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

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.

IRS Extends Transitional Relief for PATH Act’s Changes to Form 1098-T Reporting for Colleges and Universities

In Announcement 2016-42, the IRS recently provided transitional penalty relief to certain colleges and universities with respect to new Form 1098-T reporting requirements under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015.  Specifically, the IRS will not impose penalties under Code section 6721 or 6722 on an eligible educational institution with respect to Forms 1098-T required to be filed and furnished for the 2017 calendar year, if the institution reports the total amount billed for qualified tuition and related expenses instead of the total payments received, as required by section 212 of the PATH Act.  This transitional relief for 2017 reporting effectively extends the same transitional relief for 2016 reporting in Announcement 2016-17, released this spring (see prior coverage).  In both instances, the IRS provided transitional relief because numerous eligible educational institutions indicated that, despite their diligent efforts, they have not fully implemented accounting systems, software, and business practices necessary to satisfy the new reporting requirement.

Earlier this year, the IRS issued proposed regulations to reflect other changes made to the Form 1098-T reporting requirements by Congress as part of the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 (TPEA) and the PATH Act (see prior coverage).

IRS Proposed Regulations Clarify College Tuition Reporting Requirements Following TPEA and PATH Act

The IRS released proposed regulations on July 29 to reflect changes made to the Form 1098-T reporting requirements by Congress as part of the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 (TPEA) and the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act).  The proposed regulations were issued in response to requests for additional guidance made by college financial officers and industry analysts.  The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register today, and they will become effective on the date that final regulations are published.

Penalty Relief.  The proposed regulations amend the regulations under Section 6050S of the Internal Revenue Code to reflect new Section 6724(f) of the Code.  That provision was added by the TPEA and prohibits the IRS from imposing information reporting penalties under Sections 6721 and 6722 on educational institutions for failing to include a correct TIN on Form 1098-T if the educational institution certifies under penalty of perjury that it complies with the IRS’s rules governing TIN solicitations.  The applicable TIN solicitation rules are the same as under the existing regulations.  In general, if the educational institution does not have a record of the individual’s correct TIN, it must solicit the TIN on or before December 31 of each year during which it receives payments of qualified tuition and related expenses or makes reimbursements, refunds, or reductions of such amounts with respect to the individual.  If the individual does not provide his or her TIN upon request, the institution must file Form 1098-T without the TIN but with all other required information.

Reporting Exceptions.  The TPEA amended Section 25A of the Code so that a taxpayer may only claim an education credit if it receives a Form 1098-T from the educational institution that includes all of the required information, including the taxpayer’s TIN.  The proposed regulations amend the existing regulations under Section 6050S of the Code to eliminate a number of exceptions to the Form 1098-T reporting requirement that the IRS determined would frustrate the purpose of TPEA by depriving students of the Form 1098-T required to claim an education credit for which they may otherwise be eligible.  The current regulations under Section 6050S provide four exceptions to the Form 1098-T reporting requirement: (i) nonresident aliens, except upon request by the nonresident alien; (ii) individuals whose qualified tuition and related expenses are paid entirely with scholarships; (iii) individuals whose qualified tuition and related expenses are paid under a formal billing arrangement; and (iv) information with respect to courses for which no academic credit is awarded.  The proposed regulations maintain the exception related to courses for which no academic credit is awarded but eliminate the other three reporting exceptions.

New Reporting Requirement.  Additionally, the proposed regulations require educational institutions to report the number of months that a student was a full-time student during the calendar year on Form 1098-T.  The change is intended to help the IRS determine whether a parent properly claimed the student as a dependent, and therefore, properly claimed the credit for the student’s educational expenses.  For this purpose, one day during a month is treated as an entire month.

Amounts Reported.  In addition, the PATH Act requires educational institutions to report the amount of payments actually received for qualified tuition and related expenses on Form 1098-T, rather than simply the amount of payments billed.  This requirement is carried through to the proposed regulations, subject to the transition relief announced in IRS Announcement 2016-17 that allows educational institutions to report the amount billed for 2016, as explained in our earlier article.

To determine the amount of payments received for qualified tuition and related expenses, the proposed regulations instruct educational institutions to treat payments received during a calendar year as payments received for qualified tuition and related expenses up to the amount billed for such expenses, and any amount in excess of the amount billed as payments for other expenses.

IRS Provides Transitional Relief for PATH Act’s Changes to Form 1098-T Reporting for Colleges and Universities

April 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Information Reporting, IRS

On April 27, 2016, the IRS issued transitional penalty relief to colleges and universities under Announcement 2016-17 with respect to new reporting requirements implemented as part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act). Prior to the PATH Act, eligible educational institutions were required to report annually on Form 1098-T either (i) the aggregate amount of payments received for qualified tuition and related expenses, or (ii) the aggregate amount billed for such tuition and expenses. Section 212 of the PATH Act eliminates the option to report payments billed, meaning that colleges and universities must report the amount of payments received each year on a prospective basis.

If a college or university fails to properly file correct or timely tuition information with the IRS or furnish a proper written statement to the recipient, reporting penalties will apply under sections 6721 and 6722. Numerous eligible educational institutions notified the IRS that the law change would require computer software reprogramming that could not be completed prior to the 2016 deadlines for furnishing Forms 1098-T, which would trigger widespread penalties. Accordingly, Announcement 2016-17 permits eligible educational institutions to report the aggregate amount billed on all 2016 Forms 1098-T, effectively providing one year of transitional relief.