Many companies are struggling to find and retain good talent. It’s important that benefits, including relocation tax assistance and tax equalization, are very competitive. Offer employees what they need to have the best possible experience as they uproot their lives and move – be it a long or short-term move.

There are many benefits a company should consider for their employee relocation and global mobility programs. In this article, we discuss tax assistance and tax equalization. According to WHR Global (WHR) Chief Financial Officer, Jami Long, “By providing these tax benefits, employers help offset tax burdens for their employees. By doing so, some of the stress typically associated with relocations or international assignments can be decreased. When you consider that these benefits also help companies stay competitive in the hiring process, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Tax Assistance versus Tax Equalization

Tax assistance also referred to as gross-up, means an employer grosses up an employee’s taxable relocation benefits. In other words, gross-up is the additional money an employer pays their employee to offset any additional income taxes the employee would owe the respective tax authority when that employee receives a company-provided cash benefit, like relocation expenses. This benefit alleviates some of the tax burdens on a portion of the employee’s income.

Tax equalization, on the other hand, neutralizes an assignee’s tax liability associated with a global assignment. This compensation approach means an assignee pays approximately the same taxes if they had remained in their home country. In other words, the assignee is not paying more or less had they not left their home country, regardless of the actual tax burden in the home and host country.

The following may be old news, but still important to review. In December 2017, the US government passed legislation that directly impacted taxpayers. Under the 2017 law, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), taxpayers are unable to claim certain deductions, including job-related moving expenses.

Tax Assistance in Detail

Per the 2017 legislation, taxpayers must treat any direct payment or reimbursement of moving expenses received from their employer for job-related moving expenses as taxable income. Previously, employees only needed to pass the time and distance test (criteria 50 miles, 39 weeks, and 1 year), to be qualified to deduct moving expenses related to household goods moves, storage, and final moving expenses. Alternatively, an employee paying their moving expenses could deduct those moving expenses even if they didn’t itemize.

Under TCJA, all moving expenditures are taxed accordingly, at least until 2025. However, active-duty military members may still deduct moving expenses. For employers, this can have a significant impact because it could be a deterrent to attracting new talent, or current employees may be less inclined to take a promotion that involves moving.

Benefits of Providing Tax Assistance

If you’re competing for talent and your competitors are offering this benefit and you are not, you could be at a significant disadvantage. Tax assistance can take away some of the objections you might receive from current and/or future employees for relocation. In summary, the benefits of providing tax assistance can include:

  • Helps your relocation program remain competitive.
  • Improves employee attraction and retention efforts.
  • Alleviates some of an employee’s tax burdens.
  • Lessens employee stress, allowing the transferee to focus on their new role sooner.

Drawbacks of Providing Tax Assistance

  • Increases an employee’s taxable income and can change their tax bracket. This could increase an employee’s tax rate and phase out certain tax credits.
  • Increases company relocation expenses.

Tax Equalization in Detail

The transition from a home country to a host country can be difficult and could keep talent from taking expatriate assignments. Housing, cultural acclimatization, family adjustments, and entering a new work environment are just some of the challenges of international moves. Companies will often offer expatriates assistance to make the experience as smooth as possible, including tax equalization. For example, expatriates coming from the US have a unique obligation to fulfill and are required to file taxes on their global income regardless of where it was earned. They don’t have the benefit of being able to break their home country’s tax obligation. Additionally, they’ll have a tax filing requirement in the host country too.

Even though the US provides foreign tax credits that can be applied to the employee’s US return, it may not be enough of a credit to offset their entire US obligation. By providing tax equalization, expats whose combined taxes are higher than what they would hypothetically be without the assignment are reimbursed by the company for the additional incurred taxes. Conversely, if the combined taxes are lower, the assignee reimburses the company for the difference. When new opportunities arise overseas, businesses sometimes struggle to determine how they will fill positions. Many multinational corporations turn to their proven domestic employees and leverage those abilities to develop markets, monetize product offerings and grow the business overseas.

The recruitment/retainment process is even more challenging in highly specialized fields. Consider pharmaceuticals and bio-medical, for example, where there are a limited number of specialized candidates available, and oftentimes many companies are competing for the same talent. According to an article in Fierce Pharma, “Those technical qualifications become even trickier when applied to fields like cell and gene therapy.” Fabian Gerlinghaus, co-founder and CEO of Cellares said, “There simply aren’t enough humans in the highly specialized fields.”

Since the war for talent is even more competitive in specialized fields, providing the right benefits can make a big difference.

Benefits of Providing Tax Equalization

  • Decreases expatriate stress and allows the assignee to focus on the new role sooner. The less economic stress an employee is under, the more they can focus on the personal and professional development of an international opportunity.
  • Improves employee retention and recruiting efforts since the assignee is less likely to decline a foreign assignment or transfer due to tax obligations.
  • Limits tax burden and maintains a comparable home country tax basis for the assignee while on a foreign assignment. This means the assignee’s tax gain or loss is minimized and equalized as much as possible and remains the same had the assignee stayed in the home country.
  • Facilitates positive corporate citizenship for tax compliance in every location the company operates and eliminates the risk of local law non-compliance, tax regulations, and exchange rate controls.

Drawbacks of Providing Tax Equalization

  • Increases company relocation expenses.

Your Relocation Management Company (RMC) can explain how tax assistance and equalization work and help facilitate the process. RMCs can also manage everything for your company, including providing a global statement of earnings to your tax partner and ensuring tax assistance is correctly calculated and implemented.