Agood benefits program is essential for attracting new employees and retaining current ones. Surveys show that three in four workers consider benefits a decisive factor in weighing new job opportunities.
Benefits like health or disability insurance and retirement plans are very desirable to employees, but they can also be very costly to employers. That’s why almost all employers share the costs with their employees. There are also voluntary benefit programs that allow employees to purchase or increase their benefits themselves, often through automatic payroll deduction.
An insurance professional can help you select the right mix of benefits and guide you through the various plan options. This section highlights the main benefit plans you’ll want to consider in crafting your employee benefits program.
Health InsuranceThe one thing that almost every employee wants and needs is health insurance. More than 80 percent of employees say that hospital and medical coverage is the most important benefit an employer can provide. Fortunately, there are plenty of options, each offering tradeoffs between flexibility and affordability.
The most common health plans are health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), point of service (POS) plans and indemnity plans. Choosing the right program for your employees involves careful tradeoffs between cost and choice. If cost is your paramount concern, an HMO or POS plan might be your best bet. If choice is what you’re after, indemnity plans and PPOs often offer the greatest flexibility when it comes to picking providers.
To find out more information about health plans, visit our health insurance section.
Life InsuranceOver the past several decades, Americans have become increasingly reliant on employers for their life insurance coverage. Today, 40 percent of Americans have life insurance coverage through work. Roughly the same percentage of the population has individually purchased coverage, down from 59 percent in the 1960’s.
Compared to other popular benefits, a basic life insurance benefit is relatively inexpensive to provide. Some employers provide a modest lump sum benefit (e.g., $10,000 or $20,000), while others offer employees a multiple of their income (e.g., one or two times their annual salary). For those employees who only carry group insurance, the mean coverage is roughly $100,000. Because many employees have needs greater than that, you should consider giving employees the option to purchase additional coverage through your group plan. It doesn’t cost more to offer this option, and it will give your employees the opportunity to get the right amount of coverage for their specific needs, something that might not occur if they had to purchase additional coverage on their own.
Visit our life insurance section to learn more.
Disability InsuranceDisability insurance is one of the least understood types of insurance, but also one of the most important. Many people mistakenly believe that workers who become disabled will receive disability income either through Social Security, Worker’s Compensation or both. But Social Security disability benefits are often quite restrictive and employees don’t qualify for Worker’s Compensation unless the disabling illness or injury happened on the job.
Employer-sponsored disability income insurance is much less restrictive and falls into two main categories. Short-term disability income insurance plans usually offer benefits that are paid for a maximum of 26 weeks, while long-term disability benefits generally continue for the length of the disability or until retirement age. Cost can be affected by adjusting the maximum monthly benefit, benefit periods and waiting periods before benefits begin. This is another area where it’s possible to allow employees to purchase additional coverage either by purchasing increased benefits under the group program or through a voluntary benefit program.
Visit our disability insurance section to learn more.
Dental & VisionOnce offered by only a few employers, dental insurance is now offered by 40 percent of small businesses. Dental insurance plans generally cover part or all of the cost of cleaning, X-rays, annual oral exams and fillings. Some plans also cover major items such as crowns and restorative work. Most plans do not cover orthodontics. In some areas, dental maintenance organizations (DMOs) may be available. They function in much the same way as medical HMOs and may be less expensive than traditional plans.
Vision plans have also grown in popularity. A typical vision plan includes an annual routine eye exam, an annual contribution towards prescription eyewear and a glaucoma screening.
Retirement PlansWith the exception of health insurance, retirement plans are the benefit employees desire most. The good news is that small business owners have a variety of plan options from which to choose.
Most retirement plans fall into one of two major categories:
- Defined Benefit plans – Commonly known as pension plans, defined benefit plans require employers to pay a fixed annual amount to eligible employees during their retirement years. They allow employers a high degree of tax savings, and in good times, favorable growth rates can reduce or eliminate the employer’s contribution. However, they can be costly to administer and may require higher contributions in times of poor or negative investment returns. Because of the high costs to employers, defined benefit plans are few and far between today. The trend has been toward defined contribution plans, where employees assume a much greater responsibility for contributing to their retirement savings.
- Defined Contribution plans – These plans allow employers and employees to contribute a set amount or percentage of pay, and retirement benefits are based on the actual performance of the funds. Defined contribution plans give the employer better cost control as the contribution is defined. The amount an employee can contribute is based on a percentage of their salary up to a maximum amount defined by law.
Defined contribution plans can take many forms, including:
- 401(k) and Profit-Sharing Plans - 401(k) plans allow employees, often matched in whole or in part by their employers, to set aside a portion of their salary for retirement. The employee is not taxed on this income until withdrawals are made, and the employer’s cost is a tax-deductible business expense. Employees can select the investment vehicles into which their funds are deposited. Retirement benefits are not guaranteed, however, and while the sum at age 65 may be substantial, it can also be much less if the employee has made poor investment choices or the stock and bond markets have not performed as well as expected. Employees can borrow from their 401(k) plans for education, a new home, a medical emergency etc., although the loan must be repaid within a certain specified period of time. Sometimes employers elect to integrate the 401(k) plan with a discretionary profit sharing plan that can increase the employer’s retirement contribution for employees.
- SIMPLE Plans - This option for companies with 100 or fewer employees allows an employee to contribute a percentage of his or her salary up to a fixed maximum to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The employer may also make contributions on a fixed or matching basis. SIMPLE plans are easy to set up, require minimal paperwork, and have low administrative costs. Plus, employees retain their SIMPLE account even if they change jobs.
- Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) - Created with the small business owner in mind, SEPs allow employers to set up IRAs for themselves and their employees. The employer contributes a percentage of each employee’s salary each year, up to a fixed maximum. SEPs have low administrative costs, and can even be started by those who are self-employed. Since the business owner can decide how much to contribute each year, this type of plan is often the answer for businesses that may want to adjust their contribution based on the health of the business.
- Payroll Deduction IRAs - This type of plan, which requires no employer contribution, is designed solely to help employees fund their Individual Retirement Accounts. Employers set up a payroll deduction system that allows employees to regularly contribute to their IRAs. Contributions are tax-deductible to the employee, just as they would be with traditional IRA contributions.