Per Diem Rates and Processing Fees

QUESTION:

For overnight trips to my various stores, can I deduct a daily travel per diem rate?

ANSWER:

As the restaurant owner, you may pay a per diem allowance in lieu of reimbursing actual expenses for lodging, as well as meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) incurred or to be incurred by an employee. This includes reimbursement to owners for away-from-home travel. The amount that will be treated as a substantiated expense for each day (or part of a day) will be the lesser of either the per diem allowance or the amount computed at the federal per diem rate for the locality being visited that day. Incidental expenses include only fees and tips given to porters, hotel staff, etc.

A new calculation for substantiating travel allowances is the simplified (high-low) method. It can be used for per diem amounts paid for lodging plus M&IE during travel within the continental United States. If the regular federal per diem option isn’t used, the restaurant owner may reimburse up to $242 for high-cost localities ($177 for lodging and $65 for M&IE) and $163 for other localities ($111 for lodging and $52 for M&IE).

QUESTION:

How can I get a better deal from my credit card processor?

ANSWER:

You can start by shopping around. If it has been six months or more since you last received a quote from your current merchant service provider, you should take a little time to reach out and contact other providers. As most of you have experienced, it won’t take long before some aggressive salesperson will turn up and promise you the moon.

To get started, compare your rates and fees on a transaction category basis. For example, card-present transactions incur a lower fee than corporate cards. To ensure accuracy, the provider will need copies of your merchant’s statements from the past three months for the purpose of comparison; ask specifically for an annual savings calculation. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you familiarize yourself with your current provider’s termination fees in case you decide to make a switch, and make sure you fully understand the new provider’s termination fees before making your final decision.

Of course, you’ll also want to make sure that your equipment is compatible with the new provider’s requirements. Finally, ask the new provider if you will have the ability to view your daily transactions online, batch by batch; using this approach, you will be able to monitor your merchant fees as you go along rather than having to wait until the end of each month. In this era of “big data,” you have every right to receive your data from the provider in a timely manner that allows you to keep a close watch on it.

Michael J. Rasmussen is the owner of Rasmussen Tax Group in Conway, Arkansas. Visit rasmussentaxgroup.com for additional insight into restaurant-specific tax strategies and technology programs.