IRS Accountable Plan for Clients: Ensuring Compliance and Maximizing Benefits


An IRS accountable plan is a formalized structure designed to help businesses manage employee expense reimbursements for work-related out-of-pocket costs. Under this plan, the reimbursement payments made to employees for valid business expenses are not recognized as taxable income. By having a clearly defined accountable plan, businesses not only streamline their expense management process but also ensure compliance with tax regulations.

To be considered an accountable plan, the policy must meet three critical requirements set by the IRS: it must have a legitimate business purpose, employees must provide expense substantiation in a timely manner, and any excess reimbursement amounts must be returned. As a result, establishing an accountable plan can be highly beneficial for both business owners and their employees since it facilitates an organized and efficient system for expense tracking and reimbursement while also offering tax advantages.

Key Takeaways

  • IRS accountable plans provide a structure for managing business expense reimbursements and offer tax benefits
  • An accountable plan must meet IRS requirements regarding purpose, documentation, and excess reimbursement return
  • Developing and maintaining an accountable plan can benefit businesses and employees by ensuring compliance with tax regulations and streamlining expense management

Understanding the IRS Accountable Plan

An IRS Accountable Plan is a structured reimbursement program designed by businesses to outline company policies related to reimbursable business expenses for employees. It allows employers to reimburse their employees on a non-taxable basis while complying with specific requirements set forth by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Employers must adhere to three main standards to comply with accountable plan rules:

  1. Expenses must have a business connection
  2. Expenses must be substantiated within a reasonable period
  3. Employees must return any excess money not spent to the employer within a reasonable period

These guidelines ensure that reimbursements are made for legitimate business-related out-of-pocket expenses incurred by employees during their work. Additionally, the accountable plan helps maintain a fair business expense management system, essential for both employers and employees.

Under an accountable plan, when employees receive reimbursement for their business expenses, the reimbursement is not considered taxable income. This means that neither employers nor employees are subject to payroll taxes, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Unemployment tax on the reimbursed amounts.

Some common business expenses that can be reimbursed under the accountable plan include:

  • Travel expenses
  • Meals and entertainment
  • Business use of a personal vehicle
  • Office supplies and equipment

It is crucial for businesses to establish a clear and detailed accountable plan to ensure employees are aware of the company’s policies on reimbursable business expenses. Employers should include specific requirements within the plan related to documentation and record-keeping, such as the need for original receipts or invoices to substantiate expenses.

In summary, an IRS accountable plan establishes a framework for companies to reimburse employees for work-related expenses in a compliant and non-taxable manner. By adhering to the regulations set forth by the IRS, businesses can maintain a transparent and organized reimbursement process, benefiting both employers and their employees.

Eligibility and Requirements for Accountable Plans

Employee Eligibility

An employee is eligible for an IRS accountable plan if they fulfill certain criteria. The plan must have a business connection, meaning the expenses must be paid or incurred while performing services as an employee. The employee must also comply with the rules for adequate accounting and return of excess reimbursements to ensure that the accountable plan remains tax compliant.

Expense Substantiation

Under an accountable plan, employees are required to provide adequate documentation for their expenses. Adequate accounting includes:

  1. Proof of the expense: Employees should submit receipts, invoices, or other documents that clearly show the amount and nature of the expense.
  2. Timely submission: The employee must submit the expense documentation within a reasonable period of time, typically 60 days after the expense is incurred.
  3. Detailed information: The submitted documents should clearly indicate the date, amount, and purpose of the expense.

Employees should retain copies of their submitted documentation for their own records.

Returning Excess Reimbursement

An accountable plan requires employees to return any reimbursements that exceed the eligible expenses. The following points outline the steps for addressing excess reimbursements:

  • Identification of excess: If the employee has been reimbursed more than the actual expenses, they must identify the excess amount.
  • Timely return: Employees should return the excess amount to the employer within a reasonable period of time, usually 120 days after receiving the reimbursement.

By adhering to these guidelines, employees and employers can effectively comply with the requirements of an IRS accountable plan, ensuring tax benefits and accurate reimbursements.

Types of Expenses Covered

An IRS accountable plan allows employees to be reimbursed for business-related expenses without having to include those reimbursements as taxable income. The following are some of the expenses that the IRS allows to be covered under an accountable plan.

