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Publication 15

5. Wages and Other Compensation(p14)

Wages subject to federal employment taxes generally include all pay you give to an employee for services performed. The pay may be in cash or in other forms. It includes salaries, vacation allowances, bonuses, commissions, and fringe benefits. It does not matter how you measure or make the payments. Amounts an employer pays as a bonus for signing or ratifying a contract in connection with the establishment of an employer-employee relationship and an amount paid to an employee for cancellation of an employment contract and relinquishment of contract rights are wages subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes and income tax withholding. Also, compensation paid to a former employee for services performed while still employed is wages subject to employment taxes.

More information.(p14)

See section 6 for a discussion of tips and section 7 for a discussion of supplemental wages. Also, see section 15 for exceptions to the general rules for wages. Publication 15-A provides additional information on wages, including nonqualified deferred compensation, and other compensation. Publication 15-B provides information on other forms of compensation, including:

Employee business expense reimbursements.(p15)

A reimbursement or allowance arrangement is a system by which you pay the advances, reimbursements, and charges for your employees' business expenses. How you report a reimbursement or allowance amount depends on whether you have an accountable or a nonaccountable plan. If a single payment includes both wages and an expense reimbursement, you must specify the amount of the reimbursement.
These rules apply to all ordinary and necessary employee business expenses that would otherwise qualify for a deduction by the employee.
Accountable plan.(p15)
To be an accountable plan, your reimbursement or allowance arrangement must require your employees to meet all three of the following rules.
  1. They must have paid or incurred deductible expenses while performing services as your employees. The reimbursement or advance must be payment for the expenses and must not be an amount that would have otherwise been paid to the employee as wages.
  2. They must substantiate these expenses to you within a reasonable period of time.
  3. They must return any amounts in excess of substantiated expenses within a reasonable period of time.
Amounts paid under an accountable plan are not wages and are not subject to income, social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes.
If the expenses covered by this arrangement are not substantiated (or amounts in excess of substantiated expenses are not returned within a reasonable period of time), the amount paid under the arrangement in excess of the substantiated expenses is treated as paid under a nonaccountable plan. This amount is subject to income, social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes for the first payroll period following the end of the reasonable period of time.
A reasonable period of time depends on the facts and circumstances. Generally, it is considered reasonable if your employees receive their advance within 30 days of the time they incur the expenses, adequately account for the expenses within 60 days after the expenses were paid or incurred, and return any amounts in excess of expenses within 120 days after the expenses were paid or incurred. Also, it is considered reasonable if you give your employees a periodic statement (at least quarterly) that asks them to either return or adequately account for outstanding amounts and they do so within 120 days.
Nonaccountable plan.(p15)
Payments to your employee for travel and other necessary expenses of your business under a nonaccountable plan are wages and are treated as supplemental wages and subject to income, social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes. Your payments are treated as paid under a nonaccountable plan if:
See section 7 for more information on supplemental wages.
Per diem or other fixed allowance.(p15)
You may reimburse your employees by travel days, miles, or some other fixed allowance under the applicable revenue procedure. In these cases, your employee is considered to have accounted to you if your reimbursement does not exceed rates established by the Federal Government. The 2014 standard mileage rate for auto expenses was 56 cents per mile. The rate for 2015 is 57.5 cents per mile.
The government per diem rates for meals and lodging in the continental United States can be found by visiting the U.S. General Services Administration website at and entering "per diem rates" in the search box. Other than the amount of these expenses, your employees' business expenses must be substantiated (for example, the business purpose of the travel or the number of business miles driven). For information on substantiation methods, see Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses.
If the per diem or allowance paid exceeds the amounts substantiated, you must report the excess amount as wages. This excess amount is subject to income tax withholding and payment of social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes. Show the amount equal to the substantiated amount (for example, the nontaxable portion) in box 12 of Form W-2 using code "L."

