Public sector employers regularly provide valuable work opportunities for part-time, seasonal and temporary employees. Although some of these employees may not participate in public sector benefits, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers have been able to take part in Social Security, but many public sector employers don’t realize that they have an opportunity for cost savings.
So how can public sector employers take charge? By saving money in their own operational budget, employers have the power to reinvest savings back into their organization, ultimately resulting in more satisfied employees, a higher retention rate, and benefits that attract quality talent.
MidAmerica’s 3121 FICA Alternative Plan is a type of retirement plan for public sector part-time, seasonal and temporary workers that replaces Social Security. In other words, it’s a huge cost saver for employers and a valuable benefit for employees.
Here’s how it works.
The 3121 FICA Alternative Plan eliminates the 6.2% Social Security match by the employer. Instead it routes 7.5% of employees’ before-tax wages into an interest-bearing retirement plan, creating a win-win arrangement for everyone. In addition to this advantage, the employees’ paychecks remain virtually unchanged and their eligibility for Medicare remains unaffected.
This chart shows the savings realized by an employer whose payroll for part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees totals $250,000:
*It may appear that employees have less take-home pay, but the chart below illustrates why that’s not the case.
Savings for the employer: $15,500
How 7.5% Equals 6.2%
Even though employees are replacing their 6.2% Social Security contribution with a 7.5% contribution into their 3121 FICA Alternative Plan, they are actually left with around the same take-home pay. Why? Because FICA Alternative Plan contributions are pre-tax. The chart below illustrates what seems like impossible math: how 7.5% equals 6.2%.
So who’s qualified for 3121 FICA Alternative Plans?
Eligible employers are either governmental entities that are are closely affiliated with state and local governments (generally by government ownership or control), or a political subdivision, which is a separate legal entity of a state that usually has specific governmental functions. Your state Social Security administrator can advise you on the status of your organization.
At the end of the day, the 3121 FICA Alternative Plan is an extremely cost-effective retirement benefit for part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees. But the employer isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of this plan—employees truly benefit, too. For them, 7.5% of wages are contributed on a pre-tax basis, while their take-home pay remains virtually unchanged. Funds are also invested, which means increased account value due to earnings over time. Investments may even be self-directed to meet personal retirement goals.
In a world of reduced budgets despite rising demands for resources, truly meaningful benefits make employees feel secure and valued. By implementing a 3121 FICA Alternative Plan, employers can take charge, ensuring their compensation structure remains attractive to potential and existing talent.
Is a 3121 FICA Alternative Plan right for your organization?
Schedule a free consultation:
A Special Pay Plan (a type of 403(b) or 401(a) retirement plan) is a simple, cost-effective retirement plan that benefits both the employer and the employee. Designed to handle special forms of compensation like unused sick leave or vacation pay, funds are contributed pre-tax into the participant’s retirement account upon their retirement or separation of service.
The following benefits of a Special Pay Plan illustrate how employers could enhance their current benefits package while saving them money:
How an Employer Benefits from a Special Pay Plan
- Tax Savings
Employers avoid 7.65% in FICA taxes that they would have otherwise paid if they did not place the funds in a Special Pay Plan.
- Unique Funding
Special Pay Plans are funded using unique forms of compensation like unused sick and vacation leave. Payments may also be based on years of service and severance.
- Recruitment & Retention Tool
Contributions into the retiree’s plan are made pre-tax, providing the full, untaxed value of the unused compensation. Funds are invested to grow as well, which means increased account value over time. This creates an impactful retirement benefit that can help employers attract and retain talent.
How a Special Pay Plan Can Supplement a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)
Employers who currently offer an HRA to their retirees can provide an added benefit to their retirement package by implementing a Special Pay Plan. HRA funds must be used to pay for eligible medical expenses. A Special Pay Plan can supplement that post-retirement income by providing access to money that can be used for any purpose once the retiree has reached the distribution eligibility age*. This means an employer could potentially place unused sick leave into an HRA and the unused vacation pay into a Special Pay Plan, creating two buckets of post-retirement funds for the retiree. Both plans utilize an investment vehicle that allows the funds to accrue interest tax-free.
