United States: IRS Guidance On Employment And Income Tax Refunds On Same-Sex Spouse Benefits

Employers extending benefit coverage to employees' same-sex spouses and partners should review their payroll procedures to ensure that such coverages are properly taxed for federal income and FICA tax purposes.  Employers also should review the options in Notice 2013-61 and consider filing claims for refunds or adjustments of FICA overpayments.

Employers that provided health and other welfare plan benefits to employees' same-sex spouses prior to the  Supreme Court of the United States' June 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor may be interested in filing claims for refunds or adjustments of overpayments in federal employment taxes on such benefits.  To reduce some of the administrative complexity of filing such claims, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued Notice 2013-61, which outlines several optional procedures that employers can use for overpayments in 2013 and prior years.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.  Section 3 of DOMA had provided that, for purposes of all federal laws, the word "marriage" means "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife," and the word "spouse" refers "only to a person of the opposite-sex who is a husband or wife."

Federal Taxation of Same-Sex Spouse Benefits

The Windsor ruling thus extends favorable federal tax treatment of spousal benefit coverage to same-sex spouses.  The  IRS issued guidance in July clarifying that this tax treatment would extend to all same-sex couples legally married in any jurisdiction with laws authorizing same-sex marriage, regardless of whether the couple resides in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized.  This IRS approach recognizing same-sex marriages based on the "state of celebration" took effect September 16, 2013.

Prior to the ruling, an employer that provided coverage such as medical, dental or vision to an employee's same-sex spouse was required to impute the fair market value of the coverage as income to the employee that was subject to federal income tax (unless the same-sex spouse qualified as the employee's "dependent" as defined by the Internal Revenue Code).  The employer was required to withhold federal payroll taxes from the imputed amount, including federal income and the employee's Social Security and Medicare (collectively FICA) taxes.  In addition, employers paid their own share of FICA taxes on the imputed amount, as well as unemployment (FUTA).

As a result of the ruling, an employee enrolling a same-sex spouse for benefit coverage under an employer-sponsored health plan no longer has imputed income for federal income tax purposes; may pay for the spouse's coverage using pre-tax contributions under cafeteria plans; and may take tax-free reimbursements from flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for the same-sex spouse's qualifying medical expenses.  This same favorable federal tax treatment does not extend to employer-provided benefits for an unmarried same-sex partner, unless the same-sex partner qualifies as the employee's dependent.

Overpayments of Employment Taxes in 2013

Employers that overpaid both federal income and FICA tax in 2013 as a result of income imputed to employees for benefit coverage for a same-sex spouse may use the following optional administrative procedures for the year:

  • Employers may use the fourth quarter 2013 Form 941 (Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return) to correct overpayments of employment taxes for the first three quarters of 2013.  This option is available only if employees have been repaid or reimbursed for over-collection of FICA and federal income taxes by December 31, 2013.

Alternatively, employers may follow regular IRS procedures to correct an overpayment in FICA taxes by filing a separate Form 941-X for each quarter in 2013.  Notice 2013-61 provides detailed instructions for each of the alternative options, including how to complete the Form 941, as well as Form 941-X, which requires "WINDSOR" in dark, bold letters across the top margin of page one.

Overpayments of FICA Taxes in Prior Years

Employers that overpaid FICA taxes in prior years as a result of imputed income for same-sex spousal benefit coverage may make a claim or adjustment for all four calendar quarters of a calendar year on one Form 941-X filed for the fourth quarter of such year if the period of limitations on such refunds has not expired and, in the case of adjustments, the period of limitations will not expire within 90 days of filing the adjusted return.  Alternatively, employers may use regular procedures to make such claims or adjustments.  The regular procedures require filing a Form 941-X for each calendar quarter for which a refund claim or adjustment is made.  Note that under the alternative procedure provided by Notice 2013-61 or under the regular procedure, filing of a Form 941-X requires either employee consents, or repayment or reimbursements, as well as amended Form W-2s to reflect the correct amount of taxable wages.

Employee Overpayments of Federal Income Taxes

Employers who provided benefits to employees' same-sex spouses in 2013 may adjust the amount of reported federally taxable income on each employee's Form W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) to exclude any income imputed on the fair market value of the coverage and to permit the employee to pay for the coverage on a pre-tax basis.

Employees who overpaid federal income taxes in prior years as a result of same-sex spouse benefit coverage may claim a refund by filing an amended federal tax return for any open tax year.  Refunds are available for overpayments resulting from income imputed on the fair market value of the coverage and from premiums paid on an after-tax basis for the coverage.  An amended tax return generally may be filed from the later of three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid. 

Employers that file Form 941-X are required to file Form W-2c (Corrected Wage and Tax Statement) to show the correct—in this case reduced—wages.  Employers that do not file Form 941-X may want to begin preparing for employee requests for a Form W-2c for each open tax year in which benefit coverage was offered to employees' same-sex spouses.

Next Steps

Employers extending benefit coverage to employees' same-sex spouses and partners should carefully review their payroll processes and procedures to ensure that such coverages are now properly taxed for federal income and FICA tax purposes.  In addition, employers should review the options in Notice 2013-61, and consider filing claims for refunds or adjustments of overpayments of FICA taxes for any prior open tax years and issuing Form W-2c to allow employees to claim refunds of federal income tax.  Most importantly, by acting promptly, employers can correct the 2013 over-withholdings for both FICA and federal income tax and overpayment of the employer portion of FICA tax, without the necessity and burden of filing a Form 941-X.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.