IRS Withholding Guidance Expected in January

December 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Employment Taxes

In a news release, the IRS today announced that it anticipates issuing initial withholding guidance to implement the changes under the tax reform bill in January 2018.  Employers and payroll service providers are encouraged to implement the changes in February.  In the release, the IRS indicated that the withholding guidance will work with the existing Forms W-4 that employees have already provided to their employers.  Until guidance is issued, employers and payroll service providers should continue to use the existing 2017 withholding tables and systems.

Fate of Employer Tuition Assistance Programs Hangs in the Balance

On December 2, the Senate passed a version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that differed in key respects from the House bill passed several weeks prior.  Notably, the House bill would eliminate the exclusion of up to $5,250 from an employee’s wages for qualified educational assistance under Code section 127 (discussed here), but the Senate bill would leave the exclusion in place.  While headlines address the more high-profile differences between the bills (e.g., the new corporate tax rate and the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate), a number of large employers, including a number of our clients, have expressed concern about the fate of tuition assistance programs, as they view it as an important benefit for their employees.  This backlash is unsurprising, given that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that over 60% of employers offer some form of tuition assistance.

The fate of the tuition assistance exclusion, as well as all other areas in which the House and Senate bills disagree, now rests with the conference committee.  The Senate bill also retains the exclusion for qualified tuition reductions provided by educational institutions that the House bill would eliminate, representing another education benefit that the conference committee will need to address.  The conference committee is tasked with reconciling the differences between the two bills, and it is expected that the process will conclude within the next one to two weeks.  Conference committees are notoriously unpredictable, making it difficult to anticipate the fate of the tuition assistance provision, particularly with many of the details of the final legislation in flux.  Though several major employers, as well as SHRM, have vocalized objections to the House bill’s proposed repeal, public criticism of a possible repeal has not been as strong as some had anticipated, a fact that could influence policymakers.

Educational Benefits that Qualify for Exclusion as Working Condition Fringe Benefits

Notably, neither version of the Bill would affect the ability of employees to exclude education benefits that qualify as working condition fringe benefits from taxable wages under Code section 132(d).  Working condition fringe benefits include any property or services that would have been deductible by an employee as a business expense had the employee paid for it his or herself.  Some employers have questioned whether the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions under Code section 67 under the Senate bill and the new Code section 262A that would be added by the House bill disallowing deductions for unreimbursed business expenses would eliminate the exclusion for working condition fringes because the expenses would no longer be deductible under Code section 162 by the employee if the employee had paid them directly.  The House bill directly addresses this by amending Code section 132(d) to specify that it is determined without regard to Code section 262A.  Although the Senate bill is silent, the change to section 67 would not seem to affect working condition fringes as the exclusion is currently applied without regard to the 2% of adjusted gross income floor that section 67 applies under current law.

Many employers offer educational benefits that qualify for exclusion as a working condition fringe benefit because the benefits are limited to education that maintains or improves job skills or meets requirements for the employee to remain in his or her current position.  One example would be a program under which the employer pays for continuing education courses for medical professional, lawyers, and accountants.  Education benefits that qualify as working condition fringes are more flexible than under Code section 127 because there is no dollar limit and a written plan is not required.  Travel and lodging expenses incurred as part of attending courses can also qualify for exclusion.

Senate Tax Reform Legislative Text Clarifies Some Provisions

Earlier today, the Senate Finance Committee released legislative text of its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Up until now, only “conceptual language” had been available.  The text clarifies some of the provisions that we have previously discussed in our posts about the Senate bill (see earlier discussions herehere and here) and includes new information reporting requirements that we have not previously covered:

