A perennial question facing corporate management is whether it makes better business sense to offer company-provided vehicles to employees or to reimburse them for the use of their personal vehicles. Lately, this question has gained increased scrutiny and is being fueled by pressure on all businesses to take cost out of their operations. Companies are under enormous and ongoing pressures to reduce costs, especially in the wake of the past six years of elevated fuel prices. A corporate fleet consumes a very large percentage of a company’s operating budget and it is a tempting target for cost-cutting programs. A corporate fleet is always open to scrutiny and the pressures to reduce costs and increase productivity promises to grow in the coming years.
Although tempting on the surface, closer examination invariably reveals that reimbursement is the wrong choice for corporate fleets. What follows are keys reasons why reimbursement doesn’t work from the standpoint of HR considerations, safety issues, liability exposure, tax implications, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, corporate image, and green fleet initiatives.
HR Implications to Reimbursement
ince a corporate fleet consumes a large percentage of a company’s operating budget, it is a tempting target in cost-cutting programs. Some corporate managers believe that driver reimbursement is less costly than a company-provided vehicle. However, as we all know, it is actually more expensive for employees to use their personal vehicles for business. What isn’t discussed as much are the human resources (HR) implications of a reimbursement program.
A company-provided vehicle can be used as a recruiting tool and company benefit by giving your company a competitive edge in hiring top-caliber salespeople, technicians, and managers. Past industry surveys have shown prospective employees view a company vehicle as an equivalent benefit to health care coverage and pension benefits. A company that offers a reimbursement program to prospective employees who already have a fleet vehicle puts itself at a hiring disadvantage. Prospective employees realize they will be forced to make a large outlay of money to purchase or lease a new vehicle and pay for auto insurance.
While a reimbursement allowance may have an initial appeal by enabling the employee to choose the vehicle of his or her choice, the employee quickly realizes it is not the best economic choice for them and typically not for the company either. It is for these reasons HR directors should discourage senior management from adopting driver reimbursement programs.
Depending on an employee’s financial wherewithal, some may find it difficult to pay for repairs out-of-pocket. Fleet managers say that some employees run short of cash and have to ask the company for a loan to repair their personal vehicle to continue working. Since preventive maintenance (PM) is an immediate, out-of-pocket expense, there is temptation on the part of the employee to postpone routine maintenance, as well as more expensive mechanical repairs.
Neglected PM can lead to break-downs, downtime, and unnecessary car-rental expense. A reimbursed driver has to spend time coordinating repairs, maintenance, rentals, and registration renewals, which could otherwise be devoted to selling the company’s products or services. It is not uncommon for drivers not to repair their vehicles after an at-fault accident because of limited finances.
Employees May Buy the Least Expensive Vehicle
Often, a reimbursement allowance is seen by the employee as part of their personal income. When it is time to replace the current vehicle, the employee may resent the outlay of a large sum of money. Frequently, drivers seek the lowest payments possible through longer terms because they think they can "make some extra money" by doing so.
If you allow employees to buy their own vehicles, some of them will buy the cheapest vehicle in order to make money from the company allowance. Also, drivers do not always replace vehicles on a timely basis. Companies offering reimbursement end up with an inconsistent mix of fleet vehicles and fleet policies with mileage and financing terms that make it impossible to manage equitably.[PAGEBREAK]
The Safety & Liability Perspective
With an employee-provided vehicle, how do you ensure it is properly maintained? How do you know the condition of the tires? What about the brakes? How do you know when an employee postpones a safety-related repair? If an accident is caused by deferred maintenance, what is your liability exposure if it occurred while conducting company business?
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a company to be aware of the condition and maintenance of every employee’s vehicle. In fact, a reimbursement program may actually contribute to poorly maintained employee-owned vehicles. For instance, if the reimbursement is not sufficient to cover actual expenses, the employee may defer preventive maintenance. Also, since maintenance is an out-of-pocket expense there may be a temptation (or financial necessity) to postpone more expensive mechanical repairs. The bottom line is that a business has little or no control over the condition of an employee’s personal vehicle.
If a vehicle is not provided by the company, the company must be certain the employee has sufficient insurance to protect it from liability exposure should an accident occur while the driver is on company time. It is difficult and time consuming for a company to confirm driver compliance with its insurance requirements. If a personal vehicle is used for work, an employee needs to carry "business" insurance, which is more expensive than personal insurance. Also, the increased miles driven annually, as a result of work, results in a higher premium.
