Business Meal Expenses: A Tax Deduction or Nightmare?
Whether you are an owner, executive, or business development manager we all know that business meals and other related entertainment expenses are a typical component of doing business. Additionally, we can all probably relate to a shared disdain for having to keep track of each and every receipt and completing expense reports. That said, this is a critical component of being a compliant business and failing to properly record and submit these expenses could get you into serious trouble with the IRS – everyone’s favorite government agency – especially if some of these expenses are not legitimate business expenses.
Earlier this year in the case of Michael Lombardi, Petitioner v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Respondent the United States Tax Court ruled against Lombardi’s submission of nearly $25,000 in meals and entertainment expense deductions in 2010 due to his poor record keeping and the less than legitimate nature of some of these expenses. For example, many of his deductions included personal cups of coffee or dinners with his spouse that, if we are being honest, aren’t a part of business activities. In other instances, notes or receipts couldn’t be verified due to their not being legible or available. As a result of Lombardi’s less than ideal bookkeeping and eventual admission to inaccurate tax filings, also found to be in violation of not reporting roughly $200,000 in revenue earned in 2010, he was disallowed nearly $42,800 in deductions in 2010 and faces other accuracy of tax filing violations.
At this point, we have established that Lombardi was simply not being honest with his tax filings, but the specter of the IRS is not something anyone wants to deal with as it relates to business-related meal and entertainment deductions. So what should you do to remain compliant?
First, you should familiarize yourself with Section 162(a) of the U.S. tax code, which addresses trade or business related expenses and their subsequent deductions. Generally speaking, you can deduct up to 50% of these expenses. For example, if you have business-related expenses totaling $2,000 for travel, client meetings, meals, and entertainment, then you can deduct $1,000. However, as is the case with all things tax-related, there are certain exceptions you should understand.
Second, and we can’t stress this enough, your accountant should be consulted on these expenses to make sure you haven’t missed any exceptions to the rules in order to keep you compliant. Thus, comfort and confidence in your accountant’s knowledge of this subject should be high. The last thing you want is to find out that your accountant isn’t as good or knowledgeable as you thought.
Third, you and anyone else that submits business-related expenses needs to track and detail the purpose of every expense. If anything is missing, then the IRS could estimate the deductions themselves or disallow the entirety of a deduction.
Finally, you need to make sure that you are being honest with your expenses. If the expense isn’t business-related (needing your coffee fix does not count) then it shouldn’t be submitted as a business-related tax deduction. While this should go without saying, the aforementioned case clearly demonstrates that issues with properly tracking and submitting these deductions certainly exist.
Please note that this article does not constitute tax advice and should not be viewed as such.