Enacting Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(7) through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017, Congress moved into the uncharted territory of taxing nonprofit organizations through the taxation of expenses associated with providing qualified transportation fringe benefits to employees. Seeing this as an equalizer to removing the deduction for the same benefits from for-profit employers, law makers determined having all employers pay the tax on the fringe benefits would be preferential to taxing the employees on the benefits.
The resulting outcry was enormous especially when both the IRS and the Joint Committee on Taxation made it clear that the "taxable" expenses would include expenses associated with an employer provided parking lot even when the parking represented little or no real value to the employee. Creating a tremendous record keeping burden as well as a tax burden, the outcry from the nonprofit community was swift and loud.
As early as the summer of 2018, there were bills prepared and presented in both houses of Congress repealing the offensive provision. In the fall of 2018, President Trump announced he would sign legislation repealing the provision, but with the election looming, no action could be achieved from Congress. As 2019 progressed, it became clear sufficient support to remove the offensive provision existed, if it could just be included in legislation that Congress could agree to pass. The mission was accomplished on December 20th when President Trump signed the appropriations bill including the provision to remove Code Section 512(a)(7). The tax provision is not only ended, it is as if it never was. Nonprofit organizations who complied with the tax reporting should look for IRS guidance on how to obtain refunds of previously paid taxes associated with qualified transportation fringe benefits.
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Enacted in 2006 and made permanent as of 2014, Congress provided a vehicle for owners of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to make charitable contributions without creating adverse tax consequences through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). With the increase in the standard deduction in 2018 and fewer individuals claiming itemized deductions, more charities are receiving contributions from IRAs.
Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)
A QCD is a distribution(s):
- coming from any type of IRA, including a Roth IRA, but does not include an IRA utilized in a SEP IRA or a SIMPLE IRA while the participant is still an active participant in the plan;
- made directly by the IRA trustee to a Code Section 170(b)(1)(A) charitable organization. This would include most organizations exempt under IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations with the exception of an organization classified as a supporting organization under 509(a)(3). There is also a prohibition against contributing the funds to a donor advised fund;
- that is entirely deductible as a charitable contribution under Code Sec. 170 other than any potential percentage limit imposed by Code Sec. 170(b). There cannot be a benefit given in exchange for the contribution creating a quid pro quo contribution;
- documented with a contribution receipt meeting the substantiation requirements of Code Sec. 170(f)(8) (among other requirements, this means the contribution receipt contains the required "no goods or services" statement);
- made after the IRA owner turns 70 1/2; and
- not exceeding $100,000 per year for the IRA owner.
Benefits to the IRA owner:
- The amount of the QCD is not included in the taxable income of the IRA owner and the owner is not entitled to a charitable contribution for the QCD. Since not all taxpayers benefit from charitable contributions, an adverse tax consequence may be created if the owner of an IRA receives an IRA distribution and subsequently makes a contribution of an equal amount to a qualifying charity. The QCD avoids this consequence since it moves the funds directly to the charity without moving through the separate accounts of the IRA owner.
- IRA owners are required to receive minimum distributions (RMD) from their IRAs after they are 70 1/2. Many taxpayers may not desire to receive the minimum distribution and may not have need of the funds. The amount of a QCD may be applied to the RMD and assist in avoiding taxes on the RMD. Therefore, older taxpayers may be able to meet their own personal giving goals and minimize unwanted tax consequences of a RMD.
- A QCD may also be made from an inherited IRA as long as the beneficiary has attained age 70 1/2.
Responsibilities of the Recipient Charity
While most of the rules associated with these distribution/contributions fall to the IRA owner, recipient charities must assist the donor/IRA owner in complying with two important aspects of the QCD.
The recipient charity should confirm it is a qualifying charity and it must issue a qualifying charitable receipt according to the requirements of Code Sec. 170(f). Due to the unique tax structure surrounding these transactions, charities should not add these donations to donor records and allow the gifts to be reported on a donor's regular contribution receipt issued at the end of the year. These contributions must be receipted separately from a donor's other contributions to a charity.
