Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eat a Sandwich from a Drug Rep, Get Reported to the IRS

I understand that drug companies will begin to send 1099's to doctors and others accepting meals. I wanted to get an opinion letter from the IRS about this practice. I believed those were gifts, not income. For example, I come to your home. I bring your wife flowers. Do I have to 1099 your wife at the end of the year? I thought the flowers were a gift. She did not work for me.

My accountant straightens me out:

"The following significant increases in user fees will apply: 

... The fee for a private letter rulings will increase from $7,500 to $10,000, except as provided for certain reduced fees explained below. A private letter ruling is a written statement issued by the IRS Associate Office to a taxpayer in response to its written inquiry about the tax effects of its acts or transactions or its status for tax purposes before the required filing of returns or reports.

Under the new fee schedule, taxpayers with gross income of less than $250,000 can request a private letter ruling for a reduced fee of $625 while a fee of $2,500 will apply to requests from taxpayers earning from $250,000 to $1 million. Currently, a $625 fee applies for a request that involves (1) a personal tax issue from a person with gross income of less than $250,000 or (2) a business-related tax issue (for example, home-office expenses, residential rental property issues) from a person with gross income of less than $1 million. 

... User fees for information letter requests are imposed for the first time, at $2,000. Information letters provide a general discussion of the law on a subject, not directed to any particular set of facts. Such letters can be issued when the taxpayer has asked for a letter ruling, but for some reason the Chief Counsel could not issue it. The taxpayer cannot rely on information letters.

In answer to your question, if you are deducting the flowers for my wife, a bottle of wine, or a box of chocolates, it is considered a business gift. Such gift are limited to $25/year to any single recipient [Code Sec. 274(b)].

If you buy a patient or colleague a meal, as long as there is a bona fide business discussion before, during or after the meal, you can deduct ½ of the cost. If you want to deduct 100%, the patient or colleague needs to pick it up as income. It appears that is what is happening here. The pharmaceutical companies are probably deducting 100% of the costs and making the Doc’s pick up the meal fair market value."

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