Once upon a time, taxpayers could generally deduct 50% of business-related meal and entertainment expenses. However, several exceptions allowed larger deductions in certain circumstances.
The Before and After of Exceptions
Under prior law, the following exceptions to the general 50% deductibility rule were available. (In some cases, as you'll see below, the exceptions have been retained under the TCJA).
An employer could deduct 100% of:
In addition to the above tax write-offs, business taxpayers could, under previous law, deduct 100% of the cost of:
Effective for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017, the TCJA disallows deductions for most business-related entertainment expenses, including the cost of facilities used for most of these activities.
Specifically, nondeductible expenses now include:
Deductions Still Allowed
Apparently, you can still deduct 50% of the cost of business-related meals with business associates. If so, the time-honored rules for proving that meals are business-related still apply. Once again, this conclusion isn't completely clear at this time. We are awaiting IRS guidance.
It's clear that you can still deduct 50% of the cost of meals for you or an employee while away from home on business-related travel.
In addition, a business's costs for meals and food and beverages that fall under some of the exceptions listed above are still 100% deductible (for example, when the cost is reported as taxable compensation to recipients who are employees and non-employees). Meals provided to employees subject to the DOT hours-of-service limitations are still 80% deductible.
Key Point: If a hotel or other lodging establishment includes meals in its room charges or you give employees per-diem allowances that are intended to cover meals, you can use a reasonable method to determine the portion of expenditures allocable to meals and subject to the 50% deductibility rule. Ask your tax advisor about this.
Tax Planning Considerations
Taxpayers should assess their current expense allowance policies to determine if the unfavorable TCJA provisions warrant changes in policy — especially for entertainment expenses incurred by employees. Accounting system changes may be necessary to separately track employee entertainment expenses and employee business-related meal expenses, which may still be 50% deductible.
As you can see, the treatment of meal and entertainment expenses is complicated after the TCJA. Maybe more complicated than you thought! Also, understand that what you read here is based purely on our analysis of the applicable provisions in the Internal Revenue Code. Subsequent IRS guidance could differ.
Feeding Employees: Then and Now
De minimis meals. Under prior law, employers could deduct 100% of the cost of food and beverages supplied to employees, if the food and beverages were tax-free to employees because they qualified as a de minimis fringe benefit. Those benefits are defined as having a value and frequency of occurrence so small as to make accounting for them unreasonable or administratively impractical. Examples include:
Employer-Operated Eating Facilities: Under prior law, employers could deduct 100% of the cost of operating a qualified eating facility for employees, such as a company cafeteria. The facility had to meet certain requirements.
First, it had to be:
TCJA Change: For amounts paid or incurred from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2025, the new law allows employers to deduct only 50% of the cost of operating a qualified eating facility for employees. After 2025, no deductions will be allowed.
Employers that operate eating facilities for employees should review the costs of running their facilities and determine if the temporary 50% deduction rule and the eventual complete disallowance rule dictate a change in policy.
Meals Provided for the Convenience of the Employer. Under prior law, the cost of meals furnished to an employee for the convenience of the employer could be fully deducted by the employer and treated as tax-free to the recipient. However, 100% deductibility for the employer only applied if a bevy of requirements were met. Otherwise the general 50% deductibility rule for meals applied.
TCJA Change: For 2018-2025, the TCJA allows employers to deduct only 50% of the cost of meals that are provided for their convenience. After 2025, no deductions will be allowed.
Then came the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which dramatically shifts the playing field for expenses paid or incurred after December 31, 2017. The new law also creates some uncertainties, as this article will explain.
Your tax advisor can keep you up to speed on the issues and suggest strategies to get the biggest tax-saving bang for your business meal and entertainment bucks.