The following is a sample of the donor letter that may be used to receipt a QCD:
Dear [Name of Donor],
Thank you for your charitable gift of $_____________ to [name of church or charity] from your individual retirement account (IRA). We received your gift on ________________ directly from [Name of IRA Administrator/Trustee] This acknowledges that we have received your gift from your IRA and that it is your intention for all or a portion of the gift to qualify as a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your IRA under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 408(d)(8).
This letter confirms the receipt of the donation and that [name of church or charity] is a qualified public charity under IRC Section 170(b)(1)(A) and that your donation has not been transferred to either a donor advised fund or a supporting organization defined in IRC Section 509(a)(3). We further confirm that no goods or services have been provided in exchange for the donation. (Churches should also include "other than intangible religious benefits" in the statement).
While your gift may be applied to any pledge or commitment you have made to [Name of church or charity], the QCD is not a tax deductible charitable gift. The gift will not be included on any other charitable contribution receipt issued (or if included on any receipt, it will be listed as a nondeductible donation.) A QCD may count towards your annual IRA required minimum distribution (RMD) and not deemed taxable income. Please consult with your tax adviser regarding these unique rules.
Thank you for your generous support of [name of church or charity].
There is not a penalty to a recipient charity for failing to assist the donor/IRA owner with an appropriate receipt. However, failure to issue the receipt results in the distribution failing to qualify as a QCD and creates a taxable distribution to the donor/IRA owner.
Qualified charitable distributions create a wonderful avenue for donors to support their favorite charities, manage their required minimum distributions from their IRAs and minimize the tax consequences associated with these funds.
Monday, March 18, 2019
Meeting the Ever Increasing Need
What Is Benevolence
Benevolence is the desire to do good to others, an act of kindness; or a charitable gift. In churches and other nonprofits, a benevolence program is a program established to identify and meet the needs of individuals that they cannot meet themselves. While it is most commonly considered in light of finances, any program that meets this definition is a benevolence program. For example, even a organization providing meals is operating a benevolence program. However, no matter the method of meeting a “need”, there are financial considerations involved.
The Concept of a Charitable Class
There is a tax concept in the world of nonprofits known as “charitable class”. If a program serves no charitable class, then it more than likely does not meet the test for being a proper exempt purpose program. Those who are “poor and distressed or underprivileged” constitute a charitable class. Therefore charitable purposes or exempt purposes include the relief of the poor and distressed. However, the charitable class defined must be of either an indefinite or sufficient size to avoid benefiting private interests. For example in PLR 201205011 a nonprofit was denied exemption because it was formed to aid children with special needs, but they were all of the same family.
Qualifying for Benevolence
There are two facets requiring scrutiny in operating a benevolence program. The IRS generally states that an acceptable benevolence can be granted to 1) meet a need and 2) that need cannot be met by the recipient from resources currently available to them.
Determining need requires determining a necessity missing in a person's life. Necessities normally include items such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and health care. Determining available resources requires inquiries into why a person can't meed the "need" or provide the "necessity" out of resources already available to them. For example, after 9/11 many people had resources that were not available for use to meet basic needs. Therefore, even though someone has financial resources, if they are not available for use, they may still qualify for assistance.
Structure of a Benevolence Program
The key to operating a successful benevolence program is in constructing the program. The more structure provided to the program, the more successful it will be and the easier it is to operate the program. For a program to not threaten the exempt status of the organization/church, it must operate according to a formal structure. (Church in Boston, 71 T.C. 102 & PLR 201235022)
Successful programs contain these aspects:
- A method of verifying the person is a member of a valid charitable class, i.e., that they have a need and it cannot be met out of their currently available resources. This generally requires an application besides a potential interview with the applicant. The documentation will:
- support the church’s decision to make the payment;
- prove that the payment is within the guidelines established by the church; and
- prove that the payment fulfills the church’s exempt purposes.
