Employee Loans and Their Tax Consequences

A salary, or wage, advance is a type of short-term loan from an employer to an employee. The employee receiving the advance must pay back the money within a specified time frame, as dictated by the company’s salary advance policy.

Under federal law, employers can make payroll deductions to recover salary advances even if the transaction causes the employee’s pay to drop below the minimum wage. Many states follow this precedent as well.

No taxes should come out of the actual advance, but you must withhold taxes from the repayment. That is, each repayment amount is net of withholding. This way, the employees’ wages will be taxed as normal.

For instance, an employee who earns taxable wages of $1,200 biweekly takes a salary advance of $200. When calculating the employee’s next paycheck, withhold federal income tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and any state and local income taxes from the $1,200. Then deduct the salary advance of $200.

Draws against commissions

A draw against commission is essentially an advance payment to a commissioned sales employee. Draws can be recoverable or nonrecoverable.

With a recoverable draw, the employee receives a fixed amount of money in advance and agrees that the draw will be deducted from his or her future commissions. These types of draws are based on a predetermined amount that is paid out regularly.

For instance, a salesperson whose commissions are paid at the end of each month receives a draw of $1,000 biweekly. At the end of the month, you would subtract $2,000 in draws from the employee’s commissions and then pay the employee the difference. If the commission amount is insufficient to repay the draw, the difference is carried forward to the next month. In the end, all draws taken must be paid back.

With a nonrecoverable draw, the commissioned employee gets a guaranteed periodic amount that the employee repays if the commissions for the pay period exceed the draw amount. If the employee does not earn enough commissions to cover the draw, the employee owes the employer nothing.

If you offer draws against commission, you will need to ensure that the policy complies with the minimum wage requirements. Also, the IRS considers commissions as supplemental wages, which are taxed differently than regular wages. Your payroll provider or CPA can help you navigate the complexities of withholding taxes on draws against commissions.

Compensation-related loans

If a loan from an employer to an employee exceeds $10,000 and is given at a below-market interest rate, then the loan is “compensation related.” This type of loan is usually extended by employers who want to attract and retain key executives and employees.

The difference between what you charged the employee in interest and the applicable federal interest rate is treated as taxable wages paid to the employee and must be reported to the IRS as additional compensation.

No matter which loan structure you choose, be sure to seek legal or financial counsel so that sound policies and procedures can be established.

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