Minimum liability coverage should be established if a personal vehicle is used for business. Also, an employee’s auto insurance should include sufficient uninsured/underinsured coverage, rental reimbursement, and towing. In addition, a company should require insurance be obtained from a financially solvent insurer. All of this involves administrative expense and corporate overhead to ensure that adequate insurance coverage has been purchased and that it is renewed each year.
By switching to a car allowance program, some companies believe they can dramatically minimize insurance exposure. These companies may avoid some cost of damage because the employee’s insurance is primary; however, they may still be sued for the liability exceeding the employee’s insurance coverage.
An employee may buy or lease a vehicle that is less safe than a typical company vehicle, which exposes the driver and the company to a higher risk in the case of an accident. Most fleets equip their vehicles with all available safety options. If employees provide their own vehicles, some may not have safety features such as side-impact airbags (or even passenger-side airbags on an older vehicle) or anti-lock brakes.
Difficulty Restricting Drivers
Under a reimbursement program, a company still needs to set up policies and guidelines governing the use of a personal vehicle to conduct company business. However, it is difficult to get employees to comply with company policy. A company should still monitor motor vehicle record (MVR) checks of employees using their personal vehicles. Unless you do so, how do you know if the employee representing your company is driving without a valid license or with a DUI conviction? To protect against this, companies need to update employee MVRs annually or semi-annually.
The inability to restrict who can drive a vehicle, such as spouses, children, and significant others is another problem. Some industries need to regulate who can drive a vehicle, such as pharmaceutical companies since some vehicles may be used to transport drug samples. When you consider an employee vehicle may be less safe than a company-provided vehicle and that it may have insufficient insurance coverage, along with the overhead expense to maintain an MVR program and to monitor insurance compliance, it is apparent that a driver reimbursement program decreases driver safety and increases corporate liability exposure.[PAGEBREAK]
Counter-Productive to Corporate Green Initiatives
Professional fleet management helps the federal government achieve its environmental objective by operating millions of well-maintained, fuel-efficient vehicles. The late-model company-provided vehicles on the road today help the government reduce tailpipe emission levels and conserve gasoline.
Consider the alternative. Without professional fleet management and company-provided vehicles, the alternative would be driver reimbursement with employees, on average, driving older, less well-maintained vehicles or large SUVs with lower fuel economy. Employee-reimbursed vehicles would emit greater emissions and consume more fuel than the alternative company-provided vehicles.
There are other ways that company-provided fleets contribute to emission reductions and conserve fuel. Fleets routinely restrict the grade of fuel drivers can purchase. For instance, the majority of fleets have policies or employ fuel cards that restrict the purchase of premium-grade fuel. Many consumers are misinformed believing their vehicles require premium-grade gasoline to operate effectively. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of domestically manufactured vehicles are designed to operate at their optimum using unleaded gasoline. From an environmental perspective, many people may not realize that the use of premium-grade fuel actually contributes 30 percent more greenhouse emissions than regular unleaded gasoline.
The more environmental groups learn about well-maintained company-provided vehicles and how fleets control fuel purchasing habits, the more they realize how very important company-provided vehicles are in helping our nation meet its environmental objectives. In the final analysis, the absence of professional fleet management and company-provided vehicles would be detrimental to our country’s environment.
Reimbursement Sends the Wrong Company Image
A company vehicle is part of your corporate image presented to customers and the community. With driver reimbursement, an employee determines whether a vehicle is appropriate to the type of image the company wants to project.
On the other hand, a company-provided program allows you to control the suitability and appearance of the vehicles used for your business. When an employee provides the vehicle, the company surrenders this control. The wrong vehicle can send the wrong message to your customers.
The problem that a reimbursement program creates is when someone is hired who already owns a vehicle; the company will most likely have to accept whatever he or she is driving. If the job doesn’t entail customer contact, it isn’t really important what the employee’s car looks like. However, if the driver has regular contact with customers, then providing a car will ensure that your company is represented correctly.
Are FAVR Reimbursement Programs Non-Compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley?
There are three types of payment plans utilized to reimburse employees who drive their personal vehicles for business use. They are fixed payments (a monthly allowance), variable payment (cents per mile), and fixed and variable reimbursement (FAVR).
First established in 1992, a FAVR plan reimburses employees on a non-taxable basis through a combination of a monthly allowance and a per-mile reimbursement. In IRS Revenue Procedure 2004-64, the FAVR fixed payment includes projected fixed costs, such as depreciation (or lease payments), insurance, registration, license fees, and personal property taxes. A FAVR plan also covers projected operating (or variable) costs, such as gasoline, fuel taxes, oil, tires, and routine maintenance and repair.
