Employee Business Expenses & Tax Reform

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

If you are an employee (i.e., a W-2 wage earner) with substantial work-related business expenses, the Act was not kind to you. It suspended (and effectively repealed), for 2018 through 2025, all miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were previously only subject to a floor of 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI). Employee business expenses are included in that category of miscellaneous itemized deductions.

This change affects those who are compensated as employees and who have work-related expenses—including salespeople with travel and entertainment expenses, long-haul truck drivers with away-from-home expenses, mechanics with tool expenses, and any other employees with large but unreimbursed business expenses. These employees, beginning in 2018, will no longer be able to count such expenses as itemized deductions.

Will this change hurt you? That depends. Because employee business expenses could previously only be deducted to the extent that they exceeded 2% of AGI, the effects of the Act will depend upon the extent of your expenses. Another consideration is whether your total itemized deductions would have exceeded the new standard deduction, which has increased for 2018.

As a remedy, you may want to contact your employer and try to negotiate an “accountable plan,” which is a business-expense reimbursement plan under which the employer can reimburse you, tax-free, for business expenses. With this arrangement, you would need to substantiate your business expenses to your employer and would have to return (within a specified time limit) any reimbursements that your employer pays in excess of the substantiated amount.

If you have questions related to the loss of this deduction or about how the change will impact your specific tax situation, please call us.