- .A set of guidelines provides staff with the tools to operate the plan. Common items addressed in the guidelines or the policy include:
- Who has the authority to approve a request at various dollar thresholds;
- What types of needs will be considered;
- What type of third party confirmation is needed to confirm the existence of the need;
- What proof of other resources is required;
- Who is the targeted group to be considered; i.e., is it just church members; is it active church members or just members? CAUTION: Do not link approval of a benevolence request to a person’s tithing records;
- Determination of situations that disqualify an applicant;
- The actions an applicant must take to secure the assistance;
- How will the need be met, i.e. payments to requester or payments be made directly to a third party benefiting the requester;
- How will requests for multiple requests be handled;
- How will requests from employees and their family members be handled; and
- The process for making the requests.
- A manner of reviewing the above information by persons independent or disinterested from the person making the request.
While most benevolence plans deal primarily with short term needs, plans must exist to deal with circumstances presenting long term needs. People encounter extended illnesses prohibiting them from working and providing for their families or a single parent struggles to support their family even though she/he is gainfully employed. Long term situations should be cautiously supported by an organization taking these steps:
- Have the appropriate committee approve the situation;
- Perform regular reevaluations of the situation to document that the need continues to exist; and
- Assist the recipient in exploring other sources to meet a continued need.
Designated GiftsIt is not acceptable for an organization to accept contributions earmarked for an individual, even when a need is justifiable. An organization, including a church, may not solicit funds for a specific person. An organization may solicit for additional funds to increase its overall benevolence funds and provide funds in response to an unusual need. However, it must be clearly conveyed to donors that the organization is the one making the final determination as to the amount of assistance that any recipient will receive.
An organization should have a practice that consistently states that any designation by a donor is a “suggestion” and the final use of all funds is at the discretion of the governing body; i.,e., the finance committee, board of directors, elders, etc.
Internal Revenue Code Section 102 specifically states that gifts are not taxable. The exclusion provided in Section 102 allows benevolence to not be taxable to recipients. However, the exclusion is not available to amounts provided to employees. There are several considerations when working with benevolence related to employees.
- Regular Employees - Benevolence assistance provided to an employee should be approved as additional income. Consideration must be given to confirm that the total compensation paid to an employee is always reasonable.
- Employees Considered as Disqualified Persons under IRC Section 4958 – These are employees who are in positions of control and authority. All of their income must be reasonable” and “approved in writing”, so it is imperative that any additional payments to this group of employees be carefully documented. Failure to follow the correct procedures could cause the assessment of intermediate section ranging from 25% to 200% of the assistance to the disqualified person. Benevolence payments to this group should be made only after great care, consideration and approvals.
- Family Members of Employees – In general benevolence to family members of employees is considered income to the employee, if the employee is responsible for the care of the family member. Sometimes the relationship may not trigger income to the employee as long as the employee is not a disqualified person.
- Family Members of Disqualified Persons – Family members of disqualified persons should never be provided assistance unless the same procedures are followed as in the case of the payment of compensation or benevolence to the disqualified person. member, then he/she may not use the church to fulfill their moral and/or legal obligation. Failure to follow the correct procedures could cause the assessment of intermediate section ranging from 25% to 200% of the assistance to the disqualified person.
While operating benevolence or assistance programs is a natural activity of many types of nonprofit organizations and most churches, it is necessary the programs operate in compliance with all the rules applicable to nonprofit organizations. Operating a program that cannot justify its assistance fulfills its charitable purposes creates a threat to the organization's tax exempt status.
Monday, February 11, 2019
Building the Basic Foundation - Part 2
Building off the first four blocks of compensation planning discussed in my post of February 4, 2019, we continue our discussion with a look at the last four basic blocks in compensation planning.
Building Block #5 – Identify What Is or Can Be Provided
Many nonprofit organizations do not take the time to inventory benefits provided to employees or benefits that may easily be provided. Compensation is more than just an employee's paycheck. An organization must think broader than just the amounts in the paycheck. Often there are noncash benefits provided or that can be provided. For example, dependent care provided through a nonprofit's daycare operation is a noncash benefit. Other benefit opportunities are available through the establishment of benefits plans, such as an educational assistance plans to provide for employees’ extended education and training, or through benefit plans available offered by national organizations, such as church denominational programs. The benefits provided or considered should assist an organization in meeting its goals defined in building block #4.
