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I went from owing the IRS over $1,300,000 to Zero, and in the process of fixing my own mess I discovered the hidden world of tax planning.

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Mastering Expense Management: Navigating Accountable Plans for Small Business Success

December 18, 202320 min read

An accountable plan, also called an accountable reimbursement plan or Section 1.62 plan, is a structured set of guidelines and rules that govern the reimbursement and payment of business expenses incurred by employees. It is a critical tool for businesses as it ensures transparency, accountability, and compliance with tax regulations. By implementing an accountable plan, businesses can not only streamline their expense reimbursement process but also provide a clear framework for employees to report and substantiate their business-related expenses. This becomes a critical tool for small business tax planning.

So, what exactly is an accountable plan? 

In simple terms, it is a written agreement between an employer and its employees that outlines the rules and conditions for reimbursing business expenses. The plan lays out the specific requirements for employees to follow when requesting reimbursement and includes provisions for reporting, documentation, and substantiation of expenses. By establishing a clear and detailed accountable plan, businesses can minimize the risk of tax-related issues and provide employees with a convenient and efficient method for receiving reimbursement for their legitimate expenses.

The primary purpose of an accountable plan is to distinguish between business expenses and personal expenses. By delineating the types of expenses that qualify for reimbursement, businesses can ensure that only legitimate business-related costs are paid back to employees. This not only helps prevent the misuse of company funds but also reduces the likelihood of inaccurate reporting and potential tax liabilities.

Compliance with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations is a crucial aspect of accountable plans. To qualify as an accountable plan, certain requirements must be met. 

First and foremost, expenses incurred by employees must have a valid business purpose. This means that the expenses should directly relate to the trade or business of the employer. 

Additionally, employees must submit timely and accurate expense reports with detailed documentation to substantiate their expenses. Without proper documentation, the expenses may be deemed non-deductible for tax purposes.

One key distinction of an accountable plan is its contrast with a non-accountable plan. While accountable plans provide employees with tax-free reimbursements for substantiated business expenses, non-accountable plans do not adhere to the stringent requirements of the IRS and may result in taxable income for employees. Under a non-accountable plan, employees receive a flat expense allowance that is not based on actual expenses incurred. The lack of substantiation and documentation in non-accountable plans can lead to potential tax consequences for both the employee and the employer.

Accountable plans play a vital role in businesses by ensuring proper reimbursement of employee business expenses while maintaining compliance with IRS regulations. They provide a clear framework for reporting, documenting, and substantiating expenses, helping to minimize the risk of tax-related issues and ensuring accuracy in financial records. By distinguishing between business and personal expenses, accountable plans promote transparency, accountability, and financial responsibility within an organization. In contrast, non-accountable plans lack the necessary compliance requirements and may result in taxable income for employees. Therefore, implementing a well-structured accountable plan is essential for any business seeking to uphold integrity in its expense management processes and maximize tax benefits while providing employees with a fair and efficient reimbursement system.

Overview of Accountable Plans:

An accountable plan is a structured method for reimbursing employees for business expenses incurred on behalf of their employer. It is important for both employers and employees to understand the concept and benefits of accountable plans, as well as the regulations set by the IRS to maintain compliance. By following these regulations and substantiating expenses properly, employers can ensure that their employees are reimbursed for qualified expenses while avoiding unnecessary tax implications.

Understanding the concept of accountable plans:

An accountable plan is a set of guidelines and procedures that employers establish to reimburse their employees for business-related expenses. It allows employees to be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses without these reimbursements being considered taxable income. To qualify as an accountable plan, the plan must meet certain criteria, including requiring employees to submit expense reports and provide adequate documentation.

How accountable plans benefit employees and employers:

Accountable plans offer benefits to both employees and employers. For employees, they provide a means to recover out-of-pocket expenses incurred while performing their job duties. This not only prevents employees from shouldering the financial burden but also motivates them to be more efficient and productive in their work. For employers, accountable plans offer a way to manage and control expense reimbursements, ensuring that expenses are legitimate and within the bounds of tax regulations. It also helps to establish a fair and transparent process for expense reimbursement, promoting employee satisfaction and trust.

IRS regulations and guidelines for accountable plans:

The IRS has provided regulations and guidelines that employers must follow when implementing an accountable plan. These regulations are designed to prevent abuse and ensure that reimbursements are made only for qualified business expenses. For example, the IRS requires that expenses must have a business connection, be adequately substantiated, and be supported by valid receipts or other supporting documentation. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in the reclassification of expense reimbursements as taxable income.