Special Pay Plan/HRA Comparison Chart
Want more information on our Special Pay Plan solution?
Download our Special Pay Plan brochure!
Are you an Alliance Partner with MidAmerica?
Log into the Alliance Partner Portal to access Special Pay Plan resources and presentations.
* Special Pay funds are eligible for distribution once the participant has reached age 55 and separated from service.
Most of us look forward to the day we can retire from our jobs—maybe kick back, relax and take it easy for a change. Or, for those who can’t sit still, maybe this is a time to check off bucket list items.
No matter how you plan on spending your golden years, you’ll need to save plenty of money for when it’s time to cash in. With some careful planning, you can find ways to enjoy this time—without the constant worry of finances.
5 Money-Saving Tips for the Dream-Chasing Retiree
Don’t be afraid to ask for the senior discount!
It only costs $16 a year to be a member of AARP or American Seniors Association, which will grant you access to a world of discounts. Apps like Senior Discounts or Flipp can help you easily discover savings at your favorite restaurants, travel, and stores like Target, Walgreens, and Walmart.
Declutter or downsize your home!
Retirement is the perfect time to take on new projects. Get rid of unwanted items in your garage or storage unit, then have a yard sale or donate it to a family in need. If your kids have moved out, look at the empty-nest phase as an opportunity to start fresh with a smaller home. Consider the savings you could generate—lower property taxes, utility bills, maintenance costs and homeowner’s insurance premiums— just to name a few!
Consider donating or selling an extra vehicle.
Now that you’re no longer commuting to work, perhaps you can get by with just one car instead of two. Sell the car for extra cash or donate the vehicle to a charity and gain a sizable tax deduction. Plus, it will save you on car insurance bills, maintenance and gasoline expenses.
Keep doing what you enjoy, but less frequently.
If you’re in the habit of eating out five times a week, try cutting back to three. It’s not a dramatic change, but you will notice the savings to your wallet. Think of the other ways you could cut back. How about golfing two days a week instead of four?
Treat your Special Pay Plan or Health Reimbursement Arrangement as a rainy-day fund.
If you currently have retirement benefits through MidAmerica, it makes sense to hold off on distribution or reimbursement requests until necessary. Why? Because your benefit funds are invested for tax-free or tax-deferred growth. This means the longer your funds stay in your account, the more money you could potentially end up with down the road. Your 403(b)/401(a) Special Pay Plan and Health Reimbursement Arrangement is there when you need it, but it keeps growing when you don’t. To learn more about your specific MidAmerica benefit, log into your account at myMidAmerica.com.
These are just a few simple ways to save money as a retiree, which we hope makes you realize that saving money doesn’t need to be difficult. Living the happy retirement you deserve can be as simple as sticking to your budget, keeping track of what you spend, and appraising your spending for any savings opportunities.
Working in the public sector can provide an employee with some unique retirement benefits that are not generally available to those who work for private companies. One such benefit is a Special Pay Plan, which pays out based on special forms of compensation, such as unused sick leave or vacation pay. These types of compensation are normally paid out as taxable earned income and are reported on a W-2 form. A Special Pay Plan mitigates this tax hit and provides a valuable investment vehicle in the process. If your employer offers a Special Pay Plan, it’s adding value for you in many ways.
What is a Special Pay Plan?
A Special Pay Plan is an interest-bearing 401(a)/403(b) retirement account that is established by your employer in your name. Your employer makes pre-tax deposits/contributions into this account in lieu of disbursing a check for your unused sick leave, separation of service pay, or other retirement incentive pay. The funds deposited into the Special Pay Plan are invested, which leads to earnings over time, helping you to meet your retirement goals.
From a tax perspective, a Special Pay Plan is a valuable benefit in the following ways:
- You will permanently save 7.65% on FICA taxes. For example, if your benefit amount is $10,000, you will take home the entire $10,000 less income tax, saving $765 in FICA.
