Understanding Nonprofit Tax Cuts for Transportation Benefits

Transportation benefits can be a great employer-incentive to offer employees. Whether it be for public transit or public parking—these benefits can be paid to a 3rd party transit or parking company or directly to employees. However, due to the latest federal legislation known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employers may no longer deduct transportation fringe benefits as their own deductible business expenses. When it comes to nonprofit employers that provide this benefit, they are required to report and pay the tax on the value provided as taxable “unrelated business income.”

So what specific impact does this act have on nonprofit employers? This Act requires an unrelated business income tax “UBIT” on nonprofit organizations for providing transportation fringe benefits. If a nonprofit employer uses some of its revenues to pay for employees’ transportation benefits, then such revenues will be taxed to the employer. In addition, these nonprofit revenues would not otherwise be taxable, given the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. This change is meant to level out the employer tax—providing more of a unity between taxable and non-taxable employers in terms of taxable income to the employer. 

A UBIT is the income a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization can generate from a trade or business that is commonly carried on by the organization and is not related to the organization’s exempt purposes.  Prior to the Act, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization’s unrelated business income was subject to a tax rate determined under a marginal rate structure in which the lowest tax rate was 15% and the highest tax rate was 35%. This Act removes this marginal rate structure and offers a flat rate of 21% on unrelated business income. With that being said, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization’s expenses related to the provision of qualified transportation benefits will now be subject to the flat UBIT rate of 21%.  

For the nonprofit sector, treating transportation fringe benefits as unrelated business income will likely result in new reporting and potential tax liability implications.  Also, the IRS has not provided any specific instructions on the estimated payment requirements for taxes associated with transportation fringes. Until additional information is given, it would be in the organizations best interest to follow current standard procedures for tax payments that are associated with Form 990-T.