The nontaxable fringe benefit rule that your reader is referring to is the “qualified employee discount” exclusion found in Internal Revenue Code Section 132(a)(2). Under this rule, an employer can generally exclude from an employee’s wages the value of an employee discount of up to 20 percent of the price charged to nonemployee customers for the same service. An employee discount provided to “highly compensated” employees is nontaxable only if the discount program does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees. In other words, the discount given to highly compensated employees should not be more favorable than that given to other employees. For this purpose, the term “highly compensated employee” generally refers to individuals whose total compensation exceeds $125,000. This is the amount applicable to 2019 and it is indexed annually for inflation. Note that for this purpose, the compensation used in determining whether an individual is highly compensated is the compensation of the prior year. The definition of “compensation” varies depending on the circumstances, but it generally does not include a validly designated clergy housing allowance within allowable limits. As far as the “substantial services” question, unfortunately, neither the Internal Revenue Code nor the related Regulations provide a definition or “bright-line” test for what constitutes “substantial services.” However, the Regulations do indicate that an employee who performs substantial services that directly benefit more than one line of business of an employer is treated as performing substantial services in all such lines of business. In our experience, we believe it is likely that all of the ministry activities of a traditional church taken together would comprise a single line of business for purposes of this fringe benefit rule. In practicality, churches rarely consider their employees to work in separate lines of business as that concept would be applied to this issue.
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