2) qualified disaster relief payments under Code section 139.)

NQDC and Executive Compensation

Repeal of Provisions Changing Taxation of Non-qualified Deferred Compensation.  As we discussed in our prior post, the Senate proposal would have enacted a new Code section 409B and repealed the current section 409A, and significantly restricted the conditions that qualify as a substantial risk of forfeiture.  As a result, NQDC would have become taxable at the time that it was no longer subject to future performance of substantial services.  The Senate modification announced on November 13 would eliminate that change, meaning that current section 409A would continue to apply going forward.

Five-Year Stock Deferral for Stock Options and RSUs Issued under Broad-Based Plans of Privately-Held Corporations.  Currently, under Code section 83, the value of shares covered by options without a readily-ascertainable fair market value is includable in income at the time of exercise.  Additionally, they are exempt from taxation under section 409A because they are generally not considered deferred compensation when the exercise price equals or exceeds the fair market value of the underlying stock at the time of grant.  Like the House bill, the Senate modification would allow “qualified employees” to elect to defer for up to five years federal income taxation related to qualified stock.  “Qualified stock” means the stock of a privately-held corporation received upon exercise of a stock option or settlement of a RSU that was transferred in connection with the performance of services.  To be effective, an inclusion deferral election must be made no later than 30 days after the first time the employee’s rights in the stock are substantially vested or transferrable.  The inclusion deferral election would also be subject to the following rules:

Broad-Based Plans.  The election would only apply to a privately-held corporation that offers a written plan under which, in the calendar year, not less than 80 percent of all employees who provide services to the corporation in the United States are granted stock options or RSUs with the “same rights and privileges” to receive the corporation’s stock.  The determination of rights and privileges would be made under rules similar to existing rules under Code section 423(b)(5) (employee stock purchase plans).  This cross reference implies that the amount of the stock which may be purchased by the employee under the stock option or RSU may bear a uniform relationship to the employee’s total or regular compensation, provided that the number of shares available to each employee is more than a de minimis amount.

Stock Repurchase Limitations and Reporting.  An inclusion deferral election is not available if, in the preceding year, the corporation purchased any of its outstanding stock, unless at least 25 percent of the total dollar amount of the stock purchased is qualified stock subject to the election (“deferral stock”).  Generally, in applying this rule, an individual’s deferral stock to which the proposed election has been in effect for the longest period must be counted first.  A corporation that has deferral stock outstanding in the beginning of any calendar year and that purchases any of its outstanding stock during the year must report on its income tax return for that year the total value of the outstanding stock purchased during that year and other information as the IRS may require.

Deferral Period and Income Inclusion.  A stock to which an inclusion deferral election applies would be includable in income on the earliest of: (i) the first date the stock becomes transferrable; (ii) the date the recipient first becomes an excluded employee (generally, a 1% owner, an officer, or a highly-compensated employee); (iii) the first date any stock of the corporation becomes readily tradeable on an established securities market; (iv) five years after the earlier of the date the recipient’s rights are not transferable or are not subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture; or (v) the date on which the employee revokes his or her election (the “deferral period”).  The amount to be included in income following the deferral period, however, would be determined based on the value of the stock upon substantial vesting, regardless of whether the stock value has declined during the deferral period.

Coordination with Statutory Stock Option Rules.  An inclusion deferral election would be available with respect to statutory stock options.  If an election is made, these options would no longer be treated as statutory stock options or subject to Code sections 422 or 423.

Coordination with NQDC Regime and 83(b).  The inclusion deferral election would not apply to income with respect to unvested stock that is includible in income as a result of an election under section 83(b), which permits unvested property to be includable in income in the year of transfer.  The Senate modification also clarifies that, apart from the proposed change, section 83 (including 83(b)) shall not apply to RSUs.

Employee Notice.  A corporation that transfers qualified stock to a qualified employee must provide notice to the employee at the time (or a reasonable period before) the employee’s right to the stock is substantially vested (and income attributable to the stock would first be includible absent an inclusion deferral election).  The notice must certify that the stock is qualified stock and notify the employee that: (1) if eligible, the employee may make an inclusion deferral election; (2) the amount includible in income is determined based on the value of the stock when it substantially vests, and not when the deferral period ends; (3) the taxable amount will be subject to withholding at the end of the deferral period; and (4) the employee has certain responsibilities with respect to required withholding.  The penalty for failing to provide the notice is $100 per failure, capped at $50,000 for all failures during any calendar year.

Form W-2 Withholding and Reporting.  Following the deferral period, the corporation must withhold federal income taxes on the amount required to be included in income at a rate not less than the highest income tax bracket applicable to the individual taxpayer.  The corporation must report on a Form W-2 the amount of income covered by an inclusion deferral election: (1) for the year of deferral; and (2) for the year the income is required to be included in the employee’s income.  In addition, for any calendar year, the corporation must report on Form W-2 the aggregate amount of income covered by inclusion deferral elections, determined as of the close of the calendar year.

Effective Date.  These changes would generally apply to stock attributable to options exercised or RSUs settled after 2017.  Until the IRS issues regulations on the 80-percent and employer notice requirements, a corporation will be treated as complying with these requirements if it complies with a reasonable good faith interpretation of them.  The penalty for failure to provide the employee notice applies after 2017.

Transition Relief for Modified Limitation on Excessive Employee Remuneration.  The Senate proposal would expand the $1 million deduction limitation under Code section 162(m) on compensation a publicly-traded corporation pays to a covered employee, by expanding the definition of a covered employee, eliminating the exceptions for performance-based compensation and commissions, and covering additional types of corporations.  The Senate modification would add a transition rule, such that the proposed changes would not apply to any remuneration under a written binding contract in effect on (and not materially modified after) November 2, 2017, and to which the right of the covered employee was no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture before 2017.

Repeal of Proposed Worker Classification Safe Harbor and Changes to 1099-MISC/1099-K Reporting

The Senate proposal would have added a worker classification safe harbor for all purposes under the Code, to provide more certainty to independent contractors and “gig economy” workers regarding their worker classification.  It also would have changed the reporting thresholds for filing Forms 1099-MISC and Forms 1099-K under Code sections 6041(a), 6041A(a), and 6050W.  The Senate modification would eliminate these changes.

Employer Tax Credits

Employer Tax Credit for Paid FMLA Leave in 2018 and 2019.  To increase access to and promote paid FMLA leave, the Senate modification would allow “eligible employers” to claim a general business credit equal to 12.5 percent of wages paid to a “qualifying employee” while on FMLA leave, plus 0.25 percent of wages (capped at 25 percent) for each percentage point by which the FMLA pay exceeds 50 percent of the employee’s normal pay.  An eligible employer is one that allows all qualifying full-time employees not less than two weeks of annual paid FMLA leave (not counting leave paid by State or local government), and that allows less-than-full-time employees a commensurate amount of leave on a pro rata basis.  A qualifying employee is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act who has been employed by the employer for at least one year, and whose preceding‑year compensation did not exceed 60 percent of the compensation threshold for highly compensated employees ($120,000 for 2017).  The Senate modification would establish the credit as a pilot program in 2018 and 2019, and instruct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the credit’s effectiveness for increasing access to and promoting paid FMLA leave.

Impact of Senate Tax Reform Proposal – Changes to Fringe Benefits, Retirement Plans, NQDC and Executive Compensation, Workers Classification, and 1099-MISC/1099-K Reporting

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November 14, 2017

UPDATE 11/16/2017

On November 14, the Senate Finance Committee released modifications to its tax reform proposal.  The Senate modification contains key changes in the following areas (and we have summarized these changes here):

  • Health Reform – Repeal the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).
  • Fringe Benefits – (1) Disallow deductions for meals provided for the employer’s convenience that are not occasional overtime meals, and meals provided at an employer-operated eating facility; and (2) expand the income exclusion for length of service awards for public safety volunteers.
  • Private Retirement Benefits – (1) Strike the proposed elimination of catch-up contributions for high-wage employees; (2) extend the rollover time period of certain outstanding plan loans; (3) allow re-contribution of retirement plan distributions due to incorrect IRS levies; and (4) allow qualified distributions for victims of Mississippi River Delta flooding.
  • NQDC and Executive Compensation – (1) Eliminate the repeal of Code section 409A and the new rules for non-qualified deferred compensation (“NQDC”) included in the original tax reform proposal; (2) allow deferral for up to five years for stocks pursuant to exercise of stock options and settlement of restricted stock units (“RSUs”) issued under broad-based plans of privately-held corporations; and (3) provide transition relief for the expanded application of Code section 162(m).
  • Worker Classification and Information Reporting – (1) Eliminate the proposed worker classification safe harbor that would have applied for all purposes of the Code; and (2) eliminate the proposed changes to the reporting thresholds for filing Forms 1099-MISC and Forms 1099-K under Code sections 6041(a), 6041A(a), and 6050W.
  • Employer Tax Credits – Provide employer tax credits in 2018 and 2019 for wages paid to employees on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

ORIGINAL POST

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance committee released its tax reform proposal, a day before the House Ways and Means Committee approved the House tax reform bill after adopting two amendments (see unified House bill discussed in our five-part series).  Written in “concept language” as opposed to legislative text, the Senate proposal contains various changes affecting employer‑provided fringe benefits, qualified retirement benefits, nonqualified deferred compensation (“NQDC”) and executive compensation, worker classification, and thresholds for filing Forms 1099-MISC and Forms 1099-K under Code sections 6041, 6041A, and 6050W.  Some of these changes are similar to those proposed under the House bill, but there are key divergences.

We have summarized these changes, which generally would be effective after 2017, except as otherwise noted below.

