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Corporate Cell Phone Policy – How Best To Reimburse?

Matt Dawson's Profile

corporate cell phone policyHi.  My young company has handled corporate cellphone policy (reimbursement) inconsistently over the years.  Currently we have employees with their own phones and plan that get reimbursed via AP (some 100% at exec level and others a fixed amount) and we have a few folks on a company plan that the company pays 100%.  In reviewing the IRS regs it seems clear that we don't comply since we aren't requiring substantiation of business vs personal time.  I want to keep things simple and allow for max company reimbursement in both cases (personal phone or company provided) as our team get email and calls outside "business" hours 24/7.  Does anyone have a recommend here?  From reading the regs, if doesn't seem like we can reimburse 100% unless an employee has a personal phone outside the company provided phone and for personal phones, I don't see any room to reimburse 100%.  My CPA has told me that most small companies don't comply with IRS regs due to either materially and/or cost of compliance (who has time to mark up their phone bill line by line?)  

Any thoughts or suggestions about corp. cellphone policy are appreciated.


Jeff Taylor
Title: CFO
Company: Communications Co.
(CFO, Communications Co.) |


I have been through a couple of IRS corporate audits (no personal audits, thankfully) and this has never come up. That said, I do have a company handbook (and always institute one at every company) which clearly lays out the corporate cell phone reimbursement policy. That policy (currently) says that if the employee uses their cell phone more than 50% of the time for company business, the company will reimburse the entire bill, minus any actual private "added toll" calls (that is, personal calls to Estonia that cost $95). We do have folks who line out calls that fall out of line and we do sample the bills on the A/P side before paying out each month.

I would have to think the risk is diminishgly low if you go so far as to have a policy and actually enforce it a bit. That said, I do not work for the IRS (thank god).

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Here's a free Corporate Cell Phone Policy:

We also have this free white paper on

"Expense Management For A New Decade:"

I think that will help.

Best... Sarah

Simon Westbrook
Title: CFO
Company: Aargo Inc.
( CFO, Aargo Inc.) |

In addition to the question corporate cell phone reimbursement, there is a question about personal vs company cell phones. Pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days, so reimbursing for the incremental cost of business use seems fair economically. However, I have worked for companies whose policy is to issue key employees with a company phone on the following grounds (i) they can buy a bigger pool of minutes to be used by Company employees and so get a lower cost advantage, (ii) the Company owns the number, so following the departure of a key employee, calls from customers, and business partners will still be routed to the Company over the Company cell phone during the critical transition period, and (iii) the company has more power to monitor the calls and messages made on the phone, which can be considered as a deterrent value in protecting the Company from transmission of IP, harrassing mesages, and other critical content.

Of course, the fact that an employee may have to carry two phones, one for personal use and the other for company use, can make this inconvenient and unpopular with employees, even if it did save them money! Has anyone else experienced this issue?

Jim Schwartz
Title: Corporate financial advisor
Company: Wabash Financial Strategies
(Corporate financial advisor, Wabash Financial Strategies) |

Simon, my last company had a similar policy. The focus was on buying cheaper minutes. I doubt that anyone at the company ever picked up incoming calls after an employee left. It's more likely the phone went in a box somewhere with a bunch of other surrendered phones until disposal. Monitoring never entered into the discussion and, unlike the internal voicemail system, I believe monitoring would be technically and practically more difficult and time consuming, therefore more likely reserved for really messy situations.

lisa cobb
Title: CFO
Company: HealthSmart
(CFO, HealthSmart) |

I have found a nice middle ground in offering EE's two options:
1) ER provided Company cell phone (with a policy in place signed by EE that indicates personal use should be deminimus) or
2) Fixed allowance added to payroll (this is a non-accountable plan and thus is taxable to the EE)
Gives the EE some choice while affording some protection for the Company...

Topic Expert
Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

It seems that some common sense is needed by the IRS (because of the 24x7 nature of so many jobs, people are expected to be connected, and because phones are replacing computers) and by employers. This needs to stay a minnow because it is had to see how it adds value to the company's top line. Yet it can consume countless hours and dollars of audit fees for little value.
I always found that when an employee abused a company asset or policy, it was a good sign that he/she was likely not to last long with us. So I would simply give them a warning and hint about the "next stage" consequences. If they really wanted to stay, they'd change; if not, their poor performance took care of it anyway.

Peter Lyons, MBA, CMA
Title: Finance and Technology Enthusiast
Company: Currently Looking
(Finance and Technology Enthusiast, Currently Looking) |

My firm has implemented a cell phone policy where we assume that 25% of the cost of the voice plan associated with their cell phone is personal. We take that 25% of the cost an add it to their taxable income on either their W9 or K-1. We assume that all data is used for business purposes since we operate on a BES and we can monitor the use. We have made a corporate decision not to allow text messaging, so we apply an after-tax deduction to their paycheck for any text messaging packages or charges that show up on our corporate bill.

When we implemented the policy, we didn't hear any complaints from any of the staff and we made each individual opt-in or opt-out of a text messaging plan and certify that they accepted the terms of our policy.