Travel Expenses

Under an accountable plan, employees can be reimbursed for a variety of travel expenses incurred while conducting business. These may include the costs of flights, lodging, public transportation, rental cars, and taxis. It is essential to maintain accurate records and receipts for any travel-related expenses to ensure that they are eligible for reimbursement.

Home Office and Utilities

If an employee regularly performs work from a dedicated home office space, they may be able to deduct expenses related to the home office and utilities under an accountable plan. This may include expenses such as rent or mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, and utilities. The IRS typically requires that the home office is used exclusively for business purposes, so it’s essential to document the space and its usage clearly.

Mileage and Transportation Costs

Employees can be reimbursed for mileage and transportation costs associated with conducting business. These costs may include:

  • Gasoline expenses
  • Car repairs and maintenance
  • Registration fees
  • Tolls and parking fees

Reimbursement can be done using the standard mileage rate or actual expenses. The standard mileage rate is a fixed amount per mile driven and is periodically updated by the IRS. Actual expenses are the actual costs incurred for operating an employee’s vehicle for business purposes. Both methods require accurate documentation to substantiate the expenses.

Meals and Entertainment

Under an accountable plan, employees may be reimbursed for meals and entertainment expenses incurred during business activities. Some of the accepted expenses include meals during business trips, meals with clients or prospects, and meals at business conventions or meetings. Meal expenses are typically subject to a 50% limitation, meaning that only 50% of the expense can be deducted from your taxable income. For entertainment expenses, the nature of the event, its direct relation to the business, and the reasonableness of the expense should be well-documented to ensure eligibility for reimbursement.

Tax Implications of an Accountable Plan

An accountable plan is a reimbursement arrangement between an employer and an employee or a corporation and its independent contractors. The plan allows for reimbursements of work-related expenses without subjecting the payment to taxes. With an accountable plan, employers are able to reimburse employees for specific expenses, such as travel, car expenses, or other business-related costs, in a tax-efficient manner.

To qualify as an accountable plan according to the IRS, an employer’s reimbursement arrangement must meet three key criteria:

  1. The expenses must have a business purpose. This means that the expenses incurred should be directly related to the employee’s job function.
  2. The employee needs to provide adequate documentation to the employer supporting the expenses. This could include receipts or other proof of the expense.
  3. The employee must return any excess reimbursements within a reasonable time period. This means that if the reimbursement payment exceeds the actual amount of the documented expenses, the employee must return the excess amount to the employer.

When an employer has an accountable plan in place, there are several tax implications for both the employer and employee. For the employer, the reimbursed expenses are deductible as a business expense. This means that the employer can lower its overall income tax liability by the amount of the expenses reimbursed. Employers do not have to report the reimbursements as part of the employee’s wages on their W-2 form, and the reimbursements are not subject to employment taxes, such as Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment taxes.

For the employees, reimbursements made through an accountable plan are generally tax-free. The employees do not need to report these reimbursements as part of their income on their income tax return. By receiving reimbursements via an accountable plan, the employees effectively avoid having to claim a deduction for work-related expenses on their income tax return, simplifying their tax filing process.

In summary, an IRS accountable plan benefits both employers and employees by providing a tax-efficient way to reimburse work-related expenses. The expenses are deductible for the employer, reducing their income tax. For employees, the reimbursements are tax-free, simplifying their income tax returns and not subjecting them to any additional employment taxes.

Nonaccountable Plans: Overview and Differences

A nonaccountable plan is an expense reimbursement arrangement which does not meet all the requirements set by the IRS for an accountable plan. In contrast to an accountable plan, amounts paid under a nonaccountable plan are considered income for the employee and must be included in their wages, with appropriate tax withholdings. This section will detail some key differences between nonaccountable and accountable plans, as well as some specific implications of utilizing a nonaccountable plan.