Fringe Benefits

With respect to fringe benefits, the Senate proposal is generally more employee-friendly than the House bill, in that the Senate proposal would not repeal or limit the fringe benefit exclusions for employer-provided lodging, dependent care assistance programs, educational assistance programs and qualified tuition reductions, and adoption assistance programs (see discussion of the House bill’s changes to employer-provided fringe benefits in Part I and entertainment expenses and other fringe benefit deductions in Part II of our series).  But the Senate proposal would more aggressively limit deductions for meal expenses provided at an employer-operated eating facility, as well as make the following changes:

  • Total Disallowance of Deductions for Entertainment Expenses.  Similar to the House bill, the Senate proposal would disallow employer deductions for (1) entertainment, amusement, or recreation (“entertainment expenses”); (2) membership dues for clubs organized for business, pleasure, recreation or other social purposes; and (3) facilities used in connection with any of these items. Thus, the Senate proposal would replace the existing 50-percent limitation for entertainment expenses directly related to the active conduct of the employer’s trade or business with a full disallowance.  Unlike the House bill, however, the Senate bill would not impose a separate deduction limitation on “amenities,” which the House bill 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.  The House bill’s amenities provision would seemingly deny deductions for most de minimis fringe benefits 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.  The Senate proposal would continue to permit deductions for such expenses to the extent currently permitted by law.
  • 50-Percent Deduction Limitation Applied to Eating Facilities. While taxpayers may still generally deduct 50 percent of food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business (g., meals consumed by employees on work-related travel), the Senate proposal would expand this 50-percent limitation to expenses of employer-operated eating facilities as defined under Code section 132(e)(6), expenses which currently are fully deductible provided they satisfy the requirements for de minimis fringe benefits.  This approach differs from the House bill, which would not only maintain the full deduction for meals that are treated as being provided at an employer-operated eating facility that is a de minimis fringe benefit, but also remove the 50-percent deduction limitation on meals provided to employees for the employer’s convenience under Code section 119.
  • Disallowance of Deductions for Qualified Transportation Fringes. Like the House bill, the Senate proposal would disallow the deduction for providing any qualified transportation fringe benefits.  Under Code section 132(f), these fringe benefits 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.  The Senate bill would also repeal the exclusion under Code section 132(f) for bicycle commuting expenses, making such benefits taxable to employees.
  • Disallowance of Deductions for Commuting Expenses. Unlike the House bill, the Senate proposal would further disallow deductions for providing transportation (or any payment or reimbursement for related expense) for commuting between an employee’s residence and place of employment, except as necessary to ensure the employee’s safety.  This deduction disallowance would appear to apply even to commuting benefits that are treated as taxable compensation to the employee, but it is difficult to tell for certain given the Committee’s use of conceptual language.  Although the proposal does not change the existing exclusion for occasional overtime taxi fare that constitutes de minimis fringe benefits, it would discourage employers from providing commuting benefits.
  • Elimination of Exclusion for Employer-Paid Moving Expenses. The Senate proposal would repeal the exclusion from income and wages for a qualified moving expense reimbursement, which is an employer-provided benefit capped at the amount deductible by the individual if he or she directly paid or incurred the cost.  The House bill, by contrast, would retain a narrow exclusion for members of U.S. Armed Forces on active duty who move pursuant to military orders (discussed here).

Private Employer Retirement Benefits

In the area of retirement plans sponsored by private employers, the House bill loosened the hardship withdrawal rules, reduced the minimum age for in-service distributions, extended the time period for rollover of certain plan loans, and provided additional nondiscrimination testing options for closed defined benefit plans (see Part III).  By contrast, the Senate proposal does not contain any of these changes, but would make the following change:

  • Elimination of Catch-up Contributions for High-Wage Employees. Under existing law, contributions to account-based qualified retirement plans—including defined contribution plans, 403(b) plans, and 457(b) plans—are subject to an annual limit of the lesser of a specific dollar amount and the employee’s compensation.  For employees age 50 or older, the specific dollar amount is increased (generally $6,000 for 2017), allowing the employee to make “catch-up” contributions for the year.  The Senate proposal would eliminate catch-up contributions for employees who receive wages of $500,000 or more for the preceding year.

NQDC and Executive Compensation

Regarding NQDC and executive compensation, the Senate proposal is similar to the House bill insofar as it would expand the deduction limitation on excessive employee remuneration pursuant to Code section 162(m), and create an excise tax on excess tax-exempt organization executive compensation (see Part IV).  But the Senate proposal would adopt a new regime that subjects NQDC to taxation upon vesting, a regime that was included in the originally introduced House bill but was removed by the second amendment adopted by the Ways and Means Committee in favor of retaining the existing regime under Code section 409A (discussed here).

  • Non-qualified Deferred Compensation. Currently, NQDC that complies with Code section 409A is not included in an employee’s income until the year received, and the employer’s deduction is postponed until that date. Like the initial House bill (prior to the second amendment), the Senate proposal would impose a new regime with respect to NQDC for services performed after 2017.  Under the new regime, NQDC would become taxable upon becoming no longer subject to a “substantial risk of forfeiture,” a term narrowly defined as including only the future performance of substantial services.  For these purposes, NQDC would include stock options and stock appreciation rights, even if not yet exercised.  Amounts deferred for services performed before 2018 would remain subject to the current regime and section 409A until the later of 2025 or the taxable year in which the substantial risk of forfeiture lapses, at which point all pre-2018 deferrals would be includible in income.  The Senate proposal would direct the IRS to establish transition rules allowing early payment without violating section 409A.  Finally, the Senate proposal would also eliminate Code sections 457A and 457(f), since all post-2017 deferrals would be governed by section 409B.
  • Modification of Limitation on Excessive Employee Remuneration.  Code section 162(m) currently limits a publicly-traded company’s deduction for compensation paid to a “covered employee” to $1 million with exceptions for performance-based compensation and commissions.  Like the House bill, the Senate proposal would eliminate the exceptions for performance-based compensation and commissions paid after 2017, as well as modify the definition of a “covered employee.” Under the proposal, a covered employee would include any individual who is the principal executive officer or principal financial officer at any time during the tax year and the three highest paid officers for the tax year (as disclosed to shareholders).  Further, if an individual is a covered employee after 2016, the individual would retain the covered‑employee status for all future years.  Finally, the Senate proposal would also expand section 162(m) to apply to corporations beyond those with publicly traded securities.  The House bill would extend section 162(m) to any corporation that is required to file reports under section 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  In contrast, the Senate proposal would extend section 162(m) to all domestic publicly‑traded corporations and all foreign companies publicly traded through American Depository Receipts, and contemplates covering “certain additional corporations that are not publicly traded, such as large private C or S corporations.”
  • Excise Tax on Excess Tax-Exempt Organization Executive Compensation. Like the House bill, the Senate proposal would impose a 20‑percent excise tax on the employer with respect to compensation paid post‑2017 by a tax-exempt organization (or a related entity) to a covered employee: (1) to the extent the compensation exceeds $1 million for the tax year; or (2) if the compensation constitutes an “excess parachute payment” (based on a measure of separation pay).  For these purposes, a “covered employee” means an employee who is among the tax-exempt organization’s five highest paid employees, or who was a covered employee for a preceding tax year beginning after 2016.

Worker Classification Safe Harbor

In a significant departure from the House bill and existing law, the Senate proposal wades bravely into worker classification disputes by creating a worker classification safe harbor.  This proposed change reflects legislation introduced in July by Senator John Thune (R‑SD) to provide more certainty to independent contractors and “gig economy” workers regarding their worker classification.  If the safe harbor requirements are met, a service provider would be treated as an independent contractor and the service recipient as a non-employer customer for all purposes under the Code.  If the safe harbor requirements are not met, workers classification would still be governed by the applicable existing common law or statutory rules.   The proposal instructs Treasury to issue regulations necessary for implementing the new safe harbor.

Safe Harbor Requirements.  The safe harbor imposes three groups of objective criteria to ensure the independence of the service provider from the service recipient:

  1. Parties’ Relationship – The service provider generally must incur his or her own business expenses, agree to specific tasks or projects, and not be tied to a single service recipient. The service provider may not own any interest—other than publicly traded stock—in the service recipient. In addition, the service provider cannot have provided substantially the same services to the service recipient as an employee during the one-year period ending on the date of the commencement of services under the contract.  (Accordingly, the safe harbor may be unavailable for former executives who transition to consultant status as part of a phased retirement plan.)  The service provider also may not be compensated primarily on the basis of hours worked (and in the case of an independent sales agent, must be compensated primarily on a commission basis).
  2. Location and Means – The service provider must provide his own tools and supplies, have his or her own place of business and not work primarily at the service provider’s location, or the service provider must provide a fair market rent for the use of the service recipient’s place of business.
  3. Written Contract – The parties must have a signed written contract stating the independent-contractor relationship, acknowledging that the service provider is responsible for the payment of his or her own taxes (including self-employment taxes) and that the service recipient (or the payor) has certain reporting and withholding obligations (discussed below). Additionally, the term of the contract must not exceed two years, though it may be renewed for successive two-year periods by a signed written agreement.

Reporting and Withholding.  As under current law, amounts paid by a service recipient to the service provider under the safe harbor would be reported to the IRS under Code sections 6041(a) or 6041A(a) (or section 6050W, if paid via a payment card or third-party network transaction), subject to the increased reporting thresholds described below.  However, under current law, amounts paid to independent contractors are not typically subject to federal income tax withholding unless backup withholding is required (for example, because the contractor did not provide a TIN before payment).  The Senate proposal would create a new withholding obligation that requires the service recipient or payor to withhold 5 percent of the first $20,000 in compensation paid pursuant to contract.   It is unclear whether the withholding requirement would apply over the life of the contract or to the first $20,000 paid annually under the contract.

