Toggle navigation
alternative to taxable stipend for health insurance

HRAs: The better alternative to taxable stipend for health insurance

Although they’re more well-known, traditional methods of offering health benefits like group plans or pay increases fall short in many ways. HRAs, or health reimbursement arrangements, on the other hand, solve many of those common pain points. They represent the better alternative to taxable stipend for health insurance. The difference lies in the tax savings that accompany the HRA. It makes sense to evaluate all your options when it comes to pricey benefits and employee coverage, so let’s take a look!

Alternative to health insurance stipend

Some HRA history

In the past, a big advantage of group plans was that they were deductible expenses for employers and were taken out of employee paychecks on a pre-tax basis. More and more, these big group plans are simply unaffordable and cumbersome for small business owners to offer. Another disadvantage of group plans is forcing everyone to choose the same type of plan, when people by nature have different needs and preferences.

Fast forward to the implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act, a new tool allows small businesses to enjoy the same tax benefits as big corporations, with more customizable and flexible options for employees to choose what's best for them.

HRAs: the better alternative to taxable stipend for health insurance

Wondering if a health stipend in lieu of health insurance is a good idea? Some employers offer a regular, fixed amount of money, or stipend, to their employees to