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Obama's New Budget Bids Fairwell To Cell Phone Tax

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 04, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It looks like the Republicans and Democrats can reach across the aisle.

Some of the time.

On Saturday, a White House Official told the Associated Press that it plans to repeal the 1989 cell phone tax. In fact, the promise of this repeal is included in President Barack Obama's new budget and spending plan for 2011.   

If you're like the rest of America, you're probably scratching your head right now. Cell phone tax?

Perhaps a discussion on "taxable fringe benefits" is mandated before we go any further.  A taxable fringe benefit is considered pay, even if it's not monetary. The use of a company-owned Blackberry, for example, is a taxable fringe benefit. The employee must report, as income (on his or her tax return), the fair market value of the non-work related use of that phone.   

Well, that's the rule in a nutshell. Of course, the million dollar question is how do we calculate what constitutes "business use"?  

The law, as it stands, imposes strict record keeping requirements on employers who issue cellular telephones to their employees. The employees are required to keep a log of all their phone calls and distinguish between personal and business use calls.  

The problem? The IRS never really explained how employers were supposed to figure out those amounts.

Then, last June, the revelation came down from above. The IRS proposed to ease substantiation requirements for employers, by suggesting three possible ways that a company could determine the business usage of the cell phone. The backlash to the proposed regulation was enormous, so much so that, as discussed in this blog, the IRS began considerations to repeal the cell phone tax.

The current cell-phone law places a burden on both the employer and the employee, to report income that many often neglect to report. President Obama's plan to repeal the cell phone tax could come into effect as early as the 2010 tax year. A bipartisan bill, aptly titled the MOBILE Cell Phone Act (S. 144) was introduced last year by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Ensign (R-NV) to repeal the 1989 law.

And given the bipartisan support for this repeal in both Houses, it looks like the cell phone tax might soon be a vague and distant memory.  

Well, President Obama, it seems you did unite the Senate after all.

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