Reasonable Cause Relief.  The Senate proposal also addresses cases where service providers and service recipients (or payors) mistakenly believe that they have satisfied the safe harbor requirements.  In these cases, as long as the mistake was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect, the IRS would be permitted to reclassify the relationship as an employee-employer relationship—but only prospectively.

Effective Date.  The safe harbor would be available for services performed—and compensation for these services paid—after 2017.  Service recipients, payors, and required written contracts would not be treated as failing to meet the safe harbor requirements with respect to compensation paid to a service provider within 180 days after the Senate proposal’s enactment.

Information Reporting Thresholds Under Section 6041, 6041A, and 6050W 

The Senate proposal would change the reporting thresholds for filing Forms 1099-MISC and Forms 1099-K under Code sections 6041(a), 6041A(a), and 6050W.  The reporting threshold for Forms 1099-MISC would be increased from $600 to $1,000 with respect to payments reportable under sections 6041(a) and 6041A(a).  These changes would affect, for instances, reporting of non-employee compensation on Forms 1099-MISC.

In contrast, the threshold under section 6050W for reporting third-party network transactions by third-party settlement organizations (“TPSOs”) would be decreased to $1,000 from the current “de minimis” threshold of $20,000 in aggregate transactions and more than 200 transactions.  Certain TPSOs that qualify as “marketplace platforms” may instead elect to report once the transactions with a participating payee either exceed $5,000 or 50 transactions provided that substantially all of the participating payees for whom it settles transactions are engaged in the sale of goods.  TPSOs that do not qualify as “marketplace platforms” may apply the new de minimis threshold with respect to participating payees that are primarily engaged in the sale of goods.  These changes would be effective for payments made after December 31, 2018.

House Ways and Means Committee Approves Second Amendment to Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

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November 9, 2017

Today, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a new amendment to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Bill”) offered by Chairman Brady as part of the on-going markup (the “Second Amendment”).  The Committee reported the Bill, as modified by the Brady amendment, on a partisan vote of 24-16.  This marks the second major revision to the Bill and makes changes on top of those contained in the first of which affected provisions related to dependent care assistance programs and deferred compensation (the “First Amendment,” discussed here).  For further information on the Bill, please see our series of posts highlighting provisions of the Bill affecting topics pertinent to our readers, all of which are linked in the final post in this series.

Repeal of Provisions Changing Taxation of Non-qualified Deferred Compensation.  As we discussed in our prior post, Section 3801 of the original Bill text enacted a new Code section 409B and repealed current section 409A, which would have significantly restricted the conditions that qualify as a substantial risk of forfeiture, such that non-qualified deferred compensation would have become taxable immediately unless it was subject to future performance of substantial services.  This restriction was not popular, and Chairman Brady’s amendment would eliminate Section 3801 in its entirety, meaning that current section 409A would continue to apply going forward.

In addition, Chairman Brady’s First Amendment added a new Section 3804 to the Bill that would, through the addition of a new subsection 83(i) to the Code, allow certain employees of privately-held companies the ability to defer income on shares of stock covered by options and restricted stock units (RSUs).  The Second Amendment would clarify that no provision of section 83 applies to RSUs other than section 83(i), meaning that employees cannot make section 83(b) elections with respect to RSUs.

Limited Retention of Exclusion for Employer-Paid Moving Expenses.  As discussed previously, Section 1405 of the Bill would eliminate the exclusion from income and wages available under Code section 132(a)(6) for a qualified moving expense reimbursement.  The Second Amendment would retain this exclusion for members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty who move pursuant to military orders.

Ways and Means Committee Approves Amendment to Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

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November 8, 2017

As part of the on-going markup of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Bill”), Chairman Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a sizeable amendment to the Bill that was approved on Monday evening, affecting the changes made to the exclusion for dependent care assistance programs (DCAP) and introducing a new rule affecting income deferral on privately-held stock options and restricted stock units (RSUs).  We have been releasing a series of posts to highlight the provisions of the Bill affecting the topics pertinent to our readers, all of which are linked in the most recent post in this series.

Elimination of Exclusion for Dependent Care Assistance Programs.  As we explained in Part I of our series on the Bill, under Code section 129, the value of employer-provided DCAP is generally excluded from an employee’s income and wages up to $5,000 per year, and employees frequently take advantage of this exclusion through a dependent care flexible spending account that is part of a cafeteria plan under Code section 125.  Previously, Section 1404 of the Bill would have repealed this exclusion in its entirety, effective for tax years beginning after 2017.  The amendment to Section 1404 of the Bill delays the effective date of this repeal, eliminating the exclusion for tax years beginning after 2022.

New Rules Regarding Income Deferral for Stock Options and Restricted Stock Units Issued by a Privately-Held Corporation.  The amendment added a new Section 3804 to the Bill, which would allow certain employees of privately-held companies the ability to defer income on shares of stock covered by options and RSUs.  Currently, pursuant to Code section 83, the value of shares covered by options without a readily-ascertainable fair market value is includable in income at the time of exercise.  Additionally, they are exempt from taxation under Code section 409A because they are generally not considered deferred compensation when the exercise price equals the fair market value at the time of grant.

Section 3804 of the Bill would add a new subsection 83(i) to the Code, which would allow “qualified” employees to elect to defer income related to stock of a privately-held corporation received upon stock option exercise or RSU settlement by making an election no later than 30 days after the first time the employee’s rights in such stock are transferrable or no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture.  Following such an election, the stock would be includable in income on: (i) the first date the stock becomes transferrable; (ii) the date the recipient first becomes an excluded employee (generally, a 1% owner, an officer, or a highly-compensated employee); (iii) the first date any stock of the corporation becomes readily tradeable on an established securities market; (iv) five years after the earlier of the date the recipient’s rights are not transferable or are not subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture; or (v) the date on which the employee revokes his or her election.  This change to section 83, in conjunction with the fact that the Bill would specifically include stock options within the definition of deferred compensation for purposes of what would be new section 409B (previously discussed here), suggests that Congress may intend to make stock options taxable upon vesting, even if the options do not yet have a readily-ascertainable fair market value.  Another issue raised by this new subsection 83(i) relates to whether section 83(b) elections, which currently permit unvested property to be includable in income in the year of transfer, should be expanded to allow such elections for stock options.  Indeed, section 83(i) seems to envision such a change: the new election provided for under section 83(i) is explicitly barred for any stock options with respect to which an employee has already made a section 83(b) election.

Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part III – Changes to Employee Retirement Plans

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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.  We are releasing a series of posts to highlight the provisions of the Bill affecting the topics pertinent to our readers, where each post will cover a different area of importance.  In Part I of this series, we covered potential changes to employer-provided benefits, and in Part II, we addressed entertainment expenses and other fringe benefits.  In this Part III, we will discuss the Bill’s potential impact on various retirement provisions.

Loosening of Hardship Withdrawal Rules.  Currently, participants in 401(k) plans may only receive hardship withdrawals under certain circumstances, and those withdrawals are limited to the amount of the participants’ elective deferrals.  In addition, participants are prohibited from making elective deferrals to their 401(k) plan for six months following receipt of a hardship distribution.  First, Section 1503 of the Bill would eliminate the six-month prohibition on making elective deferrals after receiving a hardship distribution contained in the current Treasury Regulations.  The provision would require Treasury to revise its regulations within one year of the Bill’s date of enactment to allow participants to continue contributing to their retirement accounts without interruption. Section 1504 of the Bill would add a new subsection 401(k)(14) to the Code expand the funds eligible for hardship withdrawal by permitting participants to make such withdrawals from account earnings and from employer contributions.   This provision, as well as the requisite revised regulations, would apply to tax years beginning after 2017.

Reduction in Minimum Age for In-Service Distributions.  Participants in profit-sharing (including 401(k) plans) and stock purchase plans currently may not take an in-service distribution before age 59½, and participants in other retirement plans (including defined benefit pension plans) are generally barred from taking in-service distributions until age 62.  Section 1502 of the Bill would lower the limit for in-service distributions from plans currently subject to the age 62 limit to age 59½ limit.  This provision would apply to tax years beginning after 2017.

Extension of Time Period for Rollover of Certain Outstanding Plan Loan.  Currently, under Code section 402(c)(3), a participant whose plan or employment terminates while he or she has an outstanding plan loan balance must contribute the loan balance to an individual retirement account (IRA) within 60 days of the termination, otherwise the loan is treated as an impermissible early withdrawal and is subject to a 10% penalty.  Section 1505 of the Bill would add a new subsection 402(c)(3)(C) to the Code to relax these rules by giving such employees until the due date for their individual tax return to contribute the outstanding loan balance to an IRA.  The 10% penalty would only apply after that date.  This provision would apply to tax years beginning after 2017.

Changes to Taxation of Non-qualified Deferred Compensation.  Currently, non-qualified deferred compensation that is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture is not included in an employee’s income until the year received, and the employer’s deduction is postponed until that date.  By repealing Code section 409A and introducing a new section 409B, Section 3901 of the Bill would significantly restrict the conditions that qualify as a substantial risk of forfeiture, such that non-qualified deferred compensation would become taxable immediately unless it is subject to future performance of substantial services.  This provision would simplify the taxation of non-qualified deferred compensation to align it with the FICA tax timing rules that already applied under Code section 3121(v)(2).  This provision would be effective for amounts attributable to services performed after 2017, though the current rules would apply to existing non-qualified deferred compensation arrangements beginning with the last tax year before 2026.  Notably, the change is substantially identical to one introduced by former Ways & Means Chairman Camp in the past.  It is unclear how the provision in the Bill would apply to some forms of equity-based compensation, such as stock options, which the Bill includes within the definition of non-qualified deferred compensation.  If enacted, the change is likely to trigger a substantial reduction in the use of non-qualified deferred compensation because the resulting accelerated taxation would erode one of the primary purposes of deferring compensation.  Note: This provision was eliminated by the second amendment adopted by the Ways & Means Committee (discussed here).

