United States: The "Relocation Costs" Reimbursement Arrangement: A Section 409A Trap For The Unwary

When an employer requires an employee to move his or her primary residence to work, or continue working, for the employer, oftentimes the employer, as an inducement for the employee to accept the offer employment or continue employment, will agree to pay for some or all of the employee's "relocation costs." Employers must be aware of the critical tax implications that can flow from such an arrangement.

Agreements to reimburse the employee for the costs of relocating vary. For example, an employer and employee may agree that the employer will reimburse the employee for moving his or her personal belongings to the new location and perhaps one round-trip airfare for the employee and his or her family; or, the employer may agree to reimburse the employee for all associated relocation costs and related expenses up to a maximum amount. Regardless, if the reimbursement constitutes taxable income for the employee and is subject to Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code (the "Code"), but the terms of the arrangement do not comply with the Code's requirements , the employee may have to pay a whopping 20% excise tax on the reimbursement.

Not all moving or relocation expenses are treated alike for federal income and payroll tax purposes. Generally speaking, for moves within the United States an employee may deduct from his or her gross income the reasonable expenses associated with (1) moving his or her household goods and personal effects, and (2) travelling to his or her new home. However, these categories of expenses are deductible only if all of the following requirements are met: (1) the move is closely related to the start of employment, (2) the new job location is at least 50 miles farther from the prior home than the employee's prior job location is from the former home, and (3) the employee works full time for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months of employment at the new location.

If the expenses are of a type that may be deducted and meet the foregoing requirements, then an employer's reimbursement of those expenses will also not be subject to withholding for income taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, provided that the reimbursement arrangement meets the following additional requirements: (1) the expenses have a business connection, i.e., the expenses were incurred in connection with performing services for that employer, (2) the employer requires that the employee adequately account for the expenses within a reasonable period of time, and (3) any excess reimbursements are returned to the employer within a reasonable period of time.

If the relocation cost reimbursement arrangement does not meet the foregoing requirements, or if the employer reimburses the employee for expenses that do not qualify as deductible moving expenses of the type outlined above, the amount of the reimbursement is subject to income taxes, social security and Medicare taxes. For example, employers may agree to pay for return trips to the former residence, pre-move house hunting expenses, temporary housing, storage costs for personal belongings (excluding those incurred in transit), or costs associated with entering into a new rental lease or canceling a prior lease. Reimbursement for any of these costs will be includable in income and subject to social security and Medicare taxes because they do not qualify as the type of expense that may be deductible, even though they may otherwise meet the requirements to be excluded from compensation. Since the reimbursements are taxable, careful consideration must be given in the event that the reimbursement constitutes non-qualified deferred compensation subject to Section 409A.

By way of background, subject to certain exceptions, and generally speaking, Section 409A requires that any compensation promised in one year that could by its terms be paid in a later tax year must be paid only upon certain permissible payment "events," such as, for example, a fixed date or schedule, or upon termination of employment.

An agreement to reimburse an employee for relocation expenses may or may not cross tax years, but if under the terms of the agreement the reimbursement could be made in a later tax year, then it constitutes deferred compensation subject to Section 409A, and there are important documentary and operational requirements that must be met under Section 409A. If the agreement does not comply with these documentary and operational requirements, the reimbursement amount that the employee receives could be subject to the 20% excise tax.

First, the relocation reimbursement agreement should be written and the written document must provide (1) an objectively determinable non-discretionary definition of the expenses eligible for reimbursement, (2) the reimbursement will be for expenses incurred during an objectively and specifically prescribed period, and (3) that the amount of expenses eligible for reimbursement in one year will not affect the expenses eligible for reimbursement in any other year. (The reason for the rule outlined in number (3) is because the IRS does not want the employee to be able to, indirectly or directly, pick a more favorable tax year by, for example, holding on to the reimbursement request or delaying the incursion of the cost.)

Second, the reimbursement must be made on or before the last day of the employee's tax year following the year in which the expense was incurred, and the right to the reimbursement cannot be exchanged for another benefit.

For the most part, an employer's expense reimbursement policy will satisfy the rules regarding the timing of the reimbursement. Unfortunately, employers all too often either provide for a very vague definition of the "relocation costs" that may be reimbursed, or agree to a cap without taking into consideration that the expenses incurred in one year could impact the expenses eligible for reimbursement in the following year. Employers should draft their relocation agreements carefully to provide the desired benefit to the employee while staying within the confines of the limitations of Section 409A. Accordingly, we recommend that whenever an employer or employee agree to a relocation cost reimbursement arrangement, that counsel review the arrangements to ensure that it is either exempt from or otherwise in compliance with Section 409A.

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.