Building Block #6 – Valuation of What is Provided to Employees
Since compensation is often related to the paycheck, it is easy for nonprofit organizations to forget to value other aspects of the compensation package. This oversight may cause organizations to run afoul of the reasonable compensation amounts determined in building block # 3. Organizations may determine an amount of reasonable compensation, but then only compare it to the regular cash salary paid. Reasonable compensation encompasses all of what is provided to employees and not just cash salary. Therefore, value the benefits provided, both the cash and noncash benefit programs. After the valuation has been accomplished, then it's total can be compared to the amount determined as reasonable compensation in building block #3.
Building Block #7 – Write It Down
Failing to document processes, procedures and decisions, is one of the greatest weaknesses in the compensation process performed by nonprofit organizations. One of the first documents requested in an IRS examination are the board minutes for the organization to verify the documentation to the executives’ compensation packages. For religious organizations, a minister’s housing allowance must be documented in writing prior to its being paid to the minister. Documentation of compensation decisions provides authorization for the compensation, including benefits, to be provided to employees. Without documentation, it may be asserted that the compensation was not authorized. Unauthorized compensation may create inurement of benefit, potentially threatening an organization’s exempt status, or creating excess benefit transactions, potentially resulting in excise taxes.
Building Block #8 – Set Up the Payroll Correctly
A few years ago, the IRS instituted a payroll tax compliance initiative and audited 6000 for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The initiative resulted from the IRS’ frustrations that Forms W-2 only reflect the amounts paid through the regular paycheck functions of organizations omitting other taxable benefits provided to employees. When nonprofit organizations are examined by the IRS, significant time and attention is spent reviewing operations for unreported taxable benefits provided to employees. Once building blocks #5 and #6 are a part of the compensation planning process, evaluate the taxation of each element of the compensation package and then appropriately adjust the payroll system to properly report taxable compensation. Taxation of benefits depends on many factors. Great care should be taken to address all the factors regarding the taxation of any specific benefit including any requirements for written plan documents or nondiscrimination requirements.
Compensation planning can be complicated. Organizations should, at a minimum, address the eight factors discussed in these two blog discussions creating policies and procedures to embody the concepts and objectives. There are many excellent resources for compensation planning, and nonprofit organizations have access to more resources than ever before. However, even with available resources, organizations may still struggle getting a compensation structure in place properly. Two resources associated with this author are PPC's Nonprofit Tax and Governance Guide: Helping Organizations Comply available at https://store.tax.thomsonreuters.com/accounting/Audit-and-Accounting/PPCs-Nonprofit-Tax-and-Governance-Guide-Helping-Organizations-Comply/p/100201592 and Christianity Today's Church Compensation: From Strategic Plan to Compliance available at https://store.churchlawandtax.com/church-compensation-from-strategic-plan-to-compliance/.
Monday, February 4, 2019
Building the Basic Foundation - Part 1
Virtually all organizations face a lot of moving parts and pieces in establishing compensation plans for employees, but nonprofit organizations face even more considerations in the planning process. In 2012, this blog presented a series of posts related to compensation planning and covered many of the planning considerations. This presentation summarizes some of the most important aspects of creating a strong foundation for handling compensation processes in organizations of all sizes.
There are eight basic blocks to building a nonprofit organization's foundation for compensation planing. Four of the blocks are presented in this post with the other four presented in a future blog:
Building Block #1 – Define the Decision Makers
Approval of compensation plans is critical for many positions in nonprofit organizations. Therefore, all organizations should know who makes decisions on compensation plans and who approves any changes or unusual transactions during the year.
It isn’t enough to define the decision makers. Consider any potential conflicts of interest that may exist in the decision-making process. For individuals defined as “disqualified persons” under IRC Section 4958, it is critical that the decision makers are independent of the person being compensated.