First, let’s outline some of the requirements an accountable plan must meet, in order to better understand what sets a nonaccountable plan apart:

  1. Expenses must have a business connection (i.e., expenses incurred while performing work-related duties)
  2. Employees must adequately account for their expenses within a reasonable time period
  3. Any excess reimbursements must be returned within a reasonable time period

If a reimbursement plan does not meet all of these criteria, it is considered a nonaccountable plan. This leads to three primary differences between nonaccountable and accountable plans:

  1. Excess reimbursements: In a nonaccountable plan, employees are not required to return excess reimbursements. However, these excess payments are considered taxable income.
  2. Out-of-pocket expenses: Deductions for out-of-pocket (unreimbursed) expenses are limited in a nonaccountable plan. For instance, if an employee is reimbursed under an accountable plan and deducts amounts more than the reimbursement, only 50% of the excess amount can be deducted.
  3. Tax implications: As mentioned earlier, nonaccountable plan payments are treated as wages and included in an employee’s income, thus subject to tax withholdings. In contrast, accountable plan reimbursements are generally not included in an employee’s income and often are not subjected to payroll tax liability for the business.

When it comes to employees’ tax home, the differences in treatment of expenses under accountable and nonaccountable plans can impact the determination of deductible travel expenses. In an accountable plan, reimbursements for travel expenses may not be considered taxable income, whereas in a nonaccountable plan, these reimbursements can be considered wages, thus impacting the tax home calculation.

Documenting and Reporting for Compliance

Recordkeeping Requirements

Proper recordkeeping is a crucial aspect of maintaining compliance with an IRS accountable plan. To ensure that employees’ business expenses are accurately reported and reimbursed, it is essential to maintain adequate records and documentation. Key elements of proper recordkeeping include:

  1. Collecting and storing original receipts for all reimbursable expenses.
  2. Retaining records for a minimum period as required by the IRS (usually 3 years).
  3. Ensuring that records are organized and easily accessible for audits or inquiries.

It is also important to include clear policy guidelines for employees regarding the types of expenses that qualify for reimbursement and the process of substantiating those expenses. This can help prevent any misunderstandings and promote compliance within the organization.

Expense Reporting Best Practices

In addition to proper recordkeeping, it’s essential to establish and follow best practices when it comes to expense reporting. Some recommendations include:

  • Encourage prompt submission of expense reports: Set a deadline for employees to submit their expenses, preferably within a short period after the expenses were incurred. This ensures timely reimbursement and reduces the likelihood of lost or misplaced documentation.
  • Implement a standardized expense reporting process: Having a consistent reporting format can simplify the process for both employees and those responsible for reviewing and approving expense reports.
  • Use tables or electronic reporting systems: Utilize a format that clearly presents the required information, making it easy for reviewers to understand and confirm the expenses. This can include using a table structure or electronic expense reporting software.
    Date Expense Category Amount Notes
    01/20/2024 Car Rental $300 Weekly car rental
    01/22/2024 Meals $50 Client lunch
  • Verify and review submitted expenses: Ensure that someone in the organization is responsible for reviewing and approving expense reports. This person should carefully review all documentation, confirm its accuracy, and verify that it complies with the company’s accountable plan and IRS requirements.

By incorporating these best practices for recordkeeping and expense reporting, you can maintain compliance with IRS regulations, reduce the administrative burden on employees, and ensure that your organization’s accountable plan operates smoothly and effectively.

Special Considerations for Different Business Structures

When implementing an IRS Accountable Plan, it is essential to take into account the unique considerations for various business structures. This section will discuss specific aspects related to Corporations and S Corporations, Partnerships and LLCs, and Self-Employed Individuals.

Corporations and S Corporations

Corporations and S Corporations need to be aware of the rules governing expense reimbursement and deductions concerning their employees. The following points should be kept in mind:

  • Reimbursements: Reimbursements made to employees under an accountable plan are not considered taxable income and do not need to be reported on an employee’s W-2 form.
  • Deductions: Corporations can deduct reimbursed expenses as a business expense, reducing the corporation’s taxable income.
  • Home Office Deduction: Regular corporations cannot claim a home office deduction. However, S Corporation shareholders who work from home may be eligible to claim a home office deduction on their personal tax return (Schedule E).

Partnerships and LLCs

Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) have unique aspects to consider when it comes to IRS accountable plans:

  • Reimbursements: Partners and LLC members receive their reimbursements through guaranteed payments. These payments need to be reported on Schedule K-1 for partners and Schedule E for LLC members.
  • Deductions: The reimbursed expenses can be deducted on Schedule E as a business expense for both partnerships and LLCs.
  • Home Office Deduction: For partnerships and LLCs, partners or LLC members who work from home can claim the home office deduction on their personal tax return (Schedule E).

