Reduce Insurance Costs by Encouraging Employee Wellness

Protecting your company through the purchase of various forms of insurance is a risk-management necessity. But just because you must buy coverage doesn’t mean you can’t manage the cost of doing so.

Obviously, the safer your workplace, the less likely you’ll incur costly claims and high workers’ compensation premiums. There are, however, bigger-picture issues that you can confront to also lessen the likelihood of expensive payouts. These issues tend to fall under the broad category of employee wellness.

Physical well-being

When you read the word “wellness,” your first thought may be of a formal wellness program at your workplace. Indeed, one of these — properly designed and implemented — can help lower or at least control health care coverage costs.

Wellness programs typically focus on one or more of three types of services/activities:

  1. Health screenings to identify medical risks (with employee consent),
  2. Disease management to support people with existing chronic conditions, and
  3. Lifestyle management to encourage healthier behavior (for example, diet or smoking cessation).

The Affordable Care Act offers incentives to employers that establish qualifying company wellness programs. As mentioned, though, it’s critical to choose the right “size and shape” program to get a worthwhile return on investment.

Mental health

Beyond promoting physical well-being, your business can also encourage mental health wellness to help you avoid or prevent claims involving:

  • Discrimination,
  • Wrongful termination,
  • Sexual harassment, or
  • Other toxic workplace issues.

If you’ve already invested in employment practices liability insurance, you know that it doesn’t come cheap and premiums can skyrocket after just one or two incidents. But, in today’s highly litigious society, many businesses consider such coverage a must-have.

Controlling these costs starts with training. When employees are taught (and reminded) to behave appropriately and understand company policies, they have much less ground to stand on when considering lawsuits. And, on a more positive note, a well-trained workforce should get along better and, thereby, operate in a more upbeat, friendly environment.

To take mental health wellness one step further, you could implement an employee assistance program (EAP). This is a voluntary and confidential way to connect employees to outside providers who can help them manage substance abuse and mental health issues. Although it will call for an upfront investment, an EAP can lower insurance costs over the long term by discouraging lifestyle choices that tend to lead to accidents and lawsuits.

Hand in hand

Happy and healthy — there’s a reason these two words go hand in hand. Create a workforce that’s both and you’ll stand a much better chance of maintaining affordable insurance premiums. We can provide further information on how to reduce potential liability and lower the costs of various forms of business insurance.

Tax-free Fringe Benefits Help Small Businesses and Their Employees

In today’s tightening job market, to attract and retain the best employees, small businesses need to offer not only competitive pay, but also appealing fringe benefits. Benefits that are tax-free are especially attractive to employees. Let’s take a quick look at some popular options.

Insurance

Businesses can provide their employees with various types of insurance on a tax-free basis. Here are some of the most common:

Health insurance.  If you maintain a health care plan for employees, coverage under the 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 may be deductible on a limited basis as an itemized deduction.

Disability insurance.  Your premium payments aren’t included in employees’ income, nor are your contributions to a trust providing disability benefits. Employees’ premium payments (or other contributions to the plan) generally aren’t deductible by them or excludable from their income. However, they can make pretax contributions to a cafeteria plan for disability benefits, which are excludable from their income.

Long-term care insurance.  Your premium payments aren’t taxable to employees. However, long-term care insurance can’t be provided through a cafeteria plan.

Other types of tax-advantaged benefits

Insurance isn’t the only type of tax-free benefit you can provide — but the tax treatment of certain benefits has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

Dependent care assistance.  You can provide employees with tax-free dependent care assistance up to $5,000 for 2018 though a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), also known as a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP).

Adoption assistance.  For employees who’re adopting children, you can offer an employee adoption assistance program. Employees can exclude from their taxable income up to $13,810 of adoption benefits in 2018.

Educational assistance.  You can help employees on a tax-free basis through educational assistance plans (up to $5,250 per year), job-related educational assistance and qualified scholarships.

Moving expense reimbursement. Before the TCJA, if you reimbursed employees for qualifying job-related moving expenses, the reimbursement could be excluded from the employee’s income. The TCJA suspends this break for 2018 through 2025. However, such reimbursements may still be deductible by your business.

Transportation benefits.  Qualified employee transportation fringe benefits, such as parking allowances, mass transit passes and van pooling, are tax-free to recipient employees. However, the TCJA suspends through 2025 the business deduction for providing such benefits. It also suspends the tax-free benefit of up to $20 a month for bicycle commuting.

Varying tax treatment

As you can see, the tax treatment of fringe benefits varies. Contact us for more information.

Finding a 401(k) that’s Right for Your Business

By and large, today’s employees expect employers to offer a tax-advantaged retirement plan. A 401(k) is an obvious choice to consider, but you may not be aware that there are a variety of types to choose from. Let’s check out some of the most popular options:

Traditional. Employees contribute on a pre-tax basis, with the employer matching all or a percentage of their contributions if it so chooses. Traditional 401(k)s are subject to rigorous testing requirements to ensure the plan is offered equitably to all employees and doesn’t favor highly compensated employees (HCEs).

In 2018, employees can defer a total amount of $18,500 through salary reductions. Those age 50 or older by year end can defer an additional $6,000.

