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IRS Releases Guidance on Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits for Tax-Exempt Organizations

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”), enacted in December 2017, eliminated the business deduction employers received for providing qualified transportation fringe benefits (“fringe benefits”) to their employees beginning January 1, 2018. The Act did not affect the employee exclusion, which enables the amount of qualified transportation fringe benefits provided by employers to be excluded from employee gross income up to specified monthly limits ($260 in 2018; $265 in 2019). Since the loss of the business tax deduction would not affect a tax-exempt organization, Congress included a provision in the Act that requires tax-exempt organizations to add the amount of these fringe benefits provided to their employees to its unrelated business taxable income (UBTI). However, the Act didn’t specify exactly how to calculate the disallowed deduction or UBTI amount, particularly for qualified parking expenses.

The Internal Revenue Service released Notice 2018-99 that fills in this gap by describing how to calculate the disallowed deduction amount for taxable organizations or UBTI for tax-exempt organizations. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS will eventually publish proposed regulations but, in the meantime, IRS Notice 2018-99 may be relied upon for fringe benefit amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017. Essentially, the calculation will depend upon whether the employer pays a third party for parking, or if the employer owns or leases a parking facility.

We believe the ultimate result is that employers will move away from or limit providing reserved parking spaces to employees for reasons that will become clear later in this article.

Employer Pays a Third Party for Parking Space 

If an employer pays a third party so their employees may park in the third party’s garage or lot, the disallowed deduction or UBTI amount is generally the total annual cost paid to the third party. Keep in mind that if the amount exceeds the monthly exclusion limit ($260 in 2018; $265 in 2019), the excess amount must also be treated as taxable compensation to the employee. Fortunately, this excess amount will not be included in the UBTI calculation.

Employer Owns or Leases All or Part of a Parking Facility

Until further guidance is released, employers may use any reasonable method to calculate the disallowed deduction or UBTI amount if the employer owns or leases a portion of a parking facility. The IRS specifically noted that “using the value of employee parking to determine expenses allocable to employee parking in a parking facility owned or leased by the taxpayer is not a reasonable method.”

If the employer owns or leases more than one parking facility in a single geographic location, the employer may aggregate the number of spaces in those parking facilities using this process. If the parking facilities are in multiple geographic areas, the employer cannot aggregate the spaces. For those who prefer firmer guidance, Notice 2018-99 provided steps an employer may follow to calculate that amount. Yes, this is really what the guidance says.

Step 1: Reserved Employee Spaces

The employer must first calculate the amount attributable for reserved employee spaces. This is done by determining the percentage of reserved employee spaces in relation to total parking spaces and multiplying that by the employer’s total parking expenses for the parking facility. “Total parking expenses” is defined in the Notice and does not include a deduction for depreciation or expenses paid for items near the parking facility, such as landscaping or lighting. The resulting amount is the disallowed deduction or the amount that will be added to a tax-exempt organization’s UBTI. The IRS will allow employers that have reserved employee spots until March 31, 2019 to change their parking arrangements to decrease or eliminate the number of reserved employee spots retroactive to January 1, 2018.

Step 2: Primary Use Test

The employer must next identify the remaining spaces and determine whether they are primarily used for the general public or for its employees. The IRS defines “primary use” as greater than 50% of actual or estimated usage during normal hours on a typical work day. If parking space usage significantly varies, the employer can use any reasonable method to determine the average usage. The portion of expenses not attributable to the general public’s use is the disallowed deduction or amount included in a tax-exempt organization’s UBTI.

Step 3: Reserved Non-Employee Spots

If the primary use of the employer’s remaining parking spaces is not for the general public, the employer must identify the number of spaces exclusively reserved for non-employees (such as “Customer Only” parking). Spaces reserved for partners, sole proprietors and 2% shareholders are also included in this category. If the employer has reserved non-employee spaces, it needs to determine the percentage of reserved non-employee spaces in relation to the remaining total spaces. That amount is multiplied by the employer’s remaining total parking expenses. This is the amount of the disallowed deduction or amount included in a tax-exempt organization’s UBTI.

Step 4: Determine Remaining Use and Allocable Expenses

If there are any leftover parking expenses left over, the employer must reasonably determine employee use (either actual or estimated usage) of the remaining spaces during normal work hours and the related expenses for those spaces. The amount of expenses attributable to employee use is the disallowed deduction or amount included in in a tax-exempt organization’s UBTI.

IRS Notice 2018-99 does provide some helpful examples of this four step process illustrating how the calculation works in different situations. If tax-exempt organizations have $1,000 or more of UBTI they will need to report using Form 990-T.  Those tax-exempt organizations with less than $1,000 in UBTI are not required to file and are not subject to the tax.

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About Andie Schieler

Andie is an attorney and works in J.W.Terrill's Compliance division specializing in interpreting the Affordable Care Act and various insurance laws. She advises clients on legal and regulatory issues affecting their employee benefit plans. She obtained her law degree from Saint Louis University and undergraduate from Indiana University Bloomington.

View all posts by Andie Schieler

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