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

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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.

Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part I – Exclusions for Certain Employer-Provided Benefits

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November 2, 2017

Today, 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.  We will release a series of posts to highlight the provisions of the Bill affecting the topics pertinent to our readers, where each post will cover a different area of importance.  In the first of this series of posts, we will discuss the Bill’s potential impact on the exclusions for several popular employer-provided benefits.

Limitation on Exclusion for Employer-Provided Meals and Lodging. Under Code section 119 as currently written, the value of employer-provided housing is excludable from an employee’s gross income and is not considered to be wages for purposes of employer withholding.  Section 1401 of the Bill would add a new subsection (e) to Code section 119 to limit the income exclusion for employer-provided housing to $50,000 ($25,000 for a married individual filing a joint return), and that amount would phase out for highly compensated individuals.  Presumably, this change would obligate employers to report the fair market value of employer-provided housing on an employee’s Form W-2 even if excludable under Code section 119, and the employee would take the exclusion on his or her individual income tax return.  In addition, the exclusion would be limited to a single residence for all employees, and the exclusion would be altogether eliminated for 5 percent owners of the employer.

Elimination of Exclusion for Dependent Care Assistance Programs. Under Code section 129, the value of employer-provided dependent care assistance programs (“DCAP”) is generally excluded from an employee’s income and wages up to $5,000 per year.  Employees typically take advantage of this exclusion through a dependent care flexible spending account that is part of a cafeteria plan under Code section 125.  Section 1404 of the Bill would repeal this exclusion in its entirety. Note: This provision was eliminated from the bill by an amendment adopted by the Ways and Means Committee (discussed here).

Educational Assistance Programs and Qualified Tuition Reductions. Two benefits primarily focused on assisting employees with educational expenses would be eliminated by the Bill.  First, under Code section 127, amounts paid to or on behalf of an employee under a qualified educational assistance program are excluded from an employee’s income and wages up to $5,250 per year.  Section 1204 of the Bill would repeal this exclusion in its entirety.  Second, the exclusion from income and wages for qualified tuition reductions provided by educational institutions would also be repealed by Section 1204.  Though this change would affect fewer employers, it would eliminate an often-significant benefit for employees who work for educational institutions, as they would be taxed on the full amount of tuition waived for them or their spouses or dependents to attend the educational institution.

Elimination of Exclusion for Adoption Assistance Programs. Currently, Code section 137 provides an exclusion from an employee’s income and wages for amounts provided by an employer to an employee for amounts paid or expenses incurred for the adoption of a child up a certain amount that is indexed for inflation ($13,570 in 2017).  Section 1406 of the Bill would repeal the exclusion.

Elimination of Exclusion for Employer-Paid Moving Expenses. Code section 132(a)(6) provides an exclusion from income and wages for a qualified moving expense reimbursement, which is an employer-provided benefit capped at the amount deductible by the individual if he or she directly paid or incurred the cost.  Section 1405 of the Bill would repeal this exclusion.

Exclusion for Employee Achievement Awards. Code section 74(c) excludes the value of certain employee achievement awards given in recognition of an employee’s length of service or safety achievement from the employee’s income. Section 274(j) limits an employer’s deduction for employee achievement awards for any employee in any year to $1,600 for qualified plan awards and $400 otherwise. A qualified plan award is an employee achievement award that is part of an established written program of the employer, which does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees, and under which the average award (not counting those of nominal value) does not exceed $400.  The exclusion under Code section 74(c) is limited to the amount that the employer is permitted to deduct for the award.  Section 1403 of the Bill would repeal this exclusion and the corresponding deduction limitation.

All of these changes would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.  In addition to the employer-provided benefits discussed in this post, the Bill would affect a number of other topics covered by this Blog, so stay tuned for Part II in the series.

Proposed Bill Would Streamline Employer Reporting Under ACA

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October 16, 2017

On October 3, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate to streamline the employer health-coverage reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  In contrast to the ACA repeal-and-replace bills proposed in the past several months, which do not directly affect ACA information reporting provisions (see prior coverage), the Commonsense Reporting Act would direct the Treasury Department to implement a more streamlined, prospective reporting system less burdensome than the current requirements.  Specifically, the legislation would create a voluntary prospective reporting system for employer-provided health coverage and permit employers who use this system to provide employee statements under section 6056 only to employees who have purchased coverage through an exchange, rather than to the entire workforce.  The Commonsense Reporting Act has bipartisan support, and may gain more traction if Congress seeks to improve the ACA and its exchanges rather than repeal and replace the ACA entirely.

The ACA requires employers and insurance carriers to gather monthly data and report them to the IRS and their employees annually under sections 6055 and 6056.  This reporting is intended to verify compliance with the individual and employer mandates, and to administer premium tax credits and cost sharing subsidies under the state and federally-facilitated insurance exchanges.  Section 6056 requires applicable large employers (ALEs) to file a return with the IRS and provide a statement to each full-time employee with information regarding the offer of employer-sponsored health care coverage.

At its core, the Commonsense Reporting Act would create a voluntary prospective reporting system.  This system would allow employers to make available data regarding their health plans not later than 45 days before the first day of open enrollment, rather than at the end of a tax year.  The data required includes the employer’s name and EIN, as well as certifications regarding:

  • whether minimum essential coverage under section 5000A(f) is offered to the following groups: full-time employees, part-time employees, dependents, or spouses;
  • whether the coverage meets the minimum value requirement of section 36B;
  • whether the coverage satisfies one of the affordability safe harbors under section 4980H; and
  • whether the employer reasonably expects to be liable for any shared responsibility payments under section 4980H for the year.

The employer would also need to provide the months during the prospective reporting period that this coverage is available, and the applicable waiting periods.

The proposed legislation would also ease an employer’s obligation to furnish employee statements (Forms 1095-C) regarding employer-provided coverage pursuant to section 6056.  Specifically, employers who use the voluntary prospective reporting system must provide employee statements only to those who have purchased coverage through an Exchange (based on information provided by the Exchange to the employer), rather than to the entire workforce.  Presumably, the rationale is that an employee covered through an Exchange can use information provided in Part II of the Form 1095-C—regarding whether, in each month, the employer offered minimum essential coverage (MEC) that is affordable and that provides minimum value—to apply for the premium tax credit.  This credit is available only for employees covered through an Exchange and only for the months in which the employee was not eligible for affordable employer-provided MEC that provides minimum value and any other MEC outside the individual market.

In addition to these changes to employer health-coverage reporting, the proposed legislation would also: (a) direct the IRS to accept full names and dates of birth in lieu of dependents’ and spouses’ Social Security numbers and require the Social Security Administration to assist in the data-matching process; (b) allow for electronic transmission of employee and enrollee statements without requiring recipients to affirmatively opt-in to electronic receipt; and (c) require the Government Accountability Office to study the functionality of the voluntary prospective reporting system.

Although the legislation has attracted the support of a large number of business groups, it remains unclear whether it can overcome the current reluctance among Republican Representatives and Senators to take any action that may further entrench the ACA.  Given the White House’s recent actions that appear designed to weaken the ACA, White House support may also be difficult to garner.  We will monitor the legislation for further developments.

Graham-Cassidy Bill Eliminates Premium Tax Credit But Retains ACA Information Reporting Requirements

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September 21, 2017

With the September 30 budget reconciliation deadline looming, Senate Republican leaders recently released the Graham-Cassidy proposal, which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but retain most of its information reporting requirements.  A departure from previous GOP proposals (see discussions here and here), the Graham-Cassidy proposal would completely eliminate federal premium tax credits by January 2020, and not provide any other health insurance tax credits.  The legislation would instead put in place a system of block grants to the states which states could use to increase health coverage, but would not be required to use for that purpose.  The proposal would also zero out penalties for the individual and employer mandates beginning in 2016.

The information reporting rules under Code sections 6055 and 6056 would be retained under the proposal, but it is unclear what purpose the Form 1095-B would serve after 2019 when there is no penalty for failing to comply with the individual mandate and no premium tax credit or other health insurance tax credit.  The bill likely does not repeal the provisions because of limitations on the budget reconciliation process, which requires that changes have a budgetary impact.  The proposal would also keep in place the 3.8% net investment income tax, as well as the 0.9% additional Medicare tax on wages above a certain threshold that varies based on filing status and that employers are required to withhold and remit when paying wages to an employee over $250,000.

The Senate has until the end of this month to pass a bill with 51 Senate votes under the budget reconciliation process, before rules preventing a Democratic filibuster expire.  A vote is expected next week.

Tax Relief for Leave-Based Donation Programs and Qualified Plan Distribution Extended to Hurricane Irma Victims

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September 18, 2017

The IRS recently announced favorable tax relief for “leave-based donation programs” designed to aid victims of Hurricane Irma, as well as easier access to funds in qualified retirement plans for these victims.  These forms of relief were provided to victims of Hurricane Harvey last month (see prior coverage), and as expected, were promptly extended to victims of Hurricane Irma.