- Funds in a Special Pay Plan can be available before age 59½ without penalty. If you are at least age 55 at the time of retirement and remain separated from service, you can access the funds and avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.
- The account is tax-deferred, meaning that you are not taxed until you withdraw funds. In addition, if your tax bracket is lower after retirement, you could potentially save on tax when you withdraw funds. A Special Pay Plan allows you to control the timing of your cash distributions as well as the timing of your tax obligations.
Other Benefits of the Special Pay Plan
Besides the built-in tax advantages, a Special Pay Plan provides a valuable savings vehicle for your retirement in other ways. During your working years, the benefit continues to grow. Once you retire, you are free to roll the accumulated funds into an IRA or another qualified plan, or take a partial or lump sum distribution. If desired, periodic distributions may be taken monthly, quarterly, or annually. The funds can be used at your discretion, for any expense. This type of plan provides complete liquidity for withdrawals or rollovers, enabling you to manage your financial future on your terms.
As a public sector employee, you already know your retirement benefits offer some unique opportunities. If your employer offers a Special Pay Plan, consider yourself fortunate. This lovely benefit converts otherwise taxable incentives into a tax-advantaged retirement option for you. Having this added sense of financial security may convince you to get off the fence about retiring early.
A Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) is another valuable savings tool that can benefit you in retirement. If your employer offers an HRA, please click here to learn how this benefit can make a difference for you.
If you are contemplating retirement, one of your foremost concerns is probably the issue of medical insurance. How will you pay for it when you are no longer receiving a regular paycheck? If remaining on your employer’s medical plan is an option, this may be something to consider. However, it’s very possible that your employer is eager to transition you off their medical plan and offer you a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) instead.
What is an HRA?
A Health Reimbursement Arrangement is an interest-bearing, employer-funded account created in your name. Deposits can be made completely tax-free¹, meaning that you receive 100% of the value of each benefit dollar.
The HRA account is designed to reimburse retirees for their eligible medical expenses and/or premiums to offset their out-of-pocket costs. Your employer determines which qualified medical expenses are eligible for reimbursement under the plan.
What are my HRA Options?
There are two HRA options designed to benefit retirees: a Defined Contribution HRA or a Retiree HRA.
- With a Defined Contribution HRA, funds are deposited while you are still actively working, growing over time, and becoming available for use upon retirement or separation of service. Participants are 100% vested immediately, meaning that you own the account balance as soon as the account is established.
- With a Retiree HRA, funds are deposited in a lump sum upon retirement/separation of service. The funds are invested once deposited, and can be used immediately upon deposit.
For both types of HRA, account balances roll over year to year, qualified expenses are reimbursed tax-free, and funds can be used to reimburse eligible medical expenses incurred by you, your spouse, and any qualifying dependents.
Additionally, both of these HRA types provide an opportunity to bridge the gap between retirement and Medicare eligibility. Given this financial incentive from your employer, you may consider retiring earlier than planned, and you may choose to seek an alternative healthcare option, rather than remaining on your employer’s plan.
Similar to a Special Pay Plan, both the Defined Contribution HRA and Retiree HRA can be funded using your unused sick leave or vacation pay.
Although a Special Pay Plan is structured differently than an HRA, it is an equally valuable retirement benefit. If your employer offers a Special Pay Plan and you’d like to learn more about its advantages, please click here.
¹Not subject to FICA, Federal or State income taxes
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released the 2019 annual contribution limits for Health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) which will take effect on January 1, 2019.
The annual limit on voluntary employee salary reductions for contributions to a health flexible spending account will be $2,700 in 2019, which is an increase from the prior limit of $2,650. The annual limit also applies to the limited purpose FSA, which can be used for dental and vision expenses.
When does this affect your plan?