Importance of substantiating expenses under an accountable plan:

Proper documentation and substantiation of expenses are crucial when it comes to accountable plans. Employers must require employees to provide detailed information about each expense, including the purpose of the expense, the date it was incurred, and any supporting documentation such as receipts or invoices. This level of detail is necessary to show the IRS that the expenses are legitimate and incurred in the course of conducting business. By maintaining thorough and accurate records, both employers and employees can confidently substantiate their expenses, reducing the risk of tax audits and ensuring compliance with IRS regulations.

Qualifying Expenses:

In order to reimburse expenses under an accountable plan, it is important to identify which expenses are eligible for reimbursement. While the IRS allows for a variety of deductible business expenses, there are certain criteria that must be met for an expense to qualify under an accountable plan. Common deductible business expenses include travel expenses, meals and entertainment expenses, office supplies, and vehicle expenses.

IRS regulations around accountable plans

Specific rules and restrictions for certain expense categories:

While many expenses are eligible for reimbursement under an accountable plan, it is important to be aware of specific rules and restrictions that may apply to certain expense categories. For example, travel expenses must be necessary and directly related to business activities, and they must not include any personal component. Additionally, expenses for meals and entertainment must be reasonable and directly related to business meetings or discussions.

Documentation requirements for expense reimbursement:

Under an accountable plan, proper documentation is crucial for expense reimbursement. Employers should establish clear guidelines for employees to follow when submitting expense reports and supporting documentation. This includes requiring employees to provide detailed receipts or invoices for each expense, as well as any other supporting documentation that helps establish the business purpose of the expense. By maintaining a systematic approach to documentation, employers can ensure that expenses are properly substantiated, reducing the risk of IRS scrutiny and potential tax implications.

By understanding and adhering to the guidelines and requirements of an accountable plan, employers and employees can benefit from a fair and transparent system for expense reimbursement. Employers can be confident that they are providing reimbursements only for legitimate and qualified business expenses, while employees can avoid the burden of shouldering these expenses themselves. The key to successful implementation lies in maintaining detailed documentation and records to substantiate expenses, ensuring compliance with IRS regulations and guidelines.

Requirements for Reimbursement:

When it comes to reimbursement, there are certain requirements that employees need to be aware of in order to facilitate a smooth process. One of the key factors is the responsibility of employees to submit their reimbursement requests in a timely manner. By doing so, employees can ensure that their expenses are reviewed and approved according to the rules of the accountable plan.

Speaking of accountable plan rules, it is crucial for both employees and employers to have a clear understanding of these regulations. These rules govern the review and approval of expenses, ensuring that reimbursements are made in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the company. By adhering to these rules, not only can employees enjoy the benefits of proper expense reimbursement, but employers can also maintain compliance with tax regulations and avoid potential penalties.

Understanding the timelines and procedures for expense reimbursement is another important aspect to consider. Employees should be aware of the specific timeframes within which expenses need to be submitted and the procedures they need to follow. This includes providing the necessary documentation and details to support the expenses being claimed. By being familiar with these timelines and procedures, employees can streamline the reimbursement process and avoid unnecessary delays.

Of course, proper record-keeping is fundamental when it comes to tax purposes. Adequate record-keeping ensures that the necessary documentation is maintained to substantiate the expenses being claimed. Not only does this protect the employee in the event of an audit, but it also helps the employer demonstrate compliance with tax regulations. By maintaining accurate records, both the employee and the employer can confidently navigate the tax implications associated with reimbursed expenses.

Speaking of tax implications, let's delve into the treatment of expenses reimbursed under an accountable plan. Under an accountable plan, the reimbursed expenses are typically excluded from the employee's taxable income. This means that employees do not have to pay taxes on these amounts, offering a tax advantage compared to non-reimbursed expenses. However, it is important to note that the expenses must be deemed valid and in accordance with the rules of the accountable plan for this tax treatment to apply.

Non-compliance with accountable plan rules can have significant tax implications. If expenses are not properly reviewed and approved according to the guidelines of the accountable plan, they may be classified as non-accountable. In such cases, the reimbursements may be considered taxable income for the employee, resulting in an additional tax burden. It is crucial for both employees and employers to understand the consequences of non-compliance and take the necessary steps to ensure adherence to the accountable plan rules.

