The MDTAXES Network Launches Forum to Help Physicians Stay Current with the Potentially Lucrative Medical Resident FICA Rebate

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While Social Security and Medicare taxes are generally withheld from the salaries of non-government employees, those trainees classified as "student employees" are exempt from this 7.65% tax. The FICA rebate would put approximately $3,800 per each year of training into the pocket of young physicians.

The debate as to whether medical residents are subject to Social Security and Medicare Taxes - also known as the FICA tax - rages on, and the IRS keeps losing. Even so, the IRS appears to be in no hurry to return any FICA taxes to medical residents and their residency programs.

"On the MDTAXES website, we originally wrote about medical residents being exempt from FICA taxes back in our February 2001 newsletter (available at http://www.mdtaxes.com/news0201.html)," says Andrew Schwartz CPA, founder of The MDTAXES Network, an association of CPAs who specialize in the tax and accounting issues affecting healthcare professionals and their practices. "We have now just added the Medical Resident FICA Forum to help young physicians keep abreast of any developments with this potentially lucrative tax rebate."

For medical residents, there is some ambiguity in the tax laws as to whether they should be classified as employees or students. The rule in question deals with people who are employed by colleges, universities, and organizations (such as teaching hospitals) affiliated with colleges and universities. According to IRS code section 3121(b)(10), employees of universities and their affiliated entities need to be classified as either "student employees" or "career employees".

Employees classified as student employees are exempt from paying Social Security and Medicare taxes on money earned while employed at the school. This rule was most likely put in place to help students better afford their tuition and living expenses while enrolled in either an undergraduate or graduate program. (Social security and Medicare taxes are currently withheld at a rate of 7.65% of your gross salary.)

In the court case dating back to before 2001, the University of Minnesota was not withholding Social Security taxes from their medical residents claiming, instead, that the residents should be treated as student employees. The IRS assessed the university more than $8 million in unpaid Social Security taxes. The university took the IRS to court and won both the court case and the subsequent appeal, opening the door for medical residents to be classified as student employees instead of career employees, and in theory, allowing the residents to receive refunds of Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their pay.

Recent Activity In The Courts:

The IRS recently lost a FICA case against the Center for Family Medicine and University of South Dakota School of Medicine Residency Corporation. The courts sided with the residency program because of the following facts and circumstances:

1. The residency programs were responsible for interviewing and hiring the residents via the match program.

2. The contract was written between the incoming residents and the residency programs.

3. The residency programs required each resident to complete specific rotations, and the physicians who supervised the residents were members of the program's faculty.

4. The residency programs had the primary authority to discipline the residents, and ultimately, determined the residents' ability to advance.

Prior to this case being decided, the IRS had asked the courts for a summary judgment to dismiss this case. For their main argument in the summary judgment, the IRS referred to a "Bright Line Rule" which states that medical residents never qualify for the "student exemption", and therefore, are never exempt from the FICA tax. The court ruled against the IRS, and held that "the determination of whether plaintiffs' medical residents are 'students' requires a case-by-case inquiry into the relationship between plaintiffs and their medical residents."

In another case involving the Mount Sinai Medical Center of Florida, Inc., the Court of Appeal for the 11th circuit held that the district court erred in ruling that medical residents enrolled in graduate medical education programs are precluded, as a matter of law, from seeking to rely on the student exemption to FICA taxation, and issued the district court to "VACATE the summary judgment and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

New Forum for the Medical Resident FICA Rebate :

"Let's work together to keep abreast of any developments with this valuable tax break. We've set up a new Forum just for this topic that you can click to from the homepage of The MDTAXES Network (http://www.mdtaxes.com). Please remember to post whatever you hear or read regarding this FICA issue on our new forum," says Schwartz.

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Andrew Schwartz CPA
The MDTAXES Network
800-471-0045 ext. 11
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