Building Block #2 – Define the Position
No one enjoys the tasks of creating job descriptions, but a strong job description is a valuable building block in the foundation for compensation planning. Job descriptions should describe the duties to be performed and the criteria and qualifications required of the person holding the position. It is also a good place to define the position for wage and hour rules. For religious organizations, clarify if the position qualifies under the DOL’s ministerial exception or as a minister under the IRS rules and regulations. The job description is the first document requested by either of these regulatory agencies to support these positions. If the position should qualify as ministerial for the IRS, the job description should require ministerial credentials as a part of the position's qualifications.
Building Block #3 – Know the Compensation Limits for a Position
While all organizations should not pay more than “reasonable” compensation, this requirement is even more important in compensation planning for nonprofit organizations. The payment of unreasonable compensation can be cause for the revocation of an organization’s tax-exempt status and/or the assessment of excise taxes against individuals. Reasonable compensation can be determined through salary surveys, comparison with other similar organizations and/or using an outside compensation expert.
Building Block #4 – Determine the Goals of the Compensation Package
Funds in nonprofit organizations are often stretched thin. The result is compensation packages may be below market value for the position and fringe benefit plans may be limited. However, it is important that nonprofit organizations see compensation planning as more than just the paycheck. A nonprofit organization should acknowledge the varied needs of its employees and determine what is important for the organization to provide. Organizations should consider if they desire or intend to provide for benefits such as health benefits, retirement needs, educational programs or dependent care programs.
There are many excellent resources for compensation planning. Nonprofit organizations of all types have access to more resources than ever before. However, even with all of the resources, organizations still struggle getting a compensation structure in place properly. Two publications associated with this author are PPC's Nonprofit Tax and Governance Guide: Helping Organizations Comply available at https://store.tax.thomsonreuters.com/accounting/Audit-and-Accounting/PPCs-Nonprofit-Tax-and-Governance-Guide-Helping-Organizations-Comply/p/100201592 and Christianity Today's Church Compensation: From Strategic Plan to Compliance available at https://store.churchlawandtax.com/church-compensation-from-strategic-plan-to-compliance/.
For the final four building blocks in building a solid foundation for an organization's compensation process see next week's blog.
Monday, January 21, 2019
Does Your Organization Need to Pay the “Parking Lot" Tax?
Insights on new guidance from the IRS.
Concerns and questions arose last year regarding an obscure provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—a provision requiring nonprofit employers pay an unrelated business income tax for expenses associated with qualified transportation fringe benefit plans provided to employees.
Controversy arose surrounding the legislation in regard to its application to parking lots naturally associated with the nonprofit's facilities. Legal and accounting experts differed on how the so-called “parking lot tax” would work, and how the Internal Revenue Service would interpret and implement the new provisions. The uncertainty was eased—albeit temporarily—when interim guidance was issued in late December.
The IRS has provided its initial interpretation of the new law, which may foreshadow its ultimate position when it eventually provides permanent guidance. The good news: many nonprofits, including most churches, will not face this tax. The bad news: some nonprofits and churches will. The guidance provides a four-step process for determining whether your organization’s or church’s parking situation will still trigger this tax.
The Four Steps
In IRS Notice 2018-99, the IRS provided the recommended analysis. The recommended analysis encompasses 4 steps, but many organizations may stop the analysis after the second step.
Determine the number of spaces specifically reserved for the organization's employees. The expenses related to these spaces create unrelated business income.
Example: An organization has 500 parking spaces and designates 50 parking spaces exclusively for employees, then 10 percent of the expenses associated with the parking lot will count as unrelated business income. (For organizations desiring to avoid this automatic potential for taxable income, the IRS is allowing employers to remove the reserved space designation as late as March 31, 2019, and the IRS will consider it retroactive to January 1, 2018.)
Determine the spaces not specifically reserved for any staff members. If at least 51 percent of the remaining spaces in the parking lot are available to the general public, then all the remaining spaces are considered as utilized for the general public. Expenses related to those spaces do not create unrelated business income. For churches, the spaces available to their attendees are classified as general public use, even if they are unoccupied most of the time.
Example: A museum has 400 parking spaces available in its parking lot. None of the spaces are specifically reserved for any employees, but employees may utilize any of the 400 spaces. An analysis indicates the museum has 100 employees regularly using the parking spaces. The remaining 300 spaces are available for the general public, including the organization’s visitors or members. Since the 300 spaces for general use are at least 51 percent of the total spaces, none of the expenses associated the parking lot are included in unrelated business income.
Example: A church’s denominational offices have a parking lot with 100 parking spaces. Regularly, 75 of the spaces are utilized for the denomination’s employees. The remaining 25 of the spaces are available for the few visitors that may come to the denomination’s offices. Since more than 50% of the parking spaces are used by employees, a portion of the expenses associated with the parking lot are included in unrelated business income and the organization must proceed to Step 3 of the process.
If it is determined in Step 2 that the parking spaces are not primarily used for the general public, then determine the number of spaces specifically reserved for non-employee use. For example, reserved non-employee spaces include spaces reserved for visitors and customers. The expenses related to these spaces do not create unrelated business income.
Example: The denominational offices have a parking lot with 100 parking spaces, and it has 10 spaces that are specifically reserved for visitors and are not available to employees. When the expenses are analyzed, 10 percent (10/100) may be excluded from unrelated business income.
If it is determined in Step 2 that the parking spaces are not primarily used for the general public, then it must be determined what expenses will be allocated to the employee spaces. The organization may use an actual number of spaces and number of days the employees use the parking spaces, or it may adopt any reasonable method to determine this usage on a typical day. The employee usage is multiplied by the actual parking expenses to arrive at the unrelated business income amount.
Example: An organization has 500 parking spaces and regularly has 300 employees utilizing parking spaces. Since this is the typical use of the parking lot, then the organization may treat 60 percent of its total parking expenses as unrelated business income.
A church’s denominational offices are in an office building owned by the organization. The organization’s parking lot has 150 parking spaces. Ten of the spaces are reserved for key staff members. Ten of the spaces are specifically marked for visitors and the remaining spaces are available for employees or other general public use. The denominational office employees 85 people that utilize the parking lot regularly during the normal work week. In 2018, the organization spent $5,000 on general maintenance and upkeep of the parking area.
Step 1: The 10 spaces specifically reserved for the key staff members represent 6.67% of the parking spaces, so $333.50 (6.67% of the $5,000) must be included in unrelated business income.
Step 2: The remaining 140 spaces are analyzed to see if more than 50% are utilized for the general public. 10 spaces are reserved for visitors, so these 10 are used by the “general public”. Of the remaining 130 spaces, 85 spaces (65%) of the spaces are used by employees. Since the employee-use is more than 50% of the spaces, a portion of the remaining parking lot expenses must be included in unrelated business income.
Step 3: Before determining the remaining expenses included in unrelated business income, expenses may be allocated to the parking spots specifically reserved for visitors. There were 10 visitor spaces, so 6.67% or $333.50 of the expenses are allocated to these spaces and are not included in unrelated business income.
Step 4: After allocating expenses to the internally reserved spaces (Step 1) and to the visitor spaces (Step 3), it is determined what expenses are allocated to the employee used spaces. While there may be more difficult or extensive calculations, the easiest is to determine the percentage of the employee used spaces (85) to the total spaces available in the parking lot (150) and allocate 56.67% (85/150) of the expenses to the employee spaces or $2,833.50.
The organization must report as unrelated business income the $2,833.50 (Step 4) plus the $333.50 (Step 1) for a total of $3,166.50 reported on Form 990-T as unrelated business income.
Reporting the Unrelated Business Income
Form 990-T is required if unrelated business income amount is $1,000 or more during the year. The return is due 4 ½ months after the end of the organization/church’s fiscal year. For organizations with a calendar year end, a return is due May 15, 2019 to report taxable expenses incurred in 2018. If a church has another source of unrelated business income, a loss from the other source may be netted against the income created through this provision and reduce the tax due.