Deductibility of expenses is another important aspect to consider under an accountable plan. When expenses are reimbursed in accordance with the rules of the accountable plan, they are generally considered deductible for the employer. This means that the employer can deduct these expenses as business expenses, potentially reducing their taxable income. On the other hand, if expenses do not meet the criteria of the accountable plan, they may not be deductible for the employer, resulting in a potential increase in taxable income for the business.

Finally, it is important to understand the impact of an accountable plan on employee and employer taxes. For employees, the tax advantages of having expenses reimbursed under an accountable plan include the exclusion of these amounts from taxable income. This can reduce the overall tax liability for employees. On the employer side, the deductibility of reimbursed expenses can result in a reduction of taxable income for the business, leading to potential tax savings. It is essential for both parties to consider the tax implications when implementing and complying with an accountable plan.

In summary, reimbursement under an accountable plan requires employees to fulfill certain responsibilities, while also abiding by the rules and procedures set forth by the employer. Adequate record-keeping is essential for tax purposes, and both employees and employers need to understand the tax implications associated with reimbursed expenses. Compliance with accountable plan rules ensures the tax treatment and deductibility of expenses, benefiting both employees and employers in terms of taxes paid. By understanding and abiding by these requirements, individuals and businesses can navigate the reimbursement process with confidence and optimize the tax advantages provided by an accountable plan.

Accountable Plan for S Corporation Tax Optimization:

An accountable plan can be an effective tool for S corporations to optimize their tax strategy and maximize business expense deductions. By implementing and adhering to an accountable plan, S corporations can avoid taxable income on reimbursed expenses. Let's delve deeper into the key points of how an accountable plan works for S corporations and the importance of distinguishing between business and personal expenses, as well as the proper reimbursement procedures.

Firstly, it is essential to understand how an accountable plan functions within an S corporation. An accountable plan is a formal reimbursement arrangement that allows businesses, including S corporations, to reimburse their employees for legitimate business expenses incurred on behalf of the company. By establishing an accountable plan, the S corporation sets clear guidelines and requirements for the substantiation and reimbursement of these expenses. This ensures that the expenses are properly documented, justified, and directly related to the business operations.

Distinguishing between business and personal expenses is crucial when implementing an accountable plan. It is essential to clearly define what expenses are considered legitimate business expenses and what falls under personal or non-deductible expenditures. By doing so, S corporations can ensure that only eligible business expenses are reimbursed, mitigating the risk of questionable or disallowed deductions. Proper documentation and recordkeeping play a vital role in substantiating the business nature of these expenses, providing protection and peace of mind during tax audits.

In order to maintain the integrity of an accountable plan and comply with applicable tax regulations, S corporations must follow proper reimbursement procedures. This includes establishing a written reimbursement policy that outlines the allowed expenses, documentation requirements, and the timeframe for submitting reimbursement requests. Employees should submit expense reports with detailed information, including the purpose of the expense, date, and amount, along with supporting receipts or other relevant documents.

The accountable plan should also specify the method of reimbursement, whether through direct payment or an expense reimbursement arrangement. Reimbursements made under an accountable plan are not included as taxable income for the employees, as they are considered nontaxable reimbursements of business expenses. This provides a clear tax advantage for both the employee and the S corporation.

In conclusion, implementing an accountable plan can greatly benefit S corporations by optimizing tax savings and maximizing business expense deductions. By distinguishing between business and personal expenses, S corporations can ensure that only eligible expenses are reimbursed, minimizing the risk of tax scrutiny. Adhering to proper reimbursement procedures, including clear documentation and recordkeeping, is essential for maintaining the integrity of the accountable plan. By following these guidelines, S corporations can fully leverage the advantages of an accountable plan while minimizing the taxable income associated with reimbursed expenses.

S corporation meeting reviewing accountable plans

Strategies for Effective Expense Management in S Corporations:

When it comes to expense management in S corporations, implementing a well-structured accountable plan is crucial. An accountable plan is a policy that dictates how expenses are reimbursed, ensuring compliance with tax regulations while also promoting effective cost management. To ensure smooth operations and financial transparency, there are several key points to consider.

First and foremost, it is important to identify the eligible business expenses that can be reimbursed through the accountable plan. S corporations typically have various types of expenses, ranging from office supplies and travel expenses to marketing costs and professional fees. By clearly categorizing these expenses, businesses can ensure that the reimbursement process is streamlined and in line with IRS guidelines.

Additionally, establishing reasonable reimbursement rates is a crucial aspect of managing expenses effectively. Determining fair and justifiable rates helps strike a balance between adequately compensating employees and minimizing financial strain on the company. Factors to consider when setting these rates include the industry standards, geographical location, and the nature of the expense itself. By taking these factors into account, S corporations can align their reimbursement rates with market practices and ensure that they attract and retain top talent.