The limit increase will apply when the employer’s FSA plan year begins. For example, if the plan year begins on June 1, the limit increase will kick in on June 1, 2019 during the open enrollment period.
|Health Flexible Spending Accounts Contribution Limits
For more information on the increased Health FSA limits, review the IRS news release, IRS: Plan now to use Health Flexible Spending Arrangements in 2019.
Interested in learning more about Flexible Spending Accounts? Click here.
It’s widely known that work-related injuries and illnesses, chronic diseases, absenteeism, and sick employees who return to work before getting well negatively impact the bottom line of companies of all sizes. According to the CDC Foundation, these occurrences cost U.S. employers billions of dollars each year. With healthcare costs continuing to rise, employers have realized that improving employee health and wellness is an effective way to lower costs, improve productivity, and decrease absenteeism. By now, you may have realized the advantage of embedding wellness into your own workplace culture. If not, you may want to consider how you can promote good health and fitness among your employees, and the potential long-term benefits to both your company and your workforce.
What is Workplace Wellness?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defines a workplace health program as “a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes while at work”. Wellness programs can focus on issues such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, weight management, and preventative health screenings, among many others.
Workplace wellness programs also embrace policies aimed at promoting employee health, including time allowances for exercise, providing on-site kitchens and eating areas, stocking the vending machines with healthy food options, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. Effective wellness programs and supportive policies are those that successfully motivate employees to not only care about their health but to actually take steps to maintain and/or improve it, which in the long run can positively impact employers, employees, their families, and communities at large.
Why Workplace Wellness?
Wellness programs sponsored by employers promote long-term employee health and reduce total insurance spending. These programs allow an employer to offer premium discounts, cash rewards, gym memberships, and other incentives to participate. Employers can provide a supportive environment to encourage their workers to adopt healthier lifestyles, which can in turn result in reduced claims, increased productivity, and fewer sick days. When employees commit to taking better care of themselves, they can benefit physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Health and wellness can have an impact on the bottom line of all concerned.
Rewarding the Positive
The 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation states that 83% of large firms (200+ employees) offer
a wellness program that supports smoking cessation, weight management, or behavioral/lifestyle coaching. Forty-two percent of these large firms offer financial incentives for participation, such as lower premium contributions and cash to employees. Incentives are key to the success of a wellness program, and can be incorporated into the program by rewarding employees for attaining certain health-related goals, such as completing a health risk questionnaire or a biometric screening. Competition and one-on-one coaching are also common features of wellness programs. The PwC Health and Wellbeing Touchstone Survey from June 2016 shows that program participation increases when incentives are added to the mix. For example, when a health screening was offered with no incentive, participation was at 40%, as opposed to 57% when an incentive was involved.
Is it All Worthwhile?
In any business, employers are keen on seeing a return on their investments. With wellness programs, employers tend to see ROI in tangible ways, such as reduced absenteeism and a reduction in certain medical claims (e.g. urgent care visits instead of emergency room visits). An added benefit is that employers will often see an increase in the Value of Investment (VOI), indicated by increased loyalty, employee retention, and a boost in employee morale.
According to findings from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report, employers that offer and measure their wellness initiatives experienced increases in both ROI and VOI, with 92% of workplaces that offer wellness programs reporting their initiatives to be very or somewhat successful.
|Financial Sustainability/Growth in the Organization
|Increased Employee Satisfaction
The IFEBP 2017 survey results also seem to indicate that responding employers are not primarily concerned with controlling or reducing health-related costs. In fact, the adjacent graphic illustrates that 75% of respondents were more concerned with improving overall health and well-being. Employers are increasingly realizing that wellness is more than just physical health. It also impacts the health of the organization, employee productivity, and overall happiness. Employees that feel empowered to take better care of themselves should experience less stress in their lives both on the job and off, creating happier, more productive employees.
It seems clear that wellness is “shaping up” to be a key area of investment and strategy for employers year after year. Creating a healthier work environment may be a critical piece of your organization’s success. Introducing wellness programs can show your employees that you are their partner, which is likely to be a win-win for both you and your workforce.