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Archive for the ‘Proposed tax changes’ Category

FAQ: What are current amounts of employer-provided tax-free transit benefits?

Transit IncentivesTransit incentives are a popular transportation fringe benefit for many employees. Although the costs of commuting to and from work are not tax-deductible (except in certain relatively rare cases), transportation fringe benefits help to offset some of the costs, including the expenses of riding mass transit or taking a van pool to work. Under current law, the value of qualified transportation fringe benefits provided to an employee is excluded from the employee’s gross income and wages for income and payroll tax purposes.

Qualified benefits

Only certain transit benefits qualify for this special tax treatment. They are:

  • Transportation in a commuter highway vehicle if the transportation is in connection with travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment (for example, van pooling),
  • Transit passes,
  • Qualified parking, and
  • Qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements.

Employers have some latitude regarding which, if any, transit benefits they want to offer. An employer may simultaneously provide an employee with any one or more of the first three qualified transportation fringes. However, an employee may not exclude a bicycle commuting reimbursement for any month in which he or she receives any of the other incentives.

Excluded from gross income

As long as the amount of the transit pass, qualified parking or other benefit does not exceed the statutory monthly limits, the amounts are not wages for purposes of Social Security and Medicare, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), and federal income tax withholding. However, if the amounts do exceed the statutory limits, the excess must be included in the employee’s gross income.

Amounts

For 2014, the maximum that may be excluded is $250 per month for qualified parking, but only $130 for transit passes and van pooling. The exclusion for qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement is limited to a per employee limitation of $20 per month multiplied by the number of qualified bicycle commuting months during the calendar year.

At the end of 2013, the monthly cap on the transit passes and van pools of the commuter benefit dropped to $130 per month-from $240 per month-because transit benefits parity expired. The amount of qualified parking, however, increased to $250 per month, from $240 per month, because of an adjustment for inflation required under the Tax Code.

Pending legislation

Parity could be restored and made retroactive to January 1, 2014. In April, the Senate Finance Committee approved the EXPIRE Act, which would restore parity by increasing the transit pass and van pool benefits to $250 per month – the same amount as parking. The EXPIRE Act is not a permanent fix. The bill would extend parity through the end of 2015. On January 1, 2016, parity would again expire.

The EXPIRE Act also includes special treatment for bikeshare costs. In 2013, the IRS announced that bikeshare arrangements would not be treated as a transportation fringe benefit unless Congress makes them so. The EXPIRE Act modifies the definition of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement to include expenses associated with the use of a bikesharing arrangement.

Both the House and Senate must pass legislation in order to extend transit benefits parity. At this time, transit benefits parity has not moved in the House. One deterrent is the cost of extending parity. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a two-year extension of parity (through 2015) would cost $180 million over 10 years.

Retroactive extension

Retroactive extension of transit benefit parity would create some administrative challenges for employers. The last time there was a retroactive extension, the IRS provided special guidance to employers on how to account for the retroactive change when filing employment tax returns and Forms W-2. The IRS would likely do the same if there is a retroactive extension of transit benefit parity to January 1, 2014.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about transportation fringe benefits. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Congress juggles immediate and long-term tax issues

Nearly half-way into the year, tax legislation has been hotly debated in Congress but lawmakers have failed to move many bills. Only one bill, legislation to make permanent the research tax credit, has been approved by the House; its fate in the Senate still remains uncertain. Other bills, including legislation to extend many of the now-expired extenders before the 2015 filing season, have stalled. Tax measures could also be attached to other bills, especially as the days wind down to Congress’ August recess.

Tax extenders

Legislation to extend nearly all of the extenders seemed to be almost assured of passage in the Senate after the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) approved the EXPIRE Act in April. The EXPIRE Act would extend through 2015 many of the popular but temporary tax incentives, including the higher education tuition deduction, the state and local sales tax deduction, the deduction for mortgage premiums, research tax credit, Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), and more. In May, the EXPIRE Act became bogged down in procedural votes in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans could not agree whether amendments would be allowed and if so, how many amendments.

In the meantime, individual lawmakers have introduced bills to extend some of the extenders. The bills must be referred to committees (the SFC or the House Ways and Means Committee) for action. Committee chairs ultimately determine if the bills will be brought before the committee. SFC Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has signaled that the EXPIRE Act is likely his best attempt to move an extenders bill. Wyden has also said that he will not promote another extenders bill after 2015 (hence the name, EXPIRE Act). Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp, R-Mich., has largely kept the committee’s focus on the proposals outlined in his proposed Tax Reform Act of 2014.

Lawmakers have roughly eight weeks before their month-long August recess to act on the extenders. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Research tax credit

The research tax credit is a very popular business tax incentive. Its popularity has pushed it to the front of the line in the House for renewal. One drawback is the credit’s cost: estimated at $155 billion over 10 years.

In May, the House approved the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014. The bill attracted support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill makes permanent and enhances the research tax credit. The bill is not offset, which is a stumbling block to winning support from Senate Democrats. In fact, President Obama has said he would veto the bill in its present form if it reaches his desk. There is a possibility, albeit slight, that the Senate could pass its own version of the research tax credit and the House and Senate would try to reach a compromise in conference.

Corporate taxation

President Obama, lawmakers from both parties and many taxpayers agree that the U.S. corporate tax rate should be reduced. They disagree on how to pay, or if to offset, any reduction. President Obama continues to promote the elimination of some business tax preferences, particularly tax incentives for oil, gas and fossil fuel producers, as the way to pay for a corporate tax rate cut. The President also has called for using some of the revenues to fund road and bridge construction.

Democrats in the House and Senate have also honed in on so-called “corporate inversions.” These occur when U.S. companies merge with foreign ones for tax purposes. The merged entity is often located in a low-tax jurisdiction, such as Ireland with a corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent, compared to the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent. House and Senate Democrats have introduced companion bills (Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014) to curb these mergers. Under current law, a corporate inversion will not be respected for U.S. tax purposes if 80 percent or more of the new combined corporation (incorporated offshore) is owned by historic shareholders of the U.S. corporation. The bill would reduce the threshold to 50 percent. House and Senate Republicans are not expected to support the bill.

Other bills

On July 1, the interest rate on federal subsidized Stafford loans is set to increase from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Legislation introduced in the Senate, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, would provide a one-year “fix” by setting the rate at the primary interest rate offered through the Federal Reserve discount window. The bill would be paid for by the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which generally would disallow certain tax preferences to higher income individuals. Along with the student loan bill, lawmakers have on their agenda legislation to renew federal highway spending, as discussed above. A final highway bill with tax-related provisions could be approved before the August recess. Some lawmakers have proposed a hike in the federal gasoline tax but it is unlikely to be approved.

If you have any questions about how these changes may impact your tax situation, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.