Specifically, under Notice 2017-52, employees may forgo paid vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash donation the employer makes, before January 1, 2019, to charitable organization providing relief for the Hurricane Irma victims.  The IRS will not treat the donated leave as income or wages to the employee, and will permit employers to deduct the donations as business expenses.  Similarly, in Announcement 2017-13, the IRS extended to employees affected by Hurricane Irma the relaxed distribution rules announced following Hurricane Harvey for plan loans and hardship distributions from qualified retirement plans.  The relief generally permits plan sponsors to adopt amendments permitting plan loans and hardship withdrawals later than would otherwise be required to provide such options, waives the six-month suspension of contributions for hardship withdrawals, and allows the disbursement of hardship withdrawals and plan loans before certain procedural requirements are satisfied.

As we discussed with respect to Hurricane Harvey, employers looking to provide further relief to their employees have other long-standing options, as well.  For example, Notice 2006-59 provides favorable tax treatment similar to that provided under Notice 2017-52 for “leave-sharing plans” that permit employees to deposit leave in an employer-sponsored leave bank for use by other employees who have been harmed by a major disaster.  Additionally, section 139 permits individuals to exclude from gross income and wages any “qualified disaster relief payment” for reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses, among others; and the payments may be made through company-sponsored private foundations (see our recent Client Alert on section 139 disaster relief payments).

Hurricane Harvey Prompts IRS to Provide Tax Relief for Leave-Based Donation Programs

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September 7, 2017

The IRS recently released Notice 2017-48, providing favorable tax relief for “leave-based donation programs” designed to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey.  Under these programs, employees may elect to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for payments that the employer makes to charitable organizations described under section 170(c).  Under this notice, payments employees elect to forgo do not constitute income or wages of the employees for federal income and employment tax purposes if the employer makes the payments, before January 1, 2019, to charitable organizations for the relief of victims of Hurricane Harvey.  The IRS will not assert that an opportunity to make this election results in employees’ constructive receipt of the payments.  Thus, the employer would not need to include the payments in Box 1, 3 (if applicable), or 5 of the Forms W-2 for employees electing to forgo their vacation, sick, or personal leave.

With respect to employer deductions, the IRS will not assert that an employer is permitted to deduct these cash payments exclusively under the rules of section 170, applicable to deductions for charitable contributions, rather than the rules of section 162.  Accordingly, the deduction will not be limited by the percentage limitation under section 170(b)(2)(A) or subject to the procedural requirements of section 170(a).  Thus, payments made to charitable organizations pursuant to leave-based donation programs are deductible to the extent the payments would be deductible under section 162 if paid to the employees (i.e., the payments would have constituted reasonable compensation and met certain other requirements).

The requirements of Notice 2017-48 are straightforward, but if an employer fails to comply, the general tax doctrines of assignment of income and constructive receipt would apply.  Under these doctrines, if an employee can choose between receiving compensation or assigning the right to that compensation to someone else, the employee has constructive receipt of the compensation even though he or she never actually receives it.  (These concepts also create difficulties for paid-time off programs under which employees can choose to use PTO or receive cash.)  Thus, without special tax relief, an employee who assigns the right to compensation to a charitable organization would be taxed on that compensation, and the employer would have corresponding income and employment tax withholding and reporting obligations.  Although the employee would be entitled to take an itemized deduction for charitable contributions in that amount, this below-the-line deduction only affects income taxes (and not FICA taxes), and would not fully offset the amount of the income for non-itemizers who claim the standard deduction ($6,300 for single filers in 2016).

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the impending threat of Hurricane Irma, which is currently affecting islands in the Eastern Caribbean islands, have renewed interest in favorable charitable contribution tax rules that extend beyond the parameters of section 170.  Apart from Notice 2017-48, the IRS has also previously provided certain special tax treatment for disaster relief payments employers provide to their employees.  On August 30, the IRS provided for easier access to funds in qualified retirement plans in IRS Announcement 2017-11.  The rules generally permit plan sponsors to adopt amendments permitting plan loans and hardship withdrawals later than would otherwise be required to provide such options, waive the six-month suspension of contributions for hardship withdrawals, and allow the disbursement of hardship withdrawals and plan loans before certain procedural requirements are satisfied.  Although the relief provided in Announcement 2017-11 applies only to those affected by Hurricane Harvey (and Notice 2017-48 applies only to charitable contributions designed to aid such individuals), it is likely the IRS will provide similar relief to those affected by Hurricane Irma if it makes landfall in the United States, as appears likely at this time.

Employers looking to provide further relief to their employees have other long-standing options, as well.  For example, Notice 2006-59 provides favorable tax treatment similar to that provided under Notice 2017-48 for “leave-sharing plans” that permits employees to deposit leave in an employer-sponsored leave bank for use by other employees who have been harmed by a major disaster.  Additionally, section 139 permits individuals to exclude from gross income and wages any “qualified disaster relief payment” for reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses, among others; and the payments may be made through company-sponsored private foundations (see our recent Client Alert on section 139 disaster relief payments).

Version III of Senate GOP Health Care Bill Retains Same Health Coverage Reporting Rules

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July 20, 2017

Senate Republicans have just released another update to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  This updated bill preserves the same health coverage reporting rules under the prior version that was released a week ago on July 13 (discussed here).  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell stated that he expects a vote early next week on a motion to start the debate on either a repeal-and-replace bill or a standalone ACA-repeal bill.

Updated Senate GOP Health Care Bill Retains Additional Medicare Tax and Most Health Coverage Reporting Rules

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July 13, 2017

This morning, Senate Republican leaders released an updated Better Care Reconciliation Act that would largely retain the existing health coverage reporting regime enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In contrast to the prior Senate bill (see prior coverage), the updated bill would keep in place the 3.8% net investment income tax, as well as the 0.9% additional Medicare tax, which employers are required to withhold and remit when paying wages to an employee over a certain threshold (e.g., $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers). The updated bill is otherwise similar to the prior bill from a health reporting standpoint, as it would keep the current premium tax credit (with new restrictions effective in 2020) and retain the information reporting rules under Code sections 6055 and 6056. (The House bill passed on May 4, 2017 (discussed here and here), by contrast, would introduce an age-based health insurance coverage credit along with new information reporting requirements.) The updated bill would also zero out penalties for the individual and employer mandates beginning in 2016.

In addition to the ACA repeal-and-replace efforts in the Senate bill, the House Committee on Appropriations included in its appropriation bill a provision that would stop the IRS from using its funding to enforce the individual mandate or the related information reporting rule under Code section 6055 for minimum essential coverage (on Form 1095-B or 1095-C). This provision would be effective on October 1 this year. Apart from significantly cutting IRS funding, however, the appropriation bill would not otherwise affect IRS enforcement of information reporting by applicable large employers regarding employer-provided health insurance coverage. Thus, even if both the Senate health care bill and the House appropriation bill were to become law as currently proposed, applicable large employers would still be required to file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C pursuant to Code section 6056 in the coming years.

Senate GOP Health Care Bill Would Retain Most Existing Health Coverage Reporting Rules

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June 23, 2017

Yesterday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a draft version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would retain much of the existing health coverage reporting rules enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.  Unlike the House bill passed on May 4, 2017 (discussed here and here), which would introduce an age-based health insurance coverage credit and corresponding information reporting requirements, the Senate bill would keep the current premium tax credit (with new restrictions effective in 2020), and leave untouched the information reporting regime under Code sections 6055 and 6056.  Thus, Applicable large employers (ALEs) would still be required to file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C pursuant to Code section 6056, even though the bill would reduce penalties for failure to comply with the employer mandate to zero beginning in 2016.  Similarly, the Senate bill does not eliminate the requirement for providers of minimum essential coverage under section 6055 to report coverage on Form 1095-B (or Form 1095-C) despite eliminating the penalty on individuals for failing to maintain coverage. The Senate bill would, however, repeal the additional Medicare tax and thereby eliminate employers’ corresponding reporting and withholding obligations beginning in 2023.

The fate of this draft bill remains uncertain, as several Republican Senators have already expressed unwillingness to support the bill, which is not expected to find any support among Senate Democrats.  We will continue to monitor further developments on the Senate bill and its impact on the information reporting regime for health insurance coverage.

Information Reporting Provisions of AHCA Unchanged from Earlier Bill

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May 5, 2017

Yesterday, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on a near party-line vote, 217-213.  The legislation would repeal many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but would retain and expand many of the ACA’s information reporting requirements.  After the House failed to pass the AHCA in late March, Republicans have worked to secure additional support for the legislation.

Although Republicans made changes to the legislation to enable it to pass the House, those changes do not substantively effect the information reporting provisions, including the new health insurance coverage credit reporting under section 6050X beginning in 2020, Form W-2 reporting of employer offers of coverage beginning in 2020, and the additional reporting required by providers of minimal essential coverage under Code section 6055.  (See earlier coverage here.)

The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where budget reconciliation rules and tepid support from some Republicans may make it difficult to secure passage.

House Republicans’ ACA Repeal-and-Replace Bill Would Change Health Coverage Reporting Requirements

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March 7, 2017

A House Republican bill, entitled the American Health Care Act, would repeal many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but retain and expand the information reporting rules.  Released on March 6, the proposal consists of two parts: (1) a bill drafted by the House Ways and Means Committee, to eliminate the ACA’s taxes and income-based subsidies, zero out penalties for the individual and employer mandates, and establish a new individual tax credit; and (2) a bill drafted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to freeze and reform Medicaid.

The Ways & Means bill would help taxpayers pay for health insurance by expanding health savings accounts, and by providing an advanceable, refundable tax credit—the “health insurance coverage” credit—for purchasing state-approved, major medical health insurance and unsubsidized COBRA coverage.  Unlike the leaked bill obtained by Politico on February 24, the bills do not cap the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance.  Although the legislation is unlikely to pass in its current form, as it is headed for markup by the two Committees later this week, it does provide insight into the thinking of House Republicans.

