One way you can find and keep valuable employees is to offer the best compensation package possible. An important part of any compensation package is fringe benefits, especially tax-free ones. From an employee’s perspective, one of the most important fringe benefits you can provide is medical coverage. Disability, life, and long-term care insurance benefits are also significant to many employees. Fortunately, these types of benefits can generally be provided on a tax-free basis to your employees. Let’s look at these and other common fringe benefits.
Medical coverage • If you maintain a health care plan for your employees, coverage under that plan isn’t taxable to them. Employee contributions are excluded from income if pretax coverage is elected under a cafeteria plan; otherwise, such amounts are included in their wages, but are deductible on a limited basis as itemized deductions.
Caution: Employers must meet a number of new requirements when providing health insurance coverage to employees. For instance, benefits must be provided through a group health plan (either fully insured or self-insured). Reimbursing an employee for individual policy premium payments can subject the employer to substantial penalties.
Disability insurance • Your disability insurance premium payments aren’t included in your employee’s income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. The employees’ premium payments (or any other contribution to the plan) generally are not deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for their disability benefits; such contributions are excludable from their income.
Long-term care insurance • Plans providing coverage under qualified long-term care insurance contracts are treated as health plans. Accordingly, your premium payments under such plans aren’t taxable to your employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.
Life insurance • Your employees generally can exclude from gross income premiums you pay on up to $50,000 of qualified group term life insurance coverage. Premiums you pay for qualified coverage exceeding $50,000 is taxable to the extent it exceeds the employee’s contributions toward coverage.
Retirement plans • Qualified retirement plans that comply with a host of requirements receive favorable income tax treatment, including (1) current deduction by you, the employer, for contributions to the plan; (2) deferral of the employee’s tax until benefits are paid; (3) deferral of taxes on plan earnings; and (4) in the case of 401(k) plans and SIMPLE plans, the employee’s ability to make pretax contributions.
Dependent care assistance • You can provide your employees with up to $5,000 ($2,500 for married employees filing separately) of tax-free dependent care assistance during the year. The dependent care services must be necessary for the employee’s gainful employment.
Adoption assistance • Generally, in 2015, employees can exclude from income qualified adoption expenses of up to $13,400 for each eligible child paid or reimbursed by you under an adoption assistance program.
Educational assistance • You can help your employees with their educational pursuits on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance, and qualified scholarships.
Benefits provided to self-employed individuals • Generally, different and less favorable tax rules apply to certain fringe benefits provided to self-employed individuals, including sole proprietors (including farmers), partners, members of limited liability companies (LLCs) electing to be treated as partnerships, and more-than-2% S corporation shareholders. However, except in the case of a more-than-2% S corporation shareholder, if the owner’s spouse is a bona fide employee of the business, but not an owner, the business may be able to provide tax-free benefits to the spouse just like any other employee.