IRS issues guidance on taxability of dependent care assistance programs for 2021, 2022

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The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance on the taxability of dependent care assistance programs for 2021 and 2022, clarifying that amounts attributable to carryovers or an extended period for incurring claims generally are not taxable. The guidance also illustrates the interaction of this standard with the one-year increase in the exclusion for employer-provided dependent care benefits from $5,000 to $10,500 for the 2021 taxable year under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Because of the pandemic, many people were unable to use the money they set aside in their dependent care assistance programs in 2020 and 2021. Generally, under these plans, an employer allows its employees to set aside a certain amount of pre-tax wages to pay for dependent care expenses. The employee’s expenses are then reimbursed from the dependent care assistance program.

Carryovers of unused dependent care assistance program amounts generally are not permitted (although a 2½ month grace period is allowed). However, recent coronavirus-related legislation (the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020) allowed employers to amend their plans to permit the carryover of unused dependent care assistance program amounts to plan years ending in 2021 and 2022, or to extend the permissible period for incurring claims to plan years over the same period.

Today’s Notice 2021-26 clarifies for taxpayers that if these dependent care benefits would have been excluded from income if used during taxable year 2020 (or 2021, if applicable), these benefits will remain excludible from gross income and are not considered wages of the employee for 2021 and 2022.

Notice 2021-15, issued in February 2021, states that if an employer adopted a carryover or extended period for incurring claims, the annual limits for dependent care assistance program amounts apply to amounts contributed, not to amounts reimbursed or available for reimbursement in a particular plan or calendar year. Therefore, participants in dependent care assistance programs may continue to contribute the maximum amount to their plans for 2021 and 2022.

For more on coronavirus-related tax relief, see IRS.gov.