Those hoping for a full repeal of the ACA’s reporting provisions will be disappointed as the ACA’s reporting regime would largely survive, at least temporarily.  Applicable large employers (ALEs), for instance, would still be required to file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C pursuant to Code section 6056, even though the bill would reduce penalties for failure to comply with the employer mandate to zero beginning in 2016.  Similarly, the Ways & Means bill does not eliminate the requirement for providers of minimum essential coverage to report coverage on Form 1095-B (or Form 1095-C) despite eliminating the penalty on individuals for failing to maintain coverage.

However, the Ways & Means bill would alter health insurance reporting in three ways.  First, the bill would establish new information reporting rules under Code section 6050X for the health insurance coverage credit beginning in 2020.  Second, the bill would expand information reporting under Code section 6055 regarding the ACA’s premium tax credits used for qualifying off-Exchange coverage in 2018 and 2019.  Third, the bill would repeal the additional Medicare tax and thereby eliminate employers’ corresponding reporting and withholding obligations beginning in 2020.

New Reporting Rules for Health Insurance Coverage Credits Beginning in 2020

The bill would replace the ACA’s premium tax credit with the health insurance coverage credit for purchasing eligible health insurance—state-approved, major medical health insurance and unsubsidized COBRA coverage—starting in 2020.  Generally, an individual is eligible for this credit only if he or she lacks access to government health insurance programs or offer of employer coverage.  The credit amount varies from $2,000 to $4,000 annually per person based on age, and phases out for those earning over $75,000 per year ($150,000 for joint filers).  The credit maxes out at $14,000 per family, and is capped by the actual amount paid for eligible health insurance.  Treasury would be required to establish a program for making advance payments of the credit, on behalf of eligible taxpayers, to providers of eligible health insurance or designated health savings accounts no later than 2020.

Reporting for Health Insurance Coverage Credit.  To administer the health insurance coverage credit, the bill would create Code section 6050X that would require providers of eligible health insurance to file information returns with the IRS and furnish taxpayer statements, starting in 2020.  The return must contain the following information: (a) the name, address, and taxpayer identification number (TIN) of each covered individual; (b) the premiums paid under the policy; (c) the amount of advance payments made on behalf of the individual; (d) the months during which the individual is covered under the policy; (e) whether the policy constitutes a high deductible health plan; and (f) any other information as Treasury may prescribe.  The bill does not specify how often providers would be required to file returns reporting this information with the IRS, but it would authorize Treasury to require a provider to report on a monthly basis if the provider receives advance payments.  A provider would also be required to furnish taxpayers, by January 31 of the year after the year of coverage, written statements containing the following information: (a) the name, address, and basic contact information of the covered entity required to file the return; and (b) the information required to be shown on the return with respect to the individual.

Employer Statement for Advance Payment Application.  The advance payment program would require an applicant—if he or she (or any qualifing family member taken into account to determine the credit amount) is employed—to submit a written statement from the applicable employer stating whether the applicant or the qualifying family member is eligible for “other specified coverage” in connection with the employment.  Other specified coverage generally includes coverage under an employer-provided group health plan (other than unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage or plan providing excepted benefits), Medicare Part A, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and certain other government sponsored health insurance programs.  An employer shall provide this written statement at the request of any employee once the advance payment program is established.  This statement is not required if the taxpayer simply seeks the credit without advance payment.

Employer Coverage Reporting on Form W-2.  The bill would require reporting of offers of coverage by employers on the Form W-2 beginning with the 2020 tax year.  Employers would be required to report each month in which the employee is eligible for other specified coverage in connection with employment.  This requirement would likely demand a substantial revision to the current Form W-2, which is already crowded with information.  The Form W-2 reporting requirement appears to be intended to replace the reporting rules under Section 6056 based on a statement in the Ways and Means Committee summary.

Although the budget reconciliation rules limit Congress’s ability to repeal the current coverage reporting rules, the Ways and Means Committee states that Treasury can stop enforcing any reporting not required for tax purposes.  Given the elimination of penalties for individuals who fail to maintain minimum essential coverage and ALEs that fail to offer coverage, this statement may serve as a green light to undo many of the Form 1095-B and 1095-C reporting requirements once the ACA’s premium tax credits are eliminated and Form W-2 reporting is in place in 2020.

Reasonable Cause Waiver.  The bill would make these new information returns and written statements subject to the standard information reporting penalties under Code section 6721 (penalties for late, incomplete, or incorrect filing with IRS) and Code section 6722 (penalties for late, incomplete, or incorrect statements furnished to payees).  The bill also extends the reasonable cause waiver under Code section 6724 to information reporting penalties with respect to the new health insurance coverage credit returns, so that the IRS may waive such penalties if the failure is “due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.”

Transitional Reporting Rules for Premium Tax Credits in 2018 and 2019

The Ways & Means bill would allow the ACA’s premium tax credits to be used for off-Exchange qualified health plans in 2018 and 2019 before eliminating the credits in 2020.  The premium tax credit is a refundable, income-based credit that helps eligible individuals and families pay premiums for coverage under a “qualified health plan,” which, under current law, only includes plans sold on ACA Exchanges, and does not include catastrophic-only health plans.  The bill, however, would expand the definition of qualified health plan to include off-Exchange and catastrophic-only health insurance plans that otherwise meet the requirements for a qualified health plan, so that these types of plans would also be eligible for the premium tax credit.  Advance payment of the credit is only available for coverage enrolled in through an Exchange.

To aid in the administration of the expanded credit, the bill would amend Code section 6055(b) to require providers of minimum essential coverage to report certain information related to premium tax credits for off-Exchange qualified health plans.  Because employer-sponsored coverage does not qualify for the credit, employers sponsoring self-insured plans generally would not be required to report additional information on the Form 1095-C beyond that already required under Code sections 6055 and 6056.  Health insurance issuers who provide coverage eligible for the credit would be required to report annually to the IRS: (a) a statement that the plan is a qualified health plan (determined without regard to whether the plan is offered on an Exchange); (b) the premiums paid for the coverage; (c) the months during which this coverage was provided to the individual; (d) the adjusted monthly premium for the applicable second lowest cost silver plan for each month of coverage; and (e) any other information as Treasury may prescribe.  These new reporting requirements would apply only in 2018 and 2019, before the premium tax credit is scrapped and replaced by the health insurance coverage credit in 2020.

Repeal of Additional Medicare Tax

The bill would also repeal the additional Medicare tax under Code section 3101(b)(2), beginning in 2018.  This 0.9% tax is imposed on an employee’s wages in excess of a certain threshold (e.g., $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers).  Under current law, employers are required to withhold and remit additional Medicare taxes when it pays wages to an employee over $200,000.  The additional Medicare tax has complicated the process for correcting employment tax errors because unlike other FICA taxes (and more like income tax withholding) the additional Medicare tax is paid on the employee’s individual income tax return.  As a result, the employer cannot make changes to the amount of additional Medicare tax reported after the end of the calendar year.  The elimination of the additional Medicare tax will likely be welcomed by employers and employees affected by it.  In addition, the bill would also repeal the net investment income tax that expanded the Medicare portion of FICA taxes to non-wage income for individuals with incomes in excess of certain thresholds.

What to Expect Next

The fate of the legislation is uncertain, and it will likely undergo substantive changes before House Republicans move the bill to the floor.  A key issue that House Republicans are reportedly debating is how to structure the health insurance coverage tax credit.  Additionally, the decision to eliminate the cap on tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance that was included in the draft language leaked in late February may mean that the legislative proposal will need to be amended to include another funding source.  However these issues are resolved, the legislation makes it clear that a health insurance reporting regime is likely to survive Republicans’ ACA repeal-and-replace efforts.  We will continue to monitor further developments on the proposal and its impact on the information reporting regime for health insurance coverage.

IRS Begins Requesting Missing ACA Returns from Employers

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January 19, 2017

Despite an uncertain future for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the IRS is moving forward with enforcement efforts for 2015.  Employers have recently begun receiving IRS Letter 5699 requesting Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for 2015.  The letter notifies the recipient that it may have been an applicable large employer (ALE) in 2015 with ACA reporting obligations and that the IRS has not yet received Forms 1095-C for 2015.  The returns were due on June 30, 2016, for electronic filings through the ACA Information Reporting (AIR) system, or May 31, 2016, for paper filing (see prior coverage).

The letter requires that, within 30 days from the date of the letter, the recipient must provide one of the following responses: (1) the recipient was an ALE for 2015 and has already filed the returns; (2) the recipient was an ALE for 2015 and is now enclosing the returns with the response; (3) the recipient was an ALE for 2015 and will file the returns by a certain date; (4) the recipient was not an ALE in 2015; or (5) an explanation of why the recipient has not filed the returns and any actions the recipient intends to take.

Code section 6056 requires ALEs to file ACA information returns with the IRS, and furnish statements to full-time employees relating to any health insurance coverage the employer offered the employee.  Failure to file returns may result in penalties under Section 6721 (penalties for late, incomplete, or incorrect filing with IRS) and Section 6722 (penalties for late, incomplete, or incorrect statements furnished to payees, in this case, employees).  Importantly, the “good faith” penalty relief previously announced by the IRS applies only to incorrect or incomplete ACA returns—not to late filing of returns (see prior coverage).  Accordingly, ALEs who failed to file the required returns by the deadline may be subject to penalties of up to $520 for each return they failed to file with the IRS and furnish to employees, in addition to any employer shared responsibility penalties that may apply if the ALE failed to offer the required coverage.

