With lodging prices still well below the highs seen in 2008, the U.S. General Services Administration has left the standard federal per diem rate for 2012 unchanged from the lower 2011 rates. In addition, the rates for most non-standard areas will also remain consistent with 2011 rates.
According to information released by the GSA, the 2012 standard lodging reimbursement for CONUS (continental United States) destinations will remain $77, while the standard meals and incidental expenses reimbursement will continue to be $46. The total standard per diem rate for 2012 will continue to be $123.
While the CONUS per diem rates are valid at most destinations in the U.S., the GSA also maintains a list of nearly 400 Non-standard Areas. These are locations where federal employees frequently visit, meaning their travel costs are scrutinized more closely.
Each non-standard area has its own unique per diem rate, some higher than the standard rate, some lower. For fiscal year 2012, the GSA has designated the Alexandria/Leesville/Natchitoches, Louisiana area as a new non-standard area. The lodging per diem rate increases to $80, while the meals and incidental expenses rate increases to $61.
In addition to the new non-standard area, eight locations will return to non-standard status after having lost it in 2011. These locations include:
- Montgomery, Ala.
- Ocala, Fla.
- Michigan City, Ind.
- Benton Harbor, Mich.
- Mackinac Island, Mich.
- Mount Pleasant, Mich.
- Jefferson City, Mo.
- Sheboygan, Wisc.
Meanwhile, five locations that were non-standard areas in 2011 will again become standard in 2012, meaning the standard CONUS per diem rates apply. These areas include:
- Stockton, Calif.
- Lake Charles, La.
- Robisonville, Miss.
- Tulsa, Okla.
- Bremerton, Wash.
Most non-standard areas will not see rate changes. Of those that will, the GSA states that most will not increase or decrease more than $5. Essentially, the same per diem rates that applied in 2011 also apply in 2012. Per diem rate changes take effect Oct. 1, 2011. Organizations outside the federal government often use the GSA rates to guide their own travel practices. If your organization uses per diem rates, travelers are not required to provide receipts for reimbursement if their allowance does not exceed the GSA rates. You can find per diem rates on the GSA web site and in IRS Publication 1542.
High-Low Method Discontinued
In previous years, the IRS published additional per diem rates for "high-cost" locations and a separate rate for all other areas. Organizations that used these rates were following the "high-low method," applying these rates in lieu of standard federal per diem rates.
However, in 2011 the IRS announced they were discontinuing use of the high-low method. Organizations that offer per diems to their employees must now follow the standard rates published by the GSA.
While the new rates take effect Oct. 1, 2011, organizations are free to continue using the 2011 rates for the remainder of the year. However, once you begin using the 2012 rates, you cannot use the 2011 rates again.
Organizations that reimburse employees for actual documented expenses according to an accountable plan can disregard any changes to per diem rates, as they do not affect your process.