Many companies choose to pay stipends to employees as a method of compensating them for incurred business expenses. This is especially true in construction companies, where it is widely viewed as a common industry practice. While the approach of using stipends in this manner is widespread, many construction companies fail to properly plan for and/or execute them, which can result in additional taxes owed by both the company and the employee.
In the simplest terms, a stipend is a monetary advance to an employee that allows an him or her to pay for various business expenses. Depending on how the stipend is structured, it can either be taxable income to the employee, or a non-taxable reimbursement. In order to keep the stipend non-taxable, a company must implement an accountable reimbursement plan, whereby employees complete expense reports proving that all business-related expenses are being reimbursed through the payment of the stipend. If a company does not have an accountable plan, or it is not followed (e.g. expense reports are not submitted or do not provide the appropriate documentation to support the expenses claimed), then the stipend paid to the employee may be re-characterized as taxable income.
One area where companies may run into difficulties with employee reimbursement stipends is in the area use of a personal vehicle for business purposes. The easiest method to use is to base the reimbursement on the number of business miles driven multiplied by the IRS standard mileage rate, which is currently 57.5 cents per mile. If a company provides a stipend to an employee prior to the business usage of the car, the company will need to take great care in reconciling the expense report provided by the employee. If business usage is less than the stipend provided, the employee should reimburse the company for the excess funds received.
It's clear that establishing an accountable reimbursement plan is essential for any company providing stipends to employees for business expenses. For more information, please contact Richard P. Mishock at RMishock@hbkcpa.com or reach out to your HBK advisor.