Many organizations may discover they have an expected filing obligation. The IRS’ interpretation took unexpected turns and created an analysis not anticipated by most tax professionals. Even as this information is presented, there are actions underway to repeal the provision. However, despite broad bi-partisan support, the repeal has not occurred. Organizations should plan to perform the above analysis and timely file Form 990-T until a repeal of the law is finalized.
My thanks to Frank Sommerville, JD/CPA for his contribution to this blog post, as it represents our combined efforts to sort through and analyze the requirements of this new provision. The above information is adapted from an article that first appeared on Christianity Today’s ChurchLawAndTax.com. Used with permission. Frank and Elaine Sommerville both serve as editorial advisors for ChurchLawAndTax.com. Elaine is also the author of Church Compensation: From Strategic Plan to Compliance (2018, Christianity Today).
Monday, April 9, 2018
Unrelated Business Income - More Than Income These Days
The tax-exempt community has long been immune from many of the tax provisions meant to raise tax revenue from the business community by determining certain expenses are not tax deductible. For example, businesses may deduct only 50% of the amount spent on business meals and certain expenses for business autos may be limited. Since tax-exempt entities do not calculate tax on their regular operations, these rules have never affected them.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the Act) provides lower tax rates on business activities, but it also reduces several deductions for various business expenses. One of the deduction eliminated by the Act is the elimination of deductions for expenses paid by an employer for qualified transportation fringe benefits provided to employees.
Qualified transportation fringe benefits, defined by Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 132(f), include:
- Commuter transportation in a commuter vehicle;
- Transit passes;
- Qualified parking at regular work facilities; and
- Qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.
Prior law allowed these benefits to be provided to employees, within certain limitations, tax-free and allowed the employer to deduct the costs of the benefit. Therefore, the benefits were a win-win for the employer and the employee. The Act still allows for an employer to provide the benefits to employees tax-free, but the employer may no longer deduct the cost of the benefit for federal income tax purposes. (Since most state tax laws follow federal tax law, the expenses are also not deductible for state income tax purposes.)
How does this affect the tax-exempt community? The Act also enacts a new provision for unrelated business taxable income creating a taxable event when a tax-exempt employer pays these same expenses for its employees. Since other employers will pay tax on the costs of the benefits through the disallowance of the deduction for the benefit, the tax-exempt employers will join them in paying tax on the costs. IRC Section 512(a)(7) now states that any expenses incurred for qualified transportation fringe benefits and are disallowed by IRC Section 274, will be included in unrelated business taxable income (UBTI). [The provision in IRC Section 512(a)(7) also includes costs associated with on premises athletic facilities, but the Act did not create a corresponding disallowance under IRC Section 274 for these expenses. Therefore, at this time, the costs for on premises athletic facilities are escaping the effect of IRC Section 512(a)(7).]
A church, in a large metropolitan downtown area, has limited parking facilities. Because of limited parking facilities, employees must pay to park in nearby facilities. The church reimburses its 10 ministers for these parking expenses. The parking expenses are $260 per minister, per month, so the full parking reimbursement is a qualified transportation fringe benefit and is excluded from the ministers’ taxable income. (The parking benefit is limited to $260 per month.) Because of the new provisions, the church must file Form 990-T reporting the cost of the benefit, $2,600, as UBTI. After the standard deduction of $1,000 allowed in computing UBTI, the net taxable income is $1,600. The church's tax owed is $336 (calculated at the corporate rate of 21%).
While the provision does not affect most churches, it may affect churches in metropolitan areas providing parking or transit passes to employees. Churches providing these benefits must understand the benefit has limitations on the tax-free amount available to employees and the potential of the benefit to create an income tax and a requirement to file Form 990-T. The new provisions are effective for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017.
The essence of the law requires someone to pay tax on the transportation costs. Therefore, the tax burden may be shifted to employees by opting to include the value of the benefits in employees’ taxable income. Employers, both taxable and tax-exempt, must decide who will bear the new tax burden, the employer or the employee.