Tax collection is the agency’s business, but in some cases it’s not worth the effort. These are some of the taxable benefits the IRS ignores.
I saw a penny under my car this morning, but I didn’t fall to the ground and crawl in the dirt to get it. Some things just aren’t worth the trouble. That’s the concept here.
Some benefits, while taxable under the Internal Revenue Code, just aren’t worth the trouble for the Internal Revenue Service to collect the taxes on them. The legal term is de minimus — too small to matter. Here are seven of my favorites:
1. Employee meal reimbursements
The next time your boss asks you to work overtime, ask him to feed you dinner or at least give you the cash to buy your own. The cost of the meal is deductible by the employer and excluded from your income. To escape taxation, the cost of the meal must be reasonable, and meals must be only occasional, not routine.
Regularly provided meal money doesn’t qualify and is taxed as additional compensation. So, too, is meal money calculated on the basis of hours worked — such as $5 per hour for each hour worked over eight hours daily. Meal money provided as part of a company policy or union contract also is taxed.
If it’s part of a company policy, it becomes routine and fails the occasional basis test.
2. Employee discounts
When I taught at universities, I could take other college courses at a discount and sometimes even for free. Work in a department store and you might save 10% on anything you buy. Employed by a child care center? You might be able to enroll your children at a reduced rate. The value of these employee discounts escapes taxation so long as the discount is on a product or service normally offered to the public by the employer and:
● For products, the discount is limited to the profit normally earned by the employer. So if a product’s normal price is $100 and the employer usually makes 30%, the excluded discount is limited to $30.
● For services, the discount is limited to 20% of the price paid by the public.
3. Employee group meals
To encourage team spirit and cooperation, companies often sponsor employee picnics or other group meals. These activities really aren’t gifts because they aren’t made with detached and disinterested generosity. Your employer wants to get business benefits from the activity. They’re really additional compensation.
But, because of the difficulty in administrating and valuing these activities, the IRS choses to allow them to escape taxation.
4. Theater or sports tickets
As long as the grant is not routine, the value of theater or sporting-event tickets you get from your employer is considered occasional and is not subject to tax. The IRS simply lacks the resources to track this additional income. Now you can really enjoy the show.
5. Coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks and more
For some businesses, the water cooler has been expanded to include coffee, tea, candy, doughnuts, soft drinks, energy bars, etc. It’s a surprise that anybody needs to go out for lunch nowadays. To help you relax even more, the value of these mood enhancers is excluded from taxation.
The value of flowers and fruit provided by your employer for special occasions also doesn’t add to your income. That should add to your cheer!
6. Phone use
While few admit it, almost all employees who can use their employer’s phones do so for personal as well as business reasons. This benefit is not subject to tax.
The IRS previously had required recordkeeping of personal versus business use for employer-provided cellphones. The removal of this requirement simplifies life for all involved.
What’s a holiday meal without an employer-provided turkey, ham or goose? Its value could be taxable if the IRS chose to be foul. Fortunately, the agency recognizes the administrative nightmare this could create and has elected to ignore this benefit.