The Proactive Solutions Blog

How Employee Expenses Are Deducted

Posted by on 05.26.16

Questions on how to claim deductions for expenses you incur in connection with your employment? The expense include those for local transportation (other than commuting), business meals and entertainment (at 50% of cost), travel away from home, supplies, educations, etc.

The tax treatment of these items depends on the arrangement you have with your employer. In particular it depends on whether you are reimbursed   for your costs and, if so, under what type of arrangement.

No reimbursements. If your employment-related expenses   aren't reimbursed   by your employer they are deductible, but only as a "miscellaneous itemized deduction." This means they are lumped together with other miscellaneous items (e.g., investment expenses, tax return preparation costs) and are only deductible as an itemized deduction to the extent the total exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This is known as the "2% floor." Thus, depending on your AGI and your other miscellaneous deductions, you may lose all or part of your employee expense   deduction.

"Accountable" reimbursement  plans. An accountable   plan   is one under which your employer reimburses   you for your employment-related expenses (or pays you an expense allowance) but requires you to "adequately account" for the expenses. This means you must submit to the employer an expense record (account book, diary, expense statement, etc.) along with receipts and other documentation indicating the expense  amount, time and place, business purpose, and business relationship to anyone else involved (e.g., a client, supplier, etc.).

In lieu of submitting detailed expense records, your employer may pay you a per diem allowance. IRS provides a number of ways of calculating the per diem amount, including the regular federal per diem rate, the standard meal allowance, and the high-low substantiation method.

For the plan   to qualify as an accountable plan, it must also require you to pay back any excess payments you receive. For example, say you receive $1,000 under an expense account arrangement and only incur $800 in expenses. In order for the plan to qualify as accountable, it would have to require you to return the $200 not spent.

If you are reimbursed (or receive an allowance) for expense under an accountable plan, the tax treatment is simple: do nothing. The transaction is treated as a wash. The reimbursement or allowance should not be included in your income on the W-2 form you receive from your employer and you don't take a deduction for the expense.

If your employer only reimburses (or gives you an allowance for) part of your costs, you can claim a deduction for the excess expenses that actually came out of your pocket. In this case, however, the expenses are only deductible as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, as discussed above.

Nonaccountable reimbursement plans. If your employer doesn't maintain an accountable   plan, any expense  reimbursements  or allowances you receive from your employer will be included in your wages on the W-2 form you receive from the employer. You then separately deduct your expense   as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, again subject to the 2% floor described above. This system may operate unfairly from your perspective.

 Example: Ellen is paid $50,000 in wages. Her adjusted gross income is $60,000 and her employee expense is her only miscellaneous itemized deduction. She incurred $1,000 in employment-related expenses and was reimbursed the full amount by her employer but not under an accountable plan. Her W-2 form will show $51,000 in total wages received, including the reimbursement. Since her miscellaneous total was less than 2% of her AGI ($1,020), she gets no deduction.

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