The role of the accountable plan administrator should not be underestimated in the expense management process. This individual or team is responsible for overseeing and implementing the accountable plan, ensuring compliance with IRS regulations. Their role includes reviewing expense reports, verifying the authenticity and business-related nature of expenses, and maintaining accurate records. By having a dedicated accountable plan administrator, S corporations can enhance accountability, minimize errors, and mitigate the risk of non-compliant reimbursement practices.

Maintaining accurate expense records is another critical aspect of effective expense management. Proper documentation is essential for substantiating expenses and providing evidence in case of an IRS audit. Best practices for documenting and organizing expense records include keeping detailed receipts, recording the purpose of each expense, and maintaining a centralized record-keeping system. By following these practices, S corporations can ensure transparency, accuracy, and adherence to IRS guidelines.

In conclusion, implementing effective strategies for expense management in S corporations involves several key elements. By identifying eligible business expenses, establishing reasonable reimbursement rates, appointing an accountable plan administrator, and following best practices for record-keeping, S corporations can achieve financial prudence, compliance, and operational efficiency. With a well-designed accountable plan and a focus on meticulous expense management, S corporations can take control of their finances and allocate resources in a prudent and strategic manner.

Implementing an Accountable Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to implementing an accountable plan for your business, there are several crucial steps to follow. Not only will a well-designed accountable plan help you maintain compliance with IRS requirements, but it will also ensure that you can effectively communicate and educate your employees about the plan. In this guide, we will explore the key steps involved in establishing an accountable plan, discuss strategies for designing a plan that meets IRS requirements, and address common challenges and pitfalls that may arise in the implementation process.

Step 1: Establishing an Accountable Plan for Your Business

The first step in implementing an accountable plan is to establish the plan itself. This involves defining the parameters of the plan, such as the types of business expenses that will be reimbursed, the documentation and substantiation requirements, and the reimbursement process. It's important to take into account the specific needs and nature of your business when designing the plan. This will ensure that it aligns with your company's goals and objectives, while also meeting the necessary IRS regulations.

Step 2: Designing an Accountable Plan that Meets IRS Requirements

In order for your accountable plan to be considered legitimate by the IRS, it must adhere to certain requirements. These requirements include the following:

  1. Business Connection: Expenses reimbursed under the plan must have a direct connection to the conduct of your business. They should be ordinary and necessary expenses that are incurred while performing business duties.

  2. Substantiation: Proper documentation and substantiation of expenses are crucial in maintaining compliance with IRS regulations. This includes retaining receipts, invoices, and other supporting documents that provide evidence of the expenses incurred.

  3. Timely Reimbursement: Expenses should be reimbursed to employees in a timely manner. The IRS recommends that reimbursements be made within a reasonable period after the expenses were incurred. This helps ensure that employees are not shouldering the burden of business expenses for an extended period of time.

By carefully designing your accountable plan with these requirements in mind, you can mitigate the risk of noncompliance and establish a system that promotes transparency and accountability within your organization.

Step 3: Communicating and Educating Employees about the Accountable Plan

Once your accountable plan has been established and designed, it's crucial to effectively communicate and educate your employees about the plan. This ensures that they understand the guidelines and procedures for submitting expense claims, as well as the documentation and substantiation requirements. Clear and concise communication will help minimize confusion and ensure that employees feel confident in utilizing the accountable plan for their business expenses. Consider providing training sessions or informational materials that outline the plan's key provisions and answer any frequently asked questions.

Step 4: Addressing Common Challenges and Pitfalls in Implementing Accountable Plans

Implementing accountable plans may come with some challenges and pitfalls. It's important to be prepared and proactive in addressing these issues to ensure a smooth implementation process. Some common challenges include:

  1. Inadequate Record-Keeping: Poor record-keeping practices can undermine the effectiveness of an accountable plan. Encourage employees to maintain accurate and detailed records of their reimbursable expenses to avoid any potential issues during audits.

  2. Noncompliance with IRS Regulations: Staying up-to-date with IRS regulations and requirements is paramount. Regularly review and update your accountable plan to ensure that it aligns with any changes in tax laws or regulations.

  3. Lack of Employee Understanding: If employees do not have a clear understanding of the accountable plan and its requirements, it can lead to errors or noncompliance. Continual education and communication are key to ensuring that employees are well-informed and capable of effectively utilizing the plan.

