IRS offers guidance on meals and entertainment deduction after tax reform

The Internal Revenue Service released guidance Wednesday on the business expense deduction for meals and entertainment in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was supposed to eliminate deductions for expenses pertaining to activities generally considered entertainment, amusement or recreation.

The IRS said taxpayers can still deduct 50 percent of the cost of business meals if the taxpayer (or an employee of the business) is present at the meal, and the food or beverages aren’t considered to be “lavish or extravagant.” The meals can involve a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or a similar business contact. Food and beverages provided during entertainment events won’t be considered entertainment if they’re bought separately from the event.

Before 2018, a business was able to deduct up to 50 percent of entertainment expenses directly related to the active conduct of a trade or business or, if they’re incurred immediately before or after a bona fide business discussion, associated with the active conduct of a trade or business. That changed, however, with the passage of the tax code overhaul last December.

Section 274 of the tax code now generally disallows a deduction for expenses with respect to entertainment, amusement or recreation after passage of the new tax law. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doesn’t specifically address the deductibility of expenses for business meals.

The Treasury Department and the IRS plan to publish proposed regulations that will clarify exactly when business meal expenses are deductible and what constitutes entertainment. Until those proposed regulations take effect, taxpayers can rely on guidance in Notice 2018-76, which the IRS issued Wednesday in conjunction with the announcement.

IRS-Building-light
The IRS headquarters building in Washington, D.C.

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