To be eligible to participate in a FAVR plan, an employee must meet a number of requirements specified by the IRS 2004-64 standards. However, not all employees can meet the non-taxable standards, so companies often administer two reimbursement plans — one taxable and one non-taxable.
As a result, a FAVR plan is more complicated to implement than other reimbursement plans and requires a great deal of administrative recordkeeping to satisfy IRS regs to maintain a non-taxable payment status. Companies are required to document annual business mileage, the number of years the vehicle will be retained, model-year of the employee vehicle, the vehicle acquisition cost, and proof of employee insurance. In addition, the depreciation method used on employee tax returns must be documented by the company, and the business mile documentation must include the time, place, and purpose for which the vehicle was used.
What are the Sarbanes-Oxley Implications?
Compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is mandatory for all publicly traded corporations, which must establish processes to ensure honest corporate disclosure and greater accountability. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) was the legislative reaction to the spate of corporate scandals involving companies such as Enron, WorldCom, and Adelphia. The law is named after Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), the bill’s key sponsors.
How do SOX rules affect FAVR reimbursement? Sarbanes-Oxley requires corporations to confirm that their processes are in compliance. There are numerous requirements to set up and maintain a FAVR program, all of which must be met or a company can find itself out of compliance with IRS rules, and thus out of compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley. Most companies rely on an outside vendor to set up and maintain a FAVR program and assume the vendor will be in compliance, but, ultimately, it is the company’s responsibility, from the standpoint of the law, to be in compliance.
A SOX audit typically examines the processes in place to validate the accuracy of corporate payments and ensure that calculations are done consistently and correctly. With both the setup and ongoing administrative requirements of a FAVR program, it may cause a company to become non-compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. There are so many FAVR rules that it is difficult to be compliant with all of them. Companies are always chasing after data from employees to make sure they remain in compliance.
How accurate is your FAVR reimbursement program from a Sarbanes-Oxley perspective? For instance:
- Annual Business Mileage. To participate in a FAVR program an employee must have a minimum 5,000 annual business miles. Can you verify that each year the employee is over the minimum of 5,000 miles of business use by the end of the year? If you can’t, this may be a Sarbanes-Oxley issue.
- Insurance. FAVR rules require employees to maintain insurance on the vehicle. Although you may verify insurance coverage at the start of the program, can you verify that an employee didn’t cancel the insurance?
- Number of Management Employees in a FAVR Program. At no time during the calendar year may a majority of the employees covered by a FAVR allowance be management employees. Do you have processes in place to monitor this requirement?
Some reimbursement outsourcers advise that "close counts" are adequate to comply with FAVR requirements. However, the IRS states that failure to meet one or more of the requirements in Section .08 of the IRS revenue procedure means an employee may not be covered by any FAVR allowance.
If an outside vendor is used to administer a reimbursement program, you can ask them to provide a certificate of full compliance with IRS rules, which would keep you in compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. Maybe now is the time to ask?
Six Tax Consequences of Driver Reimbursement
1. Taxable Income. If a company provides an employee a $500 monthly car allowance, the employee will have approximately $200 in tax liabilities for federal and state income tax, based on a 40-percent combined tax bracket. If the employee needs to spend $200 on taxes, in reality he or she will have only $300 to spend for the car, not $500.
2. Two-Percent Adjusted Gross Income Threshold. Theoretically, employees can deduct all business-related expenses and business mileage on their federal and state personal income tax returns and get the $200 back.
However, this is not always the case. On an individual tax return, an employee must itemize deductions; not everyone does. If deductions are not itemized, a driver is not eligible for any business-related tax deductions for the use of their personal vehicle.
If a driver does itemize deductions, then a 2 percent of adjusted gross income floor has to be met before expenses for the business-related use of a personal vehicle can be deducted.
For example, if an employee is making $100,000, the first $2,000 is not deductible. The adjusted gross income floor restricts an employee’s ability to obtain a tax benefit on business-related vehicle expenses.
This rule only applies to individuals, not companies. In addition, if a driver is married and files a joint income tax with a combined annual income exceeding $145,950, then there is a phase-out of up to 80 percent of the allowable itemized deductions beyond the 2-percent threshold.
