SURVEY SAYS – Do You Have a Cell Phone "Benefit?"

June 18, 2009 ( - While the IRS may have reconsidered the issue of work-issued cell phone taxation (and we certainly hope Congress acquiesces in their request), it nonetheless brings to mind the question of how we all use those cell phones - and who REALLY benefits.

First off, only a distinct subset of this week’s respondents currently have that employer-provided device (as one reader noted, “sometimes it’s good to be low on the pole!” ) – just over half ( 53.8% ) said they didn’t – but then, another 21.5% said, “you’re kidding, right?”  

What that means, of course, is that roughly a quarter ( 24.7% ) did have an employer-provided device.

How Much?

Now, of course, there’s having that cell phone – and then there’s the issue of when the Internal Revenue Service was considering taxing its use as a benefit, specifically when it was used for personal benefit (see  IRS Says Cell Phone Law Obsolete ).   On reader said “Company paid cell phones are obvious fringe benefits that should be taxed based on a published safe harbor amount, regardless of reported personal vs. business use. The same for autos, where self-reported “personal miles” are likely well under actual.”  

However, that wouldn’t appear to be an issue for our readers; while only about 16% of those that had those phones didn’t make any personal use at all, the majority ( 52% ) said that their personal usage was less than 25%.   On the other hand, for the remaining third said that their personal usage was – well, more than 25%.

Complicating the usage math for some was the diverse nature of today’s mobile devices.   More than one reader said that the email aspect was 100% work, but that the phone tended to bleed over into personal.   As one noted, “I tend to TALK on it for family matters. But it’s a Blackberry, and the e-mails are pretty much all business.”    

Another explained, “It would not be possible to eliminate all personal calls on my cell phone any more than to eliminate these on the land line on my desk.” 

I also asked readers what step(s) they would have taken If the IRS had pursued the taxation of that employer-provided cell phone as a benefit.   A plurality ( 29.5% ) said they would have quit using the device for anything but 100% business, and another quarter ( 26.2% ) said they would have just paid the tax (another 2% would have paid the tax, but expected a compensation plus-up).  

Meanwhile, a full one-in-five say they would simply turn in the device , and thus not have to concern themselves with the matter.   

The remaining 23% chose "other", but those primarily broke down into two camps; as one said, "Probably paid the new tax, but with a few choice words" , or - they simply weren't sure what they would do.

And then, there were (as always) some interesting verbatims:

"I work in a weird environment where our boss thinks employees need a personal life and should not be tied to the office and/or accessible 24/7. On the other hand, most professional staff want a blackberry to facilitate their work."

"Rarely any non-work use as I always have both my personal and business devices with me - - and frankly the phone quality of my device is substantially better than the company provided device."

"I am the only executive here that has declined (refused) the company provided Blackberry/phone. After watching all the Crackberry addicts here, it paints an ugly picture of why anyone would want one. I tell people that when they report they have difficulty reaching me, I'll get one. Five years later and no complaints. I would estimate that those that have company provided phones use them for personal stuff about 25% - 35% of the time, especially if they have texting teenagers."

But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who said, "The service is so poor (fewer bars, fewer places), I'm more likely to use my personal phone for business than the other way around."

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!