While the change in political administration casts uncertainty on the future of the ACA and its penalties, the IRS’s actions indicate that its enforcement efforts are moving forward.  The request for missing ACA returns may mean that the IRS will begin assessing ACA reporting penalties and employer shared responsibility penalties in the near future.  Accordingly, ALEs that have not yet filed the 2015 ACA returns should do so as soon as possible and timely respond to Letter 5699 if they receive one.

D.C. Council Passes Mandatory Paid Leave Bill

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December 22, 2016

The District of Columbia Council passed a generous paid family leave bill on Tuesday by a 9-4 margin.  The bill will provide eight weeks of paid leave to new mothers and fathers, six weeks for employees caring for sick family members, and two weeks for personal sick leave.  As we explained in a prior post, the District will fund the new benefit with a new 0.62 percent payroll tax on employers.  Large employers, some of whom already provide similar benefits to employees, have been increasingly outspoken against the bill, taking issue with what it views as a bill requiring them to fund paid leave for small employers who do not currently offer such benefits.  Despite large employers’ strong lobbying effort, which were joined by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the bill still passed by a comfortable margin.  Mayor Bowser has not indicated whether she will sign the bill, but the 9-4 vote is sufficient to override a veto.  Regardless of Mayor Bowser’s decision, the program will likely not get off the ground until 2019 due to the administrative hurdles required to implement the new system.

D.C. Council Moves Closer to Enacting Employer Payroll Tax to Create Nation’s Most Generous Family Leave Law

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December 7, 2016

On December 6, the District of Columbia Council advanced a bill known as the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2016.  The bill would impose an estimated $250 million in employer payroll taxes on local businesses to fund a paid leave benefit created by the bill.  The bill would raise the funds by creating a new employer payroll tax of 0.62%.  Self-employed individuals may also opt-in to the program by paying the tax.  Federal government employees and District residents who work outside of the District would not be covered by the bill.  However, Maryland and Virginia residents who work within the district would be covered and entitled to benefits from the government fund created by the bill.

If ultimately passed, the bill would require businesses to provide eight weeks of paid time-off for both full and part-time workers to care for newborn or adopted children.  The bill, which advanced on an 11-2 vote, will also guarantee six weeks of paid leave for workers to care for sick relatives, as well as two weeks of annual personal sick leave.  (Many employees would already qualify for unpaid leave under the Federal and District family and medical leave laws.)

A government insurance fund funded with the new employer payroll taxes would pay workers during their leaves. The bill provides for progressive payment rates, such that lower-income individuals receive a greater percentage of their normal salary during periods of time off covered by the program.  The fund created with the tax revenue would pay a base amount equal to 90% of a worker’s average weekly wage up to 150% of the District’s minimum wage.  (Based on the District’s current minimum wage laws, the base amount is expected to be calculated on up to $900 in weekly salary by the time the program would take effect based on a $15 per hour minimum wage rate that is currently being phased in.)  An employee whose average weekly wage exceeds 150% of the District’s minimum wage would receive the base amount plus 50% of the worker’s weekly wage above the District’s minimum wage.  Payments would be capped at $1,000 a week, with the cap being subject to increases for inflation beginning in 2021.

The bill must pass a final D.C. Council vote on December 20 and approval by District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. A Bowser spokesman reported that the mayor was still undecided on the bill.  If the bill ultimately passes, benefits would likely not be available before 2019, as the District would need time to prepare and fund the program.

IRS Certified PEO Program Leaves Unresolved Qualified Plan and ACA Issues

The IRS recently implemented the voluntary certification program for professional employer organizations (PEOs) (discussed in a separate blog post).  Earlier this summer, the IRS released temporary and proposed Treasury regulations and Revenue Procedure 2016-33 pursuant to Code Sections 3511 and 7705, which created a new statutory employer for payroll-tax purposes: an IRS-certified PEO (CPEO).  Last week, the IRS released Notice 2016-49, which relaxed some of the certification requirements set forth in the regulations and Revenue Procedure 2016-33.

Although a significant change in the payroll tax world, the new CPEO program does not clarify the issue of whether a PEO or its customer, the worksite employer, is the common law employer for other purposes.  Thus, even when properly assisted by CPEOs, customers may still be common law employers and must plan for potential liability accordingly.  Two key areas of potential liability are PEO sponsorship of qualified employee benefit plans and the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

PEO Sponsorship of Qualified Plans

Before the new CPEO program became available, the PEO industry was already expanding, with customers pushing for PEOs to act as the common law employers for all purposes, not just payroll tax administration.  Customers particularly sought PEOs to sponsor qualified benefit plans for the customers’ workers.  This arrangement, however, clashed with a fundamental rule of qualified plans under ERISA and the Code:  Under the exclusive benefit rule, employers can sponsor qualified plans only for their common law employees and not independent contractors.  Many PEOs set up single employer plans, even though customers – not PEOs – usually had the core characteristics of a common law employer:  Exercising control over the worker’s schedule and manner and means of performing services.

In Revenue Procedures 2002-21 and 2003-86, the IRS reiterated its hardline stance on enforcing the exclusive benefit rule against PEO plans, stating that after 2003, PEOs can no longer rely on any determination letter issued to their single employer plans, even if the letter was issued after 2003.  The guidance provided two forms of transition relief available until 2003: (1) a PEO could terminate the plan, or (2) convert the plan into a multiple employer plan (MEP), which is an employee benefit plan maintained and administered as a single plan in which two or more unrelated employers can participate.  This MEP option, however, still treated customers as the common law employers, who are subject to nondiscrimination, funding, and other qualified-plan rules under ERISA and the Code.

The new CPEO program does not affect the exclusive benefit rule or the determination of common law employer status for qualified plan purposes.  Certified or not, a PEO can sponsor MEPs, but properly sponsoring any single-employer plan rests on the argument that the PEO is the common law employer.  Thus, the law still significantly limits a customer from outsourcing its qualified plan to a PEO.

ACA Employer Mandate & PEO-Sponsored Health Plan

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes on employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent (FTE) employees the “employer mandate,” which, in turn, applies a tax penalty if the employer chooses not to provide health care insurance for its workers.  In general, the common law employer is required to offer coverage to its employees.  Under some circumstances, however, the common law employer can take credit for coverage offered by another entity—such as another company within the same controlled group.

The problem for PEO customers stems from a provision in the final regulations on Section 4980H.  The provision allows the PEO’s customer to take credit for the PEO’s offer of coverage to the customer’s workers only if the customer pays an extra fee:

[I]n cases in which the staffing firm is not the common law employer of the individual and the staffing firm makes an offer of coverage to the employee on behalf of the client employer under a plan established or maintained by the staffing firm, the offer is treated as made by the client employer for purposes of section 4980H only if the fee the client employer would pay to the staffing firm for an employee enrolled in health coverage under the plan is higher than the fee the client employer would pay the staffing firm for the same employee if that employee did not enroll in health coverage under the plan.

The preamble to the regulations doubles down by describing a situation in which the staffing firm is not the common law employer as the “usual case.”

This extra-fee rule puts the PEO’s customer in a difficult position.  If it does not pay the extra fee, then the PEO’s offer of health coverage cannot be credited to the customer.  Thus, the customer risks being subject to the tax penalty, if upon audit the customer is determined to be the common law employer (assuming the PEO’s customer is an applicable large employer).  Alternatively, if the customer pays the extra fee to hedge against the risk of the tax penalty, the payment could be taken as an admission that the customer—not the PEO—is the common law employer.  Being the common law employer could expose the PEO’s customer to a host of legal liabilities, including, for example, rules pertaining to qualified plans (e.g., funding, nondiscrimination), workers compensation, and respondeat superior.  This result is unacceptable for many customers, who take the position that they are not the common law employers for any purpose.  Unfortunately, the new CPEO program only allows the customer to shift its payroll tax liabilities, and does not affect whether the customer or the CPEO is the common law employer for other purposes.

Finally, there is also a reporting wrinkle for customers outsourcing their health coverage obligations to PEOs.  The ACA requires the common law employer to report the offer of coverage on Form 1095-C.  If the PEO’s customer is the common law employer, there is no rule allowing it to shift this reporting obligation to the PEO.  Thus, if the PEO, rather than the customer, files the Form 1095-C, the customer may be subject to reporting penalties for failure to file a return.

IRS Simplifies Filing Requirements for Section 83(b) Elections

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July 27, 2016

On July 25, the IRS released final regulations eliminating the requirement that taxpayers making a Section 83(b) election file a copy of the election notice with their federal income tax return.  Under Section 83, the fair market value of property received (less any basis in the property) for the performance of services is generally included in income when the property is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture or when the taxpayer’s interest in the property is transferable.  However, taxpayers may elect under Section 83(b) to include the property’s fair market value (less any basis in it) as of the date of transfer in income in the year of transfer.  Despite the upfront tax liability, this election may actually defer taxation on the appreciated value of the property and subject the appreciation to capital gains rates rather than ordinary income rates.  Under the prior regulations, taxpayers who make an 83(b) election must submit to the IRS a copy of the election notice not only within 30 days after the date of the transfer, but also with their federal income tax return for the year of the transfer.  Last summer, the Treasury and the IRS proposed to eliminate the latter filing requirement, and after receiving no comments, adopted the final regulations without modification.