  • The legislative text would disallow any deduction for meals provided at the convenience of the employer and meals provided in an “employer-operated eating facility.” If the employer chooses to offer food and beverages, they will remain excludable (to the extent currently excludable) from the employee’s income and wages under section 132, but the cost of providing them would not be deductible.  It is somewhat unclear what the effect of the deduction disallowance would be with respect to employer-operated eating facilities that collect sufficient revenue to cover their operating expenses.  Arguably, the provision could result in the employer recognizing revenue for the food and beverages sold to employees in the facility but having no deduction for the costs associated with selling food and beverages.  (Update: Upon further thought, we believe that the employer would not lose the deduction to the extent the employees pay for food and beverages purchased from the employer-operated eating facility because only the value of such food and beverages in excess of the amount paid is excludible from income under Code section 132(e) as a deminis fringe benefit.)  The new total deduction disallowance would be repealed for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2025, provided government revenue exceeds a target during the period 2018 through 2026.  The provision is effective if the cumulative on-budget Federal revenue from all sources for the 2018 through 2026 government fiscal years exceeds $28.387 trillion.
  • As expected, the text would eliminate the exclusion for bicycle commuting reimbursements, but in a surprise, the elimination is only temporary. The bill adds a new Code section 132(f)(8), which suspends the availability of section 132(f)(1)(D) from 2018 through 2025.  The exclusion would become available again in 2026.  This suggests that the Finance Committee’s decision to eliminate this exclusion may be driven more by revenue demands than by policy considerations, as it helps ensure the reconciliation bill meets the revenue target within the budget window.
  • Also as expected, the deduction for moving expenses and the related exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursement were eliminated, but they too are only temporary suspensions. The bill would eliminate the deduction under Code section 217 and the exclusion under Code section 132(a)(6) (with an exception for active duty military moving pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station) from 2018 through 2025.  The exclusion would become available again in 2026.  Revenue demands likely also drove this change.
  • As we discussed in an earlier post, the Senate text makes changes to Code section 162(m) eliminating the exceptions for performance-based pay and commissions to the $1,000,000 deduction limitation for executive remuneration. However, unlike the conceptual language released earlier that contemplated an even broader expansion of the definition of “publicly held corporation,” the Senate text adopts a definition identical to the expanded definition in the House tax reform legislation (discussed here).  The Senate text does not include large private corporations as contemplated by the conceptual language.
  • The Senate text would add a new subsection (l) to Code section 272 that, as expected, eliminates the employer’s deduction for any expense, payment, or reimbursement for providing transportation to an employee in connection with travel between the employee’s work and the employee’s residence. This would eliminate the deduction for qualified transportation fringes, including van pool expenses, transit passes, parking, and other amounts excluded from the employee’s income under Code section 132(f).  This would seem likely to reduce the popularity of pre-tax transit programs under which employees elect to forgo taxable compensation in exchange for transit benefits, because the employer loses a deduction for compensation expenses that it would otherwise be entitled to as a result of the employee’s election to receive some of his or her compensation in the form of transit benefits.  The provision, as we speculated in an earlier post, does not carve out transportation reimbursements taxable to the employee.  For example, if an employee lives away from his tax home (i.e., his or her place of principal employment), the bill appears to disallow the compensation deduction if the employer elects to pay the employee for transportation costs between the employee’s residence and the office even though such amount is taxable to the employee.
  • As described in the Finance Committee’s conceptual language, the legislative text would adopt a new Code section 6050X. The language would require government agencies (or entities treated as government agencies) to report to the IRS and taxpayer on a new information return the amount of each settlement agreement or order entered into where the aggregate amount required that the government required or directed to be paid or incurred exceeds a threshold ($600, in the statute, but subject to adjustment by the Treasury).  The return must identify any amounts that are for restitution or remediation of property or correction of noncompliance, which are deductible, unlike fines and penalties paid under the agreement.
  • As also described in the Finance Committee’s conceptual language, the legislative text would also adopt a new Code section 6050Y that would create a new information reporting requirement for certain life insurance contract transactions. This includes: (a) a return filed and furnished by every person who acquires a life insurance contract or any interest in a life insurance contract in a reportable policy sale; (b) a return filed and furnished by each issuer of a life insurance contract upon notice of a transaction reported under (a); and (c) a return filed and furnished by every payor of reportable death benefits.  A reportable policy sale is generally the acquisition of an interest in a life insurance contract, directly or indirectly, if the acquirer has no substantial family, business, or financial relationship with the insured.  A reportable death benefit is an amount paid by reason of death of the insured under a life insurance contract that was transferred in a reportable policy sale.  The buyer must file the return required under (a) with the IRS and furnish copies of the return to the insurance company that issued the contract and the seller.  The insurance company that bears the risk with respect to a life insurance contract that receives a copy of a return required under (a) must file the return required under (b) with the IRS and furnish a copy of the return to the seller.  The payor insurance company   must file the return required under (c) with the IRS and furnish a copy of the return to the payee.  The reporting requirements would apply for reportable death benefits paid and reportable policy sales after December 31, 2017.
  • The Senate text would also adopt a new Code section 6050Z imposing three new information reporting requirements. The first would require taxpayers making research and experimental expenditures (as defined in Code section 174) to file an information return reporting the aggregate amount of such expenditures.  The second would require taxpayers making payments to a foreign person that is a related party (within the meaning of Code section 59A) to report the amount of such payments by type and any amount paid that results in a reduction of gross receipts to the taxpayer.  The third would require taxpayers that receive foreign-derived intangible income to file an information return that includes the aggregate amount of such income, the amount of foreign-derived deduction eligible income (as defined in section 250(b)(4)), and a certification that any foreign-derived deduction eligible income does not relate to the sale of products for any use, consumption, or disposition within the United States.  The text would impose a penalty of $1,000 per day up to $250,000 under Code section 6652(q) for failure to comply with these requirements.  The reporting requirements would be effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2024; however, it only takes effect (along with the associated changes to various deduction provisions) provided government revenue exceeds a target during the period 2018 through 2026.  The provision is effective if the cumulative on-budget Federal revenue from all sources for the 2018 through 2026 government fiscal years exceeds $28.387 trillion.

Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part IV – Changes to the Section 162(m) Deduction Limitation for Executive Compensation

November 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Legislation, Tax Reform

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 Part III, we discussed the Bill’s potential impact on various retirement provisions.  In this Part IV of the series, we address proposed changes to the deduction limitation for executive compensation under Code section 162(m).

Currently, Code section 162 allows as a deduction all ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.   This includes a deduction for reasonable compensation for personal services actually rendered.   However, Code section 162(m) limits the deduction of any publicly held corporation with respect to compensation paid to a “covered employee” to $1 million.   However, certain types of compensation—such as qualified performance-based compensation and commissions—are not subject to the deduction limitation.  Covered employees are defined to include the chief executive officer (“CEO”), as of the close of the taxable year and the officers whose compensation is required to be reported to shareholders by reason of being among the three most highly compensated officers for the taxable year (other than the CEO).

Section 3802 of the Bill would amend section 162(m) in three key ways: (1) it would eliminate the exceptions for qualified performance-based pay and commissions; (2) it would extend the deduction disallowance to a broader array of companies; and (3) it would amend the definition of covered employee to more closely align with current SEC disclosure requirements and make covered employee status permanent.

Repeal of Exceptions to Deduction Limitation.  Many public companies pay covered employees primarily in the form of performance-based compensation to avoid the effect of the deduction limitation.  This exception applies to many forms of equity-based compensation— most stock options, stock appreciation rights, restricted stock, and restricted stock units—and many annual and long-term cash incentive compensation plans.  The Bill would repeal Code sections 162(m)(4)(B) and (C), removing the exceptions for performance-based compensation and commissions.  It is unclear whether the repeal of the performance-based pay exception will reverse the trend toward performance-based compensation, given that many shareholders and shareholder advocates believe that performance-based compensation can align shareholder and executive interests.

Expansion of Deduction Limitation to Additional Corporations.  Currently, the deduction limitation applies only to corporations that issue a class of common equity securities required to be registered under section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “’34 Act”).  The Bill would amend Code section 162(m)(2) to apply the limitation to any corporation that is an issuer under section 3 of the ’34 Act that (1) has a class of securities registered under section 12 of the ’34 Act or (2) is required to file reports under section 15(d) of the ’34 Act.  This would extend the deduction limitation to corporations beyond those with publicly traded equity securities to include those are required to file reports solely because they issue public debt.

Change to the Definition of Covered Employee.  Code section 162(m)(3) defines covered employee to include the CEO (or the individual acting in such capacity) as of the last day of the tax year and the four officers whose compensation is required to be disclosed to shareholders because the officer is one of the four most highly compensated officers for the tax year.  However, because of a change to the cross-referenced section of the ’34 Act, the IRS interpreted the limitation as applying to only the principal executive officer (generally, the CEO) and the three most highly compensated officers other than the CEO and CFO in Notice 2007-49.  Compensation paid to the CFO was not subject to the deduction limitation regardless of how much he or she was paid.

The Bill would amend the definition of covered employee to align it more closely with current SEC disclosure rules.  Under the Bill, covered employees would include employees who, at any time during the tax year, were the principal executive officer or principal financial officer, and the three officers whose compensation is required to be disclosed to shareholders because they are the three most highly compensated officers during the tax year (other than the principal executive officer).  As a result, the deduction limitation could apply to a variable number officers for any given tax year depending upon whether more than one individual serves as either the principal executive officer or principal financial officer during the tax year and whether the principal financial officer is among the three most highly compensated officers during the tax year.

The Bill would also add a third category of covered employee: individuals who were covered employees of the employer (or any predecessor) for any preceding tax year beginning after December 31, 2016.  Accordingly, the Bill has the effect of making covered-employee status permanent.  Under current law, employees (and former employees) who are no longer officers of the employer as of the last day of the tax year are not covered employees.  As such, the deduction for compensation that is deferred until a date after the employee is no longer a covered employee is not subject to the limitation under Code section 162(m).  The Bill would eliminate this strategy for avoiding the deduction limitation.  Moreover, the Bill specifies that covered-employee remuneration that is includible in the income of, or paid to, someone other than a covered employee, such as a beneficiary of a covered employee after the covered employee’s death, remains subject to the deduction limitation.  Given the changes to the taxation of nonqualified deferred compensation in the Bill (and discussed in Part III of our series), the utility of this strategy for avoiding the deduction limitation would have been greatly reduced even without this amendment.

The amendments to Code section 162(m) would be effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.