3. Social Security (FICA) Taxes. Using the example of a $500 per month car allowance, this money is subject to FICA taxes, which are shared by the employer and employee. FICA taxes cannot be reduced by itemized deductions for the business use of a personal vehicle.
4. Interest Payments are Not Tax Deductible. If the employee finances a personal vehicle, the interest expense is not tax deductible. The IRS ruled years ago that personal interest payments are not deductible by individuals even if used to finance a personal vehicle required for their jobs. However, if a business finances a company vehicle, the interest expense is deductible.
5. Increased Risk of IRS Audit. The audit burden falls on the reimbursed employee for substantiation of all business expenses. Employees may not realize that mileage expenses and other reimbursed costs for business use of a personal vehicle are subject to audit by the IRS, and drivers are notorious for not keeping good records.
6. Exaggerated Business Mileage. Employees will attempt to maximize their reimbursement for mileage and vehicle expenses when they feel they are not being adequately reimbursed. One common way is to exaggerate business mileage.
When a company switches from a reimbursement program to a company-provided car program, the reported business mileage goes down by an average of 30 percent. It is not that employees drive less; it is that the business miles no longer generate reimbursement monies, so employees are reporting actual miles.
This shows that when a company switches to a driver reimbursement program it can expect a 30-percent exaggeration of business miles driven.
Counterpoint: Top Reasons for Reimbursement
There are circumstances where it is preferable to have employees provide their own transportation, and be reimbursed by the employer. These include:
- Temporary or intermittent requirement to drive.
- Low-mileage drivers (fewer than 12,000 miles per year).
- Lack of infrastructure to support an employer-provided pool.
- Strong employee preference may dictate the use of a reimbursement program as employees may wish to drive a specific vehicle for comfort or image reasons that are simply not acceptable for purchase as a fleet vehicle.
- The organization has limited funds available for purchase and does not want to lease vehicles.
- Public perception may prevent an organization from allowing employees to commute in their company-provided vehicles.
- Parking space or overnight security restrictions may prevent overnight and partial day storage of the employer’s vehicles. In this case, the employer may opt to eliminate its fleet vehicles and reimburse employees for the business use of their vehicles.
13 More Reasons Why Reimbursement Doesn’t Work
1. Increased Temptation to Defraud the Company.
Reimbursement opens the door for the padding of business mileages in order to increase allowances.
Drivers keep poor records of where they drove and for what reason so you pay without guaranteed knowledge that you are only paying for business mileage. The cents-per-mile on reimbursement, which the IRS raises annually, can be higher than the cost-per-mile cost of having well-managed fleet vehicles.
Also, some employees may attempt to get reimbursed for unauthorized expenses and there may be a deception of the true operating costs. It takes time and labor to monitor these issues.
2. Employee Productivity Will Decrease.
A business that does not provide a company vehicle has little or no control over the condition of the employee’s vehicle. If the amount of reimbursement by the company is not sufficient to cover actual expenses, the employee may defer preventive maintenance, which can lead to breakdowns, downtime, and unnecessary car-rental expense. Also, since preventive maintenance is an immediate, out-of pocket expense, there is a temptation on the part of the employee to postpone routine maintenance, as well as more expensive mechanical repairs.
Depending on an employee’s financial wherewithal, some may find it difficult to pay for repairs out-of-pocket. If unable to pay, the vehicle may have to sit idle at the repair facility forcing the driver to either rent a vehicle (if he or she can) or wait for a check from the home-office to get the vehicle out of the shop and back on the road. Corporate fleets generally have fix-now, pay-me-later arrangements in place that keep downtime to a minimum.
A reimbursed driver will be required to spend an inordinate amount of time coordinating repairs, maintenance, and registration renewals, which could otherwise be devoted to selling.
In the event of an accident, with a company-provided fleet, drivers do not have to manage the repair of the vehicle and get a rental replacement vehicle, which is a tremendous productivity enhancement.
Also, with driver-owned vehicles the employee will probably be shopping for a new vehicle or disposing of an old one on company time.
3. High-Mileage Drivers Upside Down with Reimbursement.
High-mileage drivers will usually be upside down at the end of a lease with a balloon payment due for over-mileage. When the driver leases a vehicle in a closed-end lease, excess mileage charges can be expensive.
Replacement cars are needed sooner because they quickly accumulate high mileage, but negative equity prevents employees from doing so unless the company intervenes with special compensation assistance.
The high mileage, an average of 30,000 miles per year, would preclude many employees from obtaining a personal closed-end lease.
4. Loss of Competitive Allowance Program Monies from Factories.
Oftentimes, manufacturer fleet incentive programs, such as competitive allowance programs (CAP), are structured based on reaching tiered volume purchasing levels. A reimbursement program, in which employees acquire their own vehicles, would eliminate a company’s fleet volume and its eligibility for CAP monies. Many companies have grown to rely on these monies to assist in lowering their vehicle-related overhead expenses.
5. Unable to Monitor Condition of Employee Vehicles.
With a company-provided vehicle, how do you ensure it is properly maintained? With driver reimbursement, the company is not aware of the vehicle’s condition and maintenance.
How are you going to monitor the condition of an employee’s car? Is the oil being changed at factory-designated intervals, as it is done on fleet units? Are the tires in safe driving condition? What about the brakes? Who will be monitoring this? How will repairs be handled?
6. Reimbursement Perceived to Be Part of Compensation
Often a reimbursement allowance is seen by the employee as part of his or her personal income. When it is time to replace the current vehicle, the employee may resent the outlay of a large sum of money.
7. Inability to Regulate Personal Use Of Employee Vehicles
With driver reimbursement, there is an inability to restrict who can drive a vehicle. For instance, with some industries, it is important to regulate who can drive the car (such as no one other than an employee and spouse) because, as is the case with pharmaceutical companies, some of these cars may contain drug samples.
8. Ability to Provide Proper Vehicles for Fleet Applications is Restricted
A key problem with reimbursement is the inability to provide the proper vehicle for the job function. Specific fleet applications require specific types of vehicles; however, in a reimbursement program a company loses control of this. With a company vehicle, you are able to make vehicle modifications and enhancements to protect the driver and cargo.
Service vehicles often require specialized outfitting which requires they be company-provided to maintain safety and weight standards.
9. Lack of On-Vehicle Advertising Opportunities
An important reason to frown on employees using their personal vehicles in their job is because of the inability to advertise a company on a personal vehicle. Drivers using their own vehicles would most likely not allow them to be used for advertising.
10. Employees Are Reluctant to Perform Work That May Damage Their Personal Vehicle
With a company-provided vehicle, you know it will be used for company business rather than having a truck rented because an employee does not want to damage the inside of his or her own vehicle.
11. The Perk of Buying a Used Company Vehicle is Eliminated for Employees
Employees may be interested in the benefit of buying the vehicle when its useful life at the company is completed. This perk is eliminated when employees are reimbursed for their personal vehicle.
There is also the employee perception that a perceived fringe benefit has been eliminated. Many sales and service personnel consider the purchase of their used vehicles a fringe benefit.
12. Company Loses Dividends of Resale Profit
In a strong used-vehicle market, the additional revenues derived in the resale of a company vehicle go straight to the company’s bottom line. This revenue source, albeit unpredictable, would be lost in reimbursement.
13. Advantages of Professional Fleet Management Not UsedProfessional fleet management, especially by those with a CAFM certification, will make better fleet-related choices than individual drivers. There are 11 advantages of a professional fleet manager: 1. Ensures correct vehicle specifications. 2. Expedites vehicle maintenance. 3. Monitors and negotiates on vehicle maintenance, parts availability, service work, and scheduling. 4. Pursues accident reimbursement. 5. Serves as liaison in lawsuits resulting from auto accidents. 6. Audits and/or pursues warranty reimbursements. 7. Audits and/or pursues manufacturer and lessor rebates. 8. Keeps daily rental car rates to a minimum. 9. Audits sales of used vehicles. 10. Ensures that fleet reporting is consistent and in compliance with applicable tax laws. 11. Provides safe driving information to reduce accident expense and time away from work.
Professional fleet management, especially by those with a CAFM certification, will make better fleet-related choices than individual drivers.
There are 11 advantages of a professional fleet manager:
1. Ensures correct vehicle specifications.
2. Expedites vehicle maintenance.
3. Monitors and negotiates on vehicle maintenance, parts availability, service work, and scheduling.
4. Pursues accident reimbursement.
5. Serves as liaison in lawsuits resulting from auto accidents.
6. Audits and/or pursues warranty reimbursements.
7. Audits and/or pursues manufacturer and lessor rebates.
8. Keeps daily rental car rates to a minimum.
9. Audits sales of used vehicles.
10. Ensures that fleet reporting is consistent and in compliance with applicable tax laws.
11. Provides safe driving information to reduce accident expense and time away from work.