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Setting Up a Commuter Benefits Plan for a Small Business By Anisha Sekar February 16, Commuter benefits — an employer-provided method for employees to pay bus fare, parking and other transit expenses using pre-tax dollars — are a win-win-win: But are commuter benefits worthwhile for a resource-constrained startup?
How do commuter benefits work? Typically, those expenses include: Public transit to and from work including public transit tokens, monthly passes and vouchers Vanpools or other qualified, privately owned transportation services Parking near your office or at a location from which you commute like a train station Depending on your location and program, qualified expenses may include: Residential parking Gas, tolls, mileage, or other costs of driving your own car Parking at places where you stop on our way to work Business trips and other expenses that the employer pays for Though employers are the ones who offer and administer commuter benefits, employees decide how much money they want put into the program every month.
That amount is then deducted from their paychecks into a commuter benefit account which can be administered by the employers themselves or outsourced HR benefits providers. Employees can enroll or change their contribution amount at any time, but depending on the program, those changes may not go into effect until the next month.
Unused funds roll over from month to month, but if an employee leaves the company, the remaining account balance is returned to the employer.
Generally speaking, though, commuter benefits are a way for employees to save money on public transit and parking, with minimal cost to the employer. What are the tax implications? Relative to, say, a bonus of the same amountcommuter benefits offer tax advantages to both employer and employee. From both an employer and employee perspective, commuter benefits save tax dollars.
What are the costs of a commuter program? Legally required commuter benefits: Should I offer commuter benefits or another perk?
Commuter benefits come in handy in densely populated metro areas, where biking and public transit options are plentiful and parking can be expensive.
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However, if your office is in the suburbs and free parking is readily available, transit commuter benefits may go to waste. The program only makes sense if your employees are spending money on biking, public transit, parking, or vanpools.
Beyond that, how do you weigh commuter benefits against, say, salary increases or a retirement program? As we mentioned before, commuter benefits are more tax-advantaged than bonuses or salary bumps for both employer and employee.
However, employers enjoy tax incentives to offer k programs: You can also claim tax deductions for ongoing expenses. While both offer tax benefits, a k contribution pays huge dividends long-term and you can deduct those contributions. The Most Requested Employee Benefits at Small Businesses How to set up commuter benefits for your employees There are a number of third-party services that help small businesses administer commuter benefits, such as WageWorks, Zenefits, Commuter Benefit Solutions, and Navia.
From there, the provider will guide you through setting up the program and educating your employees.
It will be on your employees to enroll in and set contribution levels for their benefit accounts, though you will probably have to onboard new employees onto the program.
Commuter benefits are a tax-advantaged way to save you and your employees money while helping the environment. A personal finance enthusiast, she led NerdWallet's credit and debit card business, and currently writes about everything from getting out of debt to choosing the best health insurance plan.Create an investment-worthy business plan with our template builder.
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