Self-Employed Individuals

Self-employed individuals must pay special attention to the following factors when implementing an IRS accountable plan:

  • Reimbursements: As self-employed individuals do not receive reimbursements from an employer, their deductible expenses are considered part of their business income and expenses.
  • Deductions: Self-employed individuals can deduct their allowable business expenses on Schedule C, which reduces their self-employment net income and taxable income.
  • Home Office Deduction: Those working from home can claim the home office deduction on Schedule C as well, provided the space is used consistently and exclusively for business purposes.

In conclusion, understanding the special considerations for different business structures can help optimize the implementation of an IRS accountable plan and maximize deductions while remaining in compliance with tax regulations.

Updates on Accountable Plans and Tax Law

Recent IRS Updates

In recent years, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been closely monitoring the use of accountable plans by businesses to ensure proper compliance. Accountable plans, as detailed in Section 62 (c) of the Internal Revenue Code, allow employers to reimburse employees for work-related expenses on a non-taxable basis under certain conditions. These plans must meet the following three standards:

  1. The expenses must have a business connection
  2. The expenses must be substantiated within a reasonable period
  3. The employee must return any excess reimbursement to the employer within a reasonable period

It is crucial for businesses to review their accountable plans regularly and stay informed about updates from the IRS. To avoid complications and possible penalties, companies should ensure their plans remain compliant with the current regulations.

Impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in 2017, modifications to tax laws have affected various areas, including accountable plans and deductions for business expenses. One notable change under the TCJA is the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions for employees, which may impact the tax treatment of certain reimbursed expenses.

As a result, having an accountable plan in place has become even more crucial for employers and employees. By providing non-taxable reimbursements for deductible business expenses, accountable plans offer businesses a way to avoid additional tax burdens for both parties. Employers are also encouraged to review their plans to incorporate changes brought about by the TCJA and to ensure the plans continue to meet IRS requirements.

In summary, staying up-to-date with recent IRS updates and understanding the impact of new tax laws, such as the TCJA, is vital for businesses using accountable plans. Employers should regularly review their plans to maintain compliance with IRS regulations and make adjustments when necessary. By doing so, companies will continue to benefit from tax advantages and provide employees with proper reimbursement for their work-related expenses.

Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes a compliant accountable plan according to IRS guidelines?

A compliant accountable plan according to the IRS guidelines must meet three key requirements: (1) expenses should have a business connection, (2) employees must adequately account to the employer for the expenses, and (3) any excess reimbursements should be returned to the employer within a reasonable period.

How does one establish an accountable plan for expense reimbursements?

To establish an accountable plan for expense reimbursements, the employer needs to draft a written document outlining the policy, including the criteria for reimbursable expenses, the substantiation process, and the timelines for submitting expense reports and returning excess reimbursements.

Can independent contractors under 1099 use an accountable plan, and how?

No, independent contractors under 1099 cannot use an accountable plan. Accountable plans are limited to employer-employee relationships and do not apply to independent contractors, who are required to report their business expenses on Schedule C of their tax return.

What distinguishes an accountable plan from a nonaccountable plan in an S corporation setting?

In an S corporation setting, an accountable plan is a reimbursement arrangement that follows IRS guidelines, allowing employees to receive reimbursements tax-free. Nonaccountable plans don’t meet the IRS criteria and are considered as supplemental wages, making the reimbursements taxable income for employees.

Within what timeframe must expenses be substantiated under an IRS-approved accountable plan?

Under an accountable plan, employees must substantiate expenses within a reasonable period. Although the IRS doesn’t provide a specific definition of a “reasonable period,” generally, employees should provide substantiation within 60 days after incurring the expense. Employers should establish a clear timeline in their accountable plan policy.

What are the critical elements required in an accountable plan template to meet IRS standards?

An accountable plan template should include the following critical elements to meet IRS standards: (1) a clear statement of the plan’s purpose, (2) a description of the eligible expenses and the business connection, (3) the documentation and substantiation requirements for employees to prove their expenses, (4) the deadlines for submitting expense substantiation, and (5) the process for returning excess reimbursements.