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

Last Updated: January 20 2014
Article by Jessica W. Catlow

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.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
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
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions