New IRS Guidance Issued On Deducting Business Meals
The Tax Cuts And Jobs Act Of 2017 (“TCJA”) was signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. It has been a good 30 years since the last time the Internal Revenue Code received such a major update but for taxpayers.
Deductions Relating to Meal And Entertainment Expenses
Under prior law, a taxpayer generally can deduct business-related meal and entertainment expenses paid or incurred in entertaining a client, customer, or employee. The taxpayer had to show that the item was directly related to (or, in certain cases, associated with) the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business. In such case, a deduction is allowed, although it is generally limited to 50% of the expense amount.
Starting with 2018 more stringent rules apply with respect to a deduction for meal and entertainment expenses paid after 2017. The TCJA repeals the deduction for most entertainment expenses, effective for amounts incurred after 2017. There is no exception for amount incurred that are directly related to, or associated with, the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business. This repeal would extend to the cost of tickets to sporting events, stadium license fees, private boxes at sporting events, theater tickets, golf club dues, etc.
However, it is still possible that some amounts may still be deductible if they meet the exceptions in IRC § 274(e), a provision that was not touched by the TCJA.
The main exceptions in IRC § 274(e) allowing deductibility are:
- Expenses for food and beverages (and facilities used in connection therewith) furnished on the business premises of the taxpayer primarily for the taxpayer’s employees.
- Expenses for recreational, social, or similar activities (and facilities used in connection therewith) primarily for the benefit of employees, other than highly-compensated employees.
- Expenses incurred by a taxpayer which are directly related to business meetings of the taxpayer’s employees, stockholders, agents, or directors.
- Expenses directly related and necessary to attendance at a business meeting or convention of any certain organizations such as business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, and boards of trade.
- Expenses for goods, services and facilities made available by the taxpayer to the general public.
This lack of clarity by the TCJA created a lot of confusion in the business community which the IRS was looking to address.
New IRS Guidance
On October 3, 2018 the IRS issued guidance, Notice 2018-76, clarifying that taxpayers may generally continue to deduct 50% of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, despite changes to the meal and entertainment expense deduction by the TCJA. Taxpayers can rely on the guidance in the notice until the IRS issues proposed regulations.
Under the interim guidance, taxpayers may deduct 50% of an otherwise allowable business meal expense if:
- The expense is an ordinary and necessary business expense under IRC § 162(a) paid or incurred during the tax year when carrying on any trade or business;
- The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
- The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present when the food or beverages are furnished;
- The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
- For food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, they are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.
The interim guidance includes three examples illustrating how the IRS would apply these rules. All three examples involve attending a sporting event with a business client and having food and drink while attending the event.
What Should You Do?
Like with any expense you are looking to deduct it is important to make sure that the tax law would support a deduction and that you have the required backup documentation in case you are audited by the IRS. Also, be mindful that in any audit by IRS, an agent will be making sure that taxpayers are not inflating the amount charged for food and beverages in order to circumvent the disallowance of entertainment.
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