Wages not paid in money.(p15)

If in the course of your trade or business you pay your employees in a medium that is neither cash nor a readily negotiable instrument, such as a check, you are said to pay them "in kind." Payments in kind may be in the form of goods, lodging, food, clothing, or services. Generally, the fair market value of such payments at the time they are provided is subject to federal income tax withholding and social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes.
However, noncash payments for household work, agricultural labor, and service not in the employer's trade or business are exempt from social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes. Withhold income tax on these payments only if you and the employee agree to do so. Nonetheless, noncash payments for agricultural labor, such as commodity wages, are treated as cash payments subject to employment taxes if the substance of the transaction is a cash payment.

Moving expenses.(p15)

Reimbursed and employer-paid qualified moving expenses (those that would otherwise be deductible by the employee) paid under an accountable plan are not includible in an employee's income unless you have knowledge the employee deducted the expenses in a prior year. Reimbursed and employer-paid nonqualified moving expenses are includible in income and are subject to employment taxes and income tax withholding. For more information on moving expenses, see Publication 521, Moving Expenses.

Meals and lodging.(p16)

The value of meals is not taxable income and is not subject to income tax withholding and social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes if the meals are furnished for the employer's convenience and on the employer's premises. The value of lodging is not subject to income tax withholding and social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes if the lodging is furnished for the employer's convenience, on the employer's premises, and as a condition of employment.
"For the convenience of the employer" means you have a substantial business reason for providing the meals and lodging other than to provide additional compensation to the employee. For example, meals you provide at the place of work so that an employee is available for emergencies during his or her lunch period are generally considered to be for your convenience.
However, whether meals or lodging are provided for the convenience of the employer depends on all of the facts and circumstances. A written statement that the meals or lodging are for your convenience is not sufficient.
50% test.(p16)
If over 50% of the employees who are provided meals on an employer's business premises receive these meals for the convenience of the employer, all meals provided on the premises are treated as furnished for the convenience of the employer. If this 50% test is met, the value of the meals is excludable from income for all employees and is not subject to federal income tax withholding or employment taxes. For more information, see Publication 15-B.

Health insurance plans.(p16)

If you pay the cost of an accident or health insurance plan for your employees, including an employee's spouse and dependents, your payments are not wages and are not subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes, or federal income tax withholding. Generally, this exclusion also applies to qualified long-term care insurance contracts. However, for income tax withholding, the value of health insurance benefits must be included in the wages of S corporation employees who own more than 2% of the S corporation (2% shareholders). For social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes, the health insurance benefits are excluded from the wages only for employees and their dependents or for a class or classes of employees and their dependents. See Announcement 92-16 for more information. You can find Announcement 92-16 on page 53 of Internal Revenue Bulletin 1992-5.
Health Savings Accounts and medical savings accounts.(p16)
Your contributions to an employee's Health Savings Account (HSA) or Archer medical savings account (MSA) are not subject to social security, Medicare, or FUTA taxes, or federal income tax withholding if it is reasonable to believe at the time of payment of the contributions they will be excludable from the income of the employee. To the extent it is not reasonable to believe they will be excludable, your contributions are subject to these taxes. Employee contributions to their HSAs or MSAs through a payroll deduction plan must be included in wages and are subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes and income tax withholding. However, HSA contributions made under a salary reduction arrangement in a section 125 cafeteria plan are not wages and are not subject to employment taxes or withholding. For more information, see the Instructions for Form 8889, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

Medical care reimbursements.(p16)

Generally, medical care reimbursements paid for an employee under an employer's self-insured medical reimbursement plan are not wages and are not subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes, or income tax withholding. See Publication 15-B for an exception for highly compensated employees.

Differential wage payments.(p16)

Differential wage payments are any payments made by an employer to an individual for a period during which the individual is performing service in the uniformed services while on active duty for a period of more than 30 days and represent all or a portion of the wages the individual would have received from the employer if the individual were performing services for the employer.
Differential wage payments are wages for income tax withholding, but are not subject to social security, Medicare, or FUTA taxes. Employers should report differential wage payments in box 1 of Form W-2. For more information about the tax treatment of differential wage payments, visit and enter "employees in a combat zone" in the search box.

