Entries Tagged ‘taxes’:
by Doug Hessel
A popular feature in comprehensive benefits packages, long-term disability insurance provides replacement salaries for employees who suffer from an extended illness or injury. While many employers carry an inexpensive group LTD plan as a matter of course, only some take advantage of an IRS ruling that would allow disabled employees to receive their disability income tax free. This failure can prove costly for employees and represents a lost opportunity for savings by employers as well.
The IRS ruling in question (Revenue Ruling 2004-55) clarifies the distinction between before-tax and after-tax benefits as it applies to disability income, and it provides a mechanism for distinguishing between them. Simply stated, if an employer pays 100 percent of an employee’s premium, the salary replacement benefits to the employee are taxable. Conversely, if the employer increases an employee’s pay to cover the cost of LTD and then deducts the premium from the employee’s check, the benefits are tax free.
Of course, this change means that the employer and employee incur some extra expenses—an increased salary will mean increased FICA, SDI, and so forth—but these are relatively small expenses. Consider the difference in benefits. An employee who is earning $60,000 a year and is covered by an employer-paid LTD plan offering a two-thirds salary replacement, will receive $3,350 a month if disabled. Assuming he or she has a 16 percent effective tax rate, that net replacement salary is reduced to $2,814. That’s a cost of more than $500 a month as opposed to the few dollars a month that employer and employee would have paid in compensation-based taxes.
Moreover, employers who are looking for savings should note that a less expensive after-tax LTD plan—providing only 60 percent salary replacement rather than the two-thirds given in the example above—would net the employee $3,000 per month, an improvement of almost $200 a month. In other words, by offering the LTD as an after-tax benefit, employers can provide employees with larger benefits with less coverage and pay smaller premiums (as much as 20 percent with some carriers). The cliché of a win-win situation has rarely been so applicable.
Avoiding the Three-Year Look-Back Rule
If your firm is paying LTD premiums in pre-tax dollars and is ready to change, be sure to take advantage of a mechanism provided in IRS Ruling 2004-55 that allows benefits to be tax free from day one.
Ordinarily, the IRS applies a three-year look-back rule that considers benefits taxable in the proportion that they were paid for by before-tax premiums over the last three years. However, the IRS has provided a method that allows employees to qualify for tax-free benefits immediately after the change is made to paying with after-tax dollars. The workaround requires specific amendments to the plan description and a modified enrollment form that allows employees to elect for after-tax payment of the LTD insurance. (See below for information on obtaining sample forms.)
Employees can decide on an individual basis whether they want to have their LTD paid for in pre- or after-tax dollars, so firms can implement the program for employees who want to take advantage of this opportunity without forcing others to make any change in the way they have traditionally received benefits.
Doug Hessel is Program Director, CalCPA ProtectPlus Ancillary Products at Hover Insurance Services. For further information and sample forms email email@example.com