By being aware of these common challenges and proactively addressing them, you can enhance the effectiveness of your accountable plan and minimize any potential risks or issues.

Implementing an accountable plan requires careful consideration, design, communication, and education. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can establish a robust and compliant accountable plan that benefits both your business and your employees. Remember to review and update your plan periodically to ensure ongoing compliance with IRS requirements and to adapt to any changes in your business needs. With an effective accountable plan in place, you can streamline your expense reimbursement process, promote transparency, and strengthen your overall financial management practices.


Accountable plans offer small businesses numerous benefits in terms of expense management and tax savings. By adopting accountable plans, businesses can ensure that reimbursed expenses are properly documented and substantiated, reducing the risk of IRS scrutiny and potential penalties.

It is crucial for businesses to understand the importance of accountable plans and consider implementing them in their operations. Not only do accountable plans provide a clear framework for reimbursing employees' expenses, but they also help to maintain compliance with IRS regulations. By adhering to the rules and guidelines set forth by the Internal Revenue Service, businesses can avoid unnecessary tax liabilities and ensure that their employees are reimbursed in a fair and transparent manner.

Effective expense management is essential for the financial health and success of any business. By implementing accountable plans, businesses can not only streamline their expense reimbursement process but also minimize the risk of errors and fraudulent claims. This ultimately leads to improved financial accuracy and accountability within the organization.

In today's competitive business landscape, it is crucial for companies to stay ahead by adopting best practices and optimizing their operations. Implementing or improving accountable plans is a strategic move that can significantly benefit businesses of all sizes. By ensuring compliance with IRS regulations and effectively managing expenses, businesses can focus on their core operations and achieve better financial outcomes.

In light of the numerous advantages of accountable plans, it is highly recommended that businesses explore the option of implementing or improving their accountable plans. By doing so, businesses can not only save on taxes but also establish a culture of transparency and accountability when it comes to expense management. With the guidance of financial advisors and tax professionals, businesses can navigate the complexities of accountable plans and reap the rewards of effective expense management.

In conclusion, accountable plans are a valuable tool for businesses to manage and reimburse employee expenses in a compliant and efficient manner. By adopting accountable plans, businesses can benefit from reduced tax liabilities, improved financial accuracy, and increased transparency. It is essential for businesses to recognize the value of effective expense management and take action to implement or enhance their accountable plans. By doing so, businesses can position themselves for success in the ever-evolving business landscape. Take the initiative today and explore the possibilities of implementing or improving your accountable plans to maximize your company's financial performance and ensure compliance with IRS regulations.

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Neal McSpadden

Neal went from owing the IRS over $1,300,000 to Zero and in so doing discovered the world of tax planning. Since 2011 he's helped tens of thousands of clients save hundreds of millions of dollars on overpaid income taxes.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What's the difference between tax advisory and just filing my taxes?

Filing your taxes each year is a necessary task, but it is always backwards looking. Tax advisory works with you throughout the year to make sure that you are on the right track when it comes to your taxes and have strategies in place to save money now.


I've heard about tax write-offs for small businesses. What exactly can I write off, and how does it benefit my business?

Tax write-offs, also known as tax deductions, are expenses that a business incurs that can be subtracted from its revenue to reduce the amount of taxable income. Common write-offs include office supplies, mileage, rent for a business location, and advertising expenses, among many others. By writing off legitimate business expenses, you can significantly reduce your taxable income, which can lead to a lower tax bill. It's essential, however, to maintain proper records and ensure that the expenses are truly business-related.


What's the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit?

A tax deduction reduces the amount of your income that is subject to taxation, which in turn can lower your tax liability. Common deductions include expenses like mortgage interest, student loan interest, and business expenses. A tax credit, on the other hand, is a direct reduction of your tax bill. This means if you owe $1,000 in taxes and have a $200 tax credit, your tax due would be reduced to $800. Some popular credits include the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and credits for energy-efficient home improvements.


I'm thinking of hiring an independent contractor instead of an employee. Are there different tax implications for each?

Yes, there are significant tax differences between hiring an employee and an independent contractor. When you hire an employee, you're responsible for withholding federal and possibly state income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes from their paychecks. You also typically pay unemployment taxes on wages paid to employees. Independent contractors, on the other hand, are responsible for their own taxes. As a business owner, you'd provide them with a Form 1099-NEC (if you pay them $600 or more during the year) instead of a W-2, and they would be responsible for their own self-employment taxes. It's important to correctly classify your workers, as misclassifying can lead to penalties.

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