The requirement to file an election notice with the annual return was duplicative and easy to miss because taxpayers making an 83(b) election were already required to submit to the IRS the election notice within 30 days after the date of the transfer.  Further, as the IRS explained in the preambles to the proposed regulations, this requirement had become an obstacle to electronic filing of returns for certain taxpayers, since commercial e-filing software does not consistently allow for submitting an 83(b) election notice with the return.  The final regulations apply to transfers on or after January 1, 2016, and taxpayers can also rely on these regulations for transfers in 2015.  As a result, taxpayers are not required to file a copy of any 83(b) election made in 2015 with their 2015 tax returns.

Significantly, the final regulations ease compliance for non-resident alien employees of multinational companies.  Although foreign tax consequences can make transfers of restricted stock to such employees undesirable from the employee’s perspective, it may be desirable for the employee to make a section 83(b) election when restricted stock is transferred.  This is particularly true for start-ups and other companies where the value of the shares is small when granted and is likely to increase.  (It is often undesirable to make an 83(b) election for a mature company where the value of the stock is high at transfer and may decline.)

When nonresident alien employees working outside of the United States receive non-vested equity compensation, they may have no obligation to file a U.S. tax return, and could easily neglect to file a return for purposes of filing the election notice.  (Because the employees are nonresident aliens working outside the United States, the income from their 83(b) elections would presumably be foreign source income resulting in no U.S. income tax due in the year of transfer.)  But if these employees become U.S. residents between the grant and vesting dates, their failure to file nonresident returns and attach the 83(b) election notices would invalidate their 83(b) elections, thereby subjecting the value of the property to U.S. income tax upon vesting based on their U.S. resident status at the time of vesting.  Under the final regulations, these employees – and any other service providers – must simply file an election notice with the IRS within 30 days after the date of the transfer.

Although the final regulations simplified filing obligations under Section 83(b), the IRS emphasized taxpayers’ recordkeeping responsibilities under Section 6001, especially to show the basis of property reported on taxpayers’ returns.  Thus, to protect themselves from tax-return audit liability, executives and other service providers who receive restricted property under an 83(b) election must be careful to keep records of the original cost of the property received, and retain the records until at least the period of the limitations for the returns expires.

Bipartisan Support for Legislation Codifying Tax-Free Student Loan Repayment Benefits, But Does the Code Already Allow for It?

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July 25, 2016

As college graduates struggle under the weight of larger student loan burdens, some employers have begun to offer student loan repayment benefits intended to help employees repay their loans.  In May, House Ways and Means Committee member Robert Dold (R-IL) introduced legislation that would, among other changes, amend Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code to explicitly allow employers to make payments on their employees’ student loans on a tax-free basis.  That provision excludes from gross income up to $5,250 paid by an employer per year for expenses incurred by or on behalf of an employee for education of the employee (including, but not limited to, tuition, fees, and similar payments, books, supplies, and equipment).   Other proposed bills have also been introduced to provide the same benefit.  Although the legislation has bipartisan support, it is unclear whether Congress has the appetite for passing legislation that would appear to reduce revenues, or the fortitude to pass anything nonessential in an election year.

For employers interested in providing tax-free student loan repayment benefits, existing law may already allow for such a result.  The Internal Revenue Service issued a private letter ruling in 2003 that suggests that such payments may already be excludable under Section 127.  In the ruling, a law firm established an educational assistance plan for its non-lawyer employees.  The firm’s employees borrowed funds to pay for law school.  The firm then provided the employees with additional salary to pay the principal and interest due on the loans during each year of employment, essentially forgiving the debt.  The IRS ruled that the first $5,250 of loan payments each year were excludable from the employee’s income under Section 127.  Although the private letter ruling applies only to the taxpayer and does not fully describe the terms of the law firm’s program, it offers a strategy for employers to consider when evaluating how to help their employees with student loan payments.

Two District Courts Rule Stock Option Income Subject to RRTA Tax

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July 14, 2016

Two more railroad companies have failed in their efforts to obtain Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) tax refunds based on the application of RRTA’s definition of “compensation” as it relates to nonqualified stock option exercises by employees.  Just a week apart, the U.S. District Courts for Nebraska in Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. United States  and for the Northern District of Illinois in Wis. Central Ltd. v. United States, agreed with the government that the term “any form of money remuneration,” as compensation is defined by RRTA, is susceptible to a broad reading analogous to that of “wages” in the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).  Both courts, in detailed memorandum opinions, concluded that the income arising from the NQSO exercises had been properly subjected to Tier 1 RRTA taxes and, consequently, the refund claims were denied.  In so doing, both courts accepted the government’s position that the Treasury regulations defining RRTA compensation by reference to the definition of FICA wages in Section 3121(a) was a reasonable one.

In the first case on this issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected BNSF Railway Company’s claims for refund of Tier 1 RRTA taxes that had been paid in conjunction with the exercise of nonqualified stock options.  In its refund claim, BNSF had argued that the term “any form of money remuneration” meant payment in cash or other medium of government authorized exchange and, consequently, NQSOs could not qualify as money.  Therefore, according to BNSF, income arising from the exercise of NQSOs did not constitute “compensation” subject to RRTA taxes.   In analyzing the definition of “compensation” under RRTA, the Fifth Circuit applied the two step framework set out in Chevron v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. and concluded that Treasury was reasonable in interpreting RRTA coextensively with the FICA tax provisions, so that it was consistent with the broad reading of the term “wages” in FICA provisions.

Wellness Program Cash Rewards and Salary-Reduction Premium Reimbursements Taxable

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May 27, 2016

Recently, the IRS clarified whether employees are taxed for receiving cash rewards and reimbursements from their employers for participating in wellness programs.  In CCA 201622031, the IRS ruled that an employee must include in gross income (1) employer-provided cash rewards and non-medical care benefits for participating in a wellness program and (2) reimbursements of premiums for participating in a wellness program if the premiums were originally made by salary reduction through a Section 125 cafeteria plan.

In CCA 201622031, the taxpayer inquired whether an employee’s income includes (a) employer-provided cash rewards or non-medical care benefits, such as gym membership fees, for participating in a wellness program; and (b) reimbursements of premiums for participating in a wellness program if the premiums were originally made by salary reduction through a cafeteria plan.  The IRS ruled that Sections 105 and 106 do not apply to these rewards and reimbursements, which are includible in the employee’s gross income and are also subject to employment taxation.

IRS Issues Regulations Relating to Employees of Disregarded Entities

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May 5, 2016

Yesterday, Treasury and the IRS released final and temporary regulations under Section 7701 meant to clarify issues related to the employment of owners of disregarded entities.  In 2009, the IRS issues regulations that required disregarded entities be treated as a corporation for purposes of employment taxes including federal income tax withholding and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes for Social Security and Medicare.  The regulations provided that a disregarded entity was disregarded, however, for purposes of self-employment taxes and included an example that demonstrated the application of the rule to an individual who was the single owner of a disregarded entity.  In the example, the disregarded entity is treated as the employee of its employees but the owner remains subject to self-employment tax on the disregarded entity’s activities.  In other words, the owner is not treated as an employee.

Rev. Rul. 69-184 provides that partners are not employees of the partnership for purposes of FICA taxes, Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax, and federal income tax withholding.  This is true even if the partner would qualify as an employee under the common law test.  This made it difficult—if not impossible—for partnerships to allow employees to participate in the business with equity ownership such as options even if the employee owned only a very small portion of the partnership.  The 2009 regulations raised questions, however, provided some hope that a disregarded entity whose sole owner was a partnership could be used to as the employer of the partnership’s partners. Doing so would have allowed partners in the partnership to be treated as employees of the disregarded entity and participate in tax-favored employee benefit plans, such as cafeteria plans.  The final and temporary regulations clarify that that an individual who owns and portion of a partnership may not be treated as an employee of the partnership or of a disregarded entity owned by the partnership.

As a result, payments made to partners should not be reported on Form W-2, but should be reported on Schedule K-1.  Such payments are not subject to federal income tax withholding or FICA taxes, but will be subject to self-employment taxes when the partner files his or her individual income tax return.  In addition, if partners are currently participating in a disregarded entity’s employee benefit plans, such as a health plan or cafeteria plan, the plan has until the later of August 1, 2016, or the first day of the latest-starting plan year following May 4, 2016.

Limitations on Cash Reimbursements for Transit Benefits Apply to Retroactive Increase in Transit Limits

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March 2, 2016

In a technical advice memorandum (PMTA 2016-01), the IRS Office of Chief Counsel stated that a retroactive increase in transit benefits paid in a cash lump sum is only excludable to the extent a transit pass or voucher is unavailable.  This ruling clarifies that these retroactive increases are subject to the same rules as other transit benefits.  This issue arises from Congress’s decision to increase the amount of transit benefits excludable from income in 2012, 2014, and 2015 (e.g., the limit in 2015 was increased from $130/month to $250/month), which has led employers to inquire about the tax treatment of lump sum payments made to compensate employees for transit payments made by the employees in those years that exceeded the limits in place at the time.  The IRS states that it will deem such lump sum payments income and subject to withholding and reporting if transit passes or vouchers are “readily available.”

If transit passes or vouchers are not “readily available,” employers may provide cash reimbursements, so long as employees incur and substantiate their expenses pursuant to an accountable plan.  Accordingly, most employers are unable to allow employees to take advantage of the retroactive increase.  If an employer allowed employees to exceed the pre-tax limit and purchase transit passes with after-tax dollars (or provided the employees with transit passes and imputed taxable income for amounts in excess of the pre-tax limit), it could provide amended Forms W-2 and file Forms 941-X removing the after-tax amounts from wages (for both FITW and FICA purposes).  However, given that the difference for each employee is only $1450 per year, some employees may not wish to file amended income tax returns to recover any excess tax paid.  In addition, the cost savings for employers may not be sufficient to justify the expense of preparing the amended returns.