Title: Executive & Business Coach, Career Trans..
Company: Howard B. Schwedel, MBA / Schwedel Busin..
(Executive & Business Coach, Career Transition, Franchise Selection, Howard B. Schwedel, MBA / Schwedel Business Svc.) |

My expereince was similar, I had various managers approving different cell phone expenses. Finally the company decided to select a single provider and own all the corporate phones. This decision was made in order to ensure customers always had a company phone number and not a personal number that would leave the company with the person.

The problem was trying to manage hundreds of phones, with ever changing plans and people transfering older phones to new people, so others could get the latest phones and options.

Pretty soon it was out of hand and took nearly 30 days each month to reconcile the cell phone program and negotiating a reduction ib change and cancellation fees.

I would stick with personal cell phones and letting department managers approve the proper level of reimbursement. The most important thing is conducting business efficently and not a common policy that restricts business.

Howard Schwedel

Julie Church
Title: Controller
Company: Latis Networks, Inc.
(Controller, Latis Networks, Inc. ) |

Right on target, Howard. We went through the same nightmare. Now we let employees pick their own plans and have set levels (three different levels) of reimbursement depending upon the business needs for each employee (smart phone or simple cell phone, for example). And we reimburse regardless of personal use - we consider that we are reimbursing them to be AVAILABLE to be reached 24x7. We do get a copy of the bill for reimbursement to keep our plan "accountable" with the IRS.

Wray Rives
Company: Rives CPA PLLC

Cell phones were considered listed property by the IRS up until 2010, but that changed beginning with 2010 tax years, so the documentation requirements for business vs personal use are now greatly relaxed. Cell phones are now treated as any other normal reimbursable business expense.

Topic Expert
Mark Von Der Linn
Title: Principal
(Principal, |

Minimize Cost:
a) Your overall costs will likely be minimized by providing phones on a corp liab plan (cost of personal usage offset by much lower rates).
b) Use a software tool to manage/optimize for cell bills. Most are VERY effective (big ROI). I've recently begun offering one to my clients that monitors usage even before the end of the billing period, allowing you to make plan changes before it's too late.

Simplify Process:
Again, because of low corp rates, you are probably ahead of the game if you just eat the cost of any personal usage, especially when you factor in the drain of tracking it all (plus paying for it has perq value to your employees). But if you don't want to pay for any personal use, then have employees estimate what % of usage will be personal and deduct that percent of the plan cost from payroll every mo. Have the employee validate every six months and adjust. IRS very likely to be an issue either way, per numerous comments above.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

The IRS made this a significant audit issue approximately two years ago, where they wanted employees to recognize the personal use of cell phones included in W-2’s. I forgot which company was hit with this in an audit, but it eventually became an issue that had to be addressed by senior management in the IRS. Eventually, they issued an internal directive that personal use of company issued cell phones is considered di minimis and no further significant audit issues have come up relating to this. This is not to say you shouldn’t address, this, but the chance of this being a company tax issue has significantly declined. I would recommend that you define the policy and state that personal use should be limited. Practically speaking, those getting cell phones should be the heavy users or are required for their position

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

We had a business cell phone plan and it took me 30 minutes to mark it up and distribute the costs appropriately (either absorb, or bill back). It also gave me a chance to see who was using the phone domestically and internationally.

I was able to determine one of the sales people was using her phone to call her boyfriend in England multiple times a day. She reimbursed the company.

Vik Agrawal
Title: President & Co-Founder
Company: ExpensePath, Inc.
(President & Co-Founder, ExpensePath, Inc.) |

There was a recent court ruling in California on company obligations for reimbursing employees for cell phone use. The key takeaway is that if the cell phone is used for their job, then the company has to reimburse even if the employee is on a personal plan where there is no incremental cost to them for business use of the phone (i.e. use for work falls within their monthly minutes). The court said the company has to at least reimburse a reasonable percentage of the bill since they are getting a benefit from the employee's personal cell phone plan.

So you could have them itemize or provide some sense of reasonable percentage each month. But the real advice is to assess the actual usage of cell phones by employees. So I would suggest doing this for each department (i.e. Sales, Support, IT, etc.), then set monthly reimbursement policy for each job function and automate the tracking in your expense reporting process.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

We have issues with this topic currently as well because we have people in different footprints and may not have great service with one carrier. We currently have a very inexpensive monthly plan that we encourage people to take advantage of. We have some who don’t want two numbers so they say they will just pay for their bill but use it for work. We have others who don’t want to use a work phone for personal so we pay for a plan; but the question always arises if we do it for one should we do it for them all? Our entire admin team uses their personal phones for business and we do not reimburse. We have talked about it a bunch of times but never get anywhere. Our managers the argument is always they can use the LAN lines at the store for business. Definitely a great topic; would love to read more comments on this.

Rick Hendrix
Title: Wireless support manager
(Wireless support manager, |

When it comes to managing your Cellphone expenses, who’s your go to person or company? Is it members of your staff that may have some knowledge about rate plans and features or would you rather count on a company that manages Cellphone expenses for over 300 other companies on a daily basis? I am at and our job is to optimize your Cellphone rate plans and minimize your monthly expenses day in and day out in USA.


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