Roth. Employees contribute after-tax dollars but take tax-free withdrawals (subject to certain limitations). Other rules apply, including that employer contributions can go into only traditional 401(k) accounts, not Roth 401(k)s. Usually a Roth 401(k) is offered as an option to employees in addition to a traditional 401(k), not instead of the traditional plan.

The Roth 401(k) contribution limits are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s. But this applies on a combined basis for total contributions to both types of plans.

Safe harbor. For businesses that may encounter difficulties meeting 401(k) testing requirements, this could be a solution. Employers must make certain contributions, which must vest immediately. But owners and HCEs can maximize contributions without worrying about part of their contributions being returned to them because rank-and-file employees haven’t been contributing enough.

To qualify for the safe harbor election, the employer needs to either contribute 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, even those who don’t make their own contributions, or match 100% of employee deferrals up to the first 3% of compensation and 50% of deferrals up to the next 2% of compensation. The contribution limits for these plans are the same as those for traditional 401(k)s.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). If your business has 100 or fewer employees, consider one of these. As with a Safe Harbor 401(k), the employer must make certain, immediately vested contributions, and there’s no rigorous testing.

So, how is the SIMPLE 401(k) different from a safe harbor 401(k)? Both the required employer contributions and the limits on participant deferrals are lower: The employer generally needs to either contribute 2% of compensation for all eligible employees or match employee contributions up to 3% of compensation. The employee deferral limits are $12,500 in 2018, with a $3,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older.

This has been but a brief look at these types of 401(k)s. Our firm can provide you with more information on each, as well as guidance on finding the right one for your business.

Saving Tax on Restricted Stock Awards with the Sec. 83(b) Election

Today many employees receive stock-based compensation from their employer as part of their compensation and benefits package. The tax consequences of such compensation can be complex — subject to ordinary-income, capital gains, employment and other taxes. But if you receive restricted stock awards, you might have a tax-saving opportunity in the form of the Section 83(b) election.

Convert ordinary income to long-term capital gains

Restricted stock is stock your employer grants you subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture. Income recognition is normally deferred until the stock is no longer subject to that risk (that is, it’s vested) or you sell it.

At that time, you pay taxes on the stock’s fair market value (FMV) at your ordinary-income rate. The FMV will be considered FICA income, so it also could trigger or increase your exposure to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax.

But you can instead make a Sec. 83(b) election to recognize ordinary income when you receive the stock. This election, which you must make within 30 days after receiving the stock, allows you to convert future appreciation from ordinary income to long-term capital gains income and defer it until the stock is sold.

The Sec. 83(b) election can be beneficial if the income at the grant date is negligible or the stock is likely to appreciate significantly. With ordinary-income rates now especially low under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it might be a good time to recognize such income.

Weigh the potential disadvantages

There are some potential disadvantages, however:

  • You must prepay tax in the current year — which also could push you into a higher income tax bracket or trigger or increase the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. But if your company is in the earlier stages of development, the income recognized may be relatively small.
  • Any taxes you pay because of the election can’t be refunded if you eventually forfeit the stock or sell it at a decreased value. However, you’d have a capital loss in those situations.
  • When you sell the shares, any gain will be included in net investment income and could trigger or increase your liability for the 3.8% net investment income tax.

It’s complicated

As you can see, tax planning for restricted stock is complicated. Let us know if you’ve recently been awarded restricted stock or expect to be awarded such stock this year. We can help you determine whether the Sec. 83(b) election makes sense in your specific situation.

Manage Costs of Health Benefits with a Multi-pronged Approach

Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.

If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multi-pronged approach.  Here are some ideas:

Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.

Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.

Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.

Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing.

Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.

No silver bullet exists for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.

It’s Time to Get More Creative with Retirement Benefits Communications

Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their retirement benefits unless their employer communicates with them about the plan clearly and regularly. But workers may miss or ignore your messaging if it all looks and “sounds” the same. That’s why you might want to consider getting more creative. Consider these ideas.

Brighter, more dynamic print materials

There’s no getting around the fact that printed materials remain a widely used method of conveying retirement plan info to participants. But if yours still look the same way they did 10 years ago, employees may file them directly into the recycle bin. Look into whether you should redesign your materials to bring them up to date.

A targeted number of well-formatted e-mails

You probably augment printed materials with email communications. But finding the right balance here is key. If you’re bombarding employees with too many messages, they might get in the habit of deleting them with barely a glance. Then again, too few messages means your message probably isn’t getting through. Also, like your printed materials, emails need to be well written and formatted.

Social media

Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about benefits. The effectiveness of this will depend on how active you are on social media and how many staff members follow you. It may work well if you have a younger workforce.

“Gamification”

As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating some fun and a competitive element into benefits education — offering virtual rewards, status indicators or gift cards to successful competitors. Games can include quizzes testing employees’ understanding of their benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.

Robocalls

Granted, this may not be an immediately enticing option. These prerecorded calls have largely gotten a bad reputation because of their overuse for sales purposes. But, some employees may appreciate an occasional robocall as a reminder or update that they may have otherwise missed.

Making the problem of benefits communication even tougher is the fact that many companies budget little or even nothing to accomplish this important task. But, considering the cost and effort you put into choosing and maintaining your retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.