Is there still time to pay 2018 bonuses and deduct them on your 2018 return?
[Editor’s note: This post pertains to bonuses paid to your employees and non-owners. Special rules apply to related parties, so be sure to contact us before venturing into that area. That said, let’s discuss how to reward your team members and get a deduction before it’s actually paid!
There aren’t too many things businesses can do after a year ends to reduce tax liability for that year. However, you might be able to pay employee bonuses for 2018 in 2019 and still deduct them on your 2018 tax return. In certain circumstances, businesses can deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company).
First, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule. Cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned.
Second, even for accrual-basis taxpayers, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted on the tax return for the year they’re earned only if the business’s bonus liability was fixed by the end of the year.
Passing the test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, a liability (such as a bonus) is deductible when it is incurred. To determine this, the IRS applies the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is incurred when:
- All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
- The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
- Economic performance has occurred. Generally, this means it actually gets paid to the intended recipient and the services that merited the bonus have been performed.
Diving into a bonus pool – how not to hit the bottom!
There can be an exception to the paid and economic performance rule. According to the IRS, employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer.
When you can deduct bonuses
So our goal is to deduct in December but to pay once you’ve had a chance to evaluate your year-end profits in the next year (but before March 15 for a calendar-year business).
If you’re an accrual taxpayer but don’t qualify to accelerate your bonus deductions this time, we can help you design a bonus plan for 2019 that will allow you to accelerate deductions when you file your 2019 return next year.Remember that we're just a click away if you need help.
He is also a founding Board Member and Finance Director of the Fayette Pregnancy Resource Center and serves on the Board of the National Equal Rights Institute.