Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Whether or not the IRS will allow a deduction for year-end bonuses for services performed during that year depends not only on the timing of the payment, but also the events surrounding the payment. If your business is planning to provide year-end bonuses to employees, you may find the following tax tips useful in your planning.

The “All Events” test

Code Sec. 461(a) provides that the amount of any deduction for employee bonuses must be taken for the proper tax year as determined under the method of accounting the taxpayer uses to compute taxable income. (The two most common methods are the cash method and the accrual method, the latter of which allows taxpayers to include income items when earned and claim deductions when expenses are incurred.)

Under the accrual method of accounting, the three-prong “All events” test is used to determine the tax year in which a liability-in this case the year-end employee bonuses—is incurred. The prongs are:

  • Have all the events have occurred that establish the fact of the liability?
  • Can the amount of the liability be determined with reasonable accuracy?
  • Has economic performance occurred for the liability?

Approval and retention provisions

Some year-end bonus plans are structured with certain conditions attached to payment. For example, some bonus plans provide that payment cannot occur until formally approved. In such cases, the fact of the liability may not be established, and the employer may need to wait a year before being able to deduct the bonus amount.

Other plans specify that bonus payments cannot be made if an employee has left employment at year-end. In this case as well, questions arise as to whether liability for the bonuses has been fixed at the end of the year in which the employee’s services were performed.

Deferred compensation

Generally, Code Sec. 404 states that, an employer may not deduct deferred compensation paid to an employee until the employee includes it in income. However, a bonus received within a 2 1/2-month period after the end of the tax year in which the employee has rendered its services is not considered deferred compensation. The employer should be able to claim a tax deduction for the bonus in the tax year during which the services were rendered provided that the liability meets the all events test. If the employee receives the deferred amount more than 2 1/2 months after the close of the employer’s taxable year, the payment is presumed to have been made under a deferred compensation plan.

If you think you might be interested in structuring a year-end bonus plan specific to your business, please feel free to contact this office at (908) 725-4414 for an appointment.

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