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Cafeteria Plan Gives Employees Choices About Their Benefits


A Cafeteria Plan Provides Employees With Custom Benefits Choices

A Cafeteria Plan Provides Employees With Custom Benefits Choices

Catherine Yeulet
Definition: Looking for a way to customize your benefits plan to the needs of your individual employees? A cafeteria plan is an employee benefits plan that allows your employees to choose among a variety of options to create a benefits plan that best meets their needs and those of their family. In a cafeteria plan, an employee receives a certain number of dollars from the employer to "purchase" particular components of a benefits plan.

Cafeteria plan options can include various levels of health insurance plans, other insurance options, tax advantages as in a flexible spending account, and retirement plan contributions.

The advantage of a cafeteria plan is that employees have benefits plan options. For example, a young employee with no health problems might opt to spend cafeteria plan dollars on a minimal health plan. An employee with four family members might choose to spend the cafeteria plan dollars on a health plan with more comprehensive coverage. The employee without a family might choose to “spend” his or her benefits dollars for investments in a retirement plan.

No matter the goal of the employer’s cafeteria plan, the plans are, according to About.com’s Gregory Boop,

“named after Title 26, Section 125 of the United States Code where 'cafeteria plans' are specifically excluded from the calculation of gross income for federal income tax purposes.

"125 plans allow employees to contribute pretax dollars into the plan. Contributions toward plans are not subject to federal, state, or social security taxes. The contributions are placed into an account the employee can use to pay for allowed expenses (e.g., premiums for health insurance, dependent care costs, medical supplies). Since no federal, state or social security taxes are taken out and the dollars are not included as gross income, the employee saves anywhere from 27 - 50% on these purchases."

In a typical cafeteria plan, an employee might exceed the number of dollars allowed by the employer with the benefits plan choices made. In these cases, the employee pays a part of the premium for his or her chosen benefits, so the cost to employers is lower. For example, an employee with health problems or age 55 and above might choose to “buy up” to a more comprehensive health plan that covers more services.

In all cases, working to provide employees with a cafeteria plan for benefits deserves the assistance of a benefits plan professional who can advise the employer about options. Whether you are large enough to employee a compensation and benefits coordinator or rely on the assistance of trusted external advisors, I recommend getting advice.

The complexity of the tax code is such that you need professional assistance to devise a cafeteria plan that is legal and benefits both the employer and employees.

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Also Known As: cafeteria employee benefit plan, flexible benefit plan, benefits plan, flexible benefits plan
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