Fringe benefits.(p16)

You generally must include fringe benefits in an employee's gross income (but see Nontaxable fringe benefits next). The benefits are subject to income tax withholding and employment taxes. Fringe benefits include cars you provide, flights on aircraft you provide, free or discounted commercial flights, vacations, discounts on property or services, memberships in country clubs or other social clubs, and tickets to entertainment or sporting events. In general, the amount you must include is the amount by which the fair market value of the benefits is more than the sum of what the employee paid for it plus any amount the law excludes. There are other special rules you and your employees may use to value certain fringe benefits. See Publication 15-B for more information.
Nontaxable fringe benefits.(p16)
Some fringe benefits are not taxable (or are minimally taxable) if certain conditions are met. See Publication 15-B for details. The following are some examples of nontaxable fringe benefits.
  1. Services provided to your employees at no additional cost to you.
  2. Qualified employee discounts.
  3. Working condition fringes that are property or services the employee could deduct as a business expense if he or she had paid for it. Examples include a company car for business use and subscriptions to business magazines.
  4. Certain minimal value fringes (including an occasional cab ride when an employee must work overtime and meals you provide at eating places you run for your employees if the meals are not furnished at below cost).
  5. Qualified transportation fringes subject to specified conditions and dollar limitations (including transportation in a commuter highway vehicle, any transit pass, and qualified parking).
  6. Qualified moving expense reimbursement. See Moving expenses, earlier in this section, for details.
  7. The use of on-premises athletic facilities, if substantially all of the use is by employees, their spouses, and their dependent children.
  8. Qualified tuition reduction an educational organization provides to its employees for education. For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
  9. Employer-provided cell phones provided primarily for a noncompensatory business reason.
However, do not exclude the following fringe benefits from the income of highly compensated employees unless the benefit is available to other employees on a nondiscriminatory basis.
For more information, including the definition of a highly compensated employee, see Publication 15-B.
When fringe benefits are treated as paid.(p17)
You may choose to treat certain noncash fringe benefits as paid by the pay period, by the quarter, or on any other basis you choose as long as you treat the benefits as paid at least once a year. You do not have to make a formal choice of payment dates or notify the IRS of the dates you choose. You do not have to make this choice for all employees. You may change methods as often as you like, as long as you treat all benefits provided in a calendar year as paid by December 31 of the calendar year. See Publication 15-B for more information, including a discussion of the special accounting rule for fringe benefits provided during November and December.
Valuation of fringe benefits.(p17)
Generally, you must determine the value of fringe benefits no later than January 31 of the next year. Before January 31, you may reasonably estimate the value of the fringe benefits for purposes of withholding and depositing on time.
Withholding on fringe benefits.(p17)
You may add the value of fringe benefits to regular wages for a payroll period and figure withholding taxes on the total, or you may withhold federal income tax on the value of the fringe benefits at the optional flat 25% supplemental wage rate. However, see Withholding on supplemental wages when an employee receives more than $1 million of supplemental wages during the calendar year in section 7.
You may choose not to withhold income tax on the value of an employee's personal use of a vehicle you provide. You must, however, withhold social security and Medicare taxes on the use of the vehicle. See Publication 15-B for more information on this election.
Depositing taxes on fringe benefits.(p17)
Once you choose when fringe benefits are paid, you must deposit taxes in the same deposit period you treat the fringe benefits as paid. To avoid a penalty, deposit the taxes following the general deposit rules for that deposit period.
If you determine by January 31 you overestimated the value of a fringe benefit at the time you withheld and deposited for it, you may claim a refund for the overpayment or have it applied to your next employment tax return. See Valuation of fringe benefits above. If you underestimated the value and deposited too little, you may be subject to a failure-to-deposit penalty. See section 11 for information on deposit penalties.
If you deposited the required amount of taxes but withheld a lesser amount from the employee, you can recover from the employee the social security, Medicare, or income taxes you deposited on his or her behalf, and included in the employee's Form W-2. However, you must recover the income taxes before April 1 of the following year.

Sick pay.(p17)

In general, sick pay is any amount you pay under a plan to an employee who is unable to work because of sickness or injury. These amounts are sometimes paid by a third party, such as an insurance company or an employees' trust. In either case, these payments are subject to social security, Medicare, and FUTA taxes. Sick pay becomes exempt from these taxes after the end of 6 calendar months after the calendar month the employee last worked for the employer. The payments are always subject to federal income tax. See Publication 15-A for more information.