Monday, February 05, 2007

de minimis fringe

Income Tax

I always thought this sounded like a good name for a band. Maybe a jazz trio. Anyway, what it actually *is* is much less interesting than what I imagine it to be, as many things are.

But first I must start by explaining why the de minimis fringe could possibly matter. It matters because the internal revenue service considers nearly EVERYTHING you get your hands on to be income. Technically, gross income (what gets taxed) is any accession to wealth, clearly realized, over which the taxpayer has complete dominion.

That basically means that anything you get, free and clear, that you didn't already have, is income. And because, taken literally, that would produce absurd results, the IRS has been kind enough to include a million exclusions in the code. One exclusion from gross income is the de minimis fringe: the little junk you get at work that doesn't add up to much. Like free coffee and morning doughnuts, for example.

Other exclusions, just in case you were wondering, are fun things like health insurance premiums paid by your employer, most pension plan contributions, employee discounts offered by employers, and on-premises meals and lodging if furnished on the employer's actual premises and for the convenience of the employer (like the slop I eat three nights a week at the homeless shelter), but not *reimbursements* for food, those don't count.

Now imagine how bizarre it would be if you had to try and add up at the end of the year the value of all the cups of stale coffee you drank for "free" at work so you could include them as income on your tax return. And imagine how bitter that would make you. More bitter, even, than the dregs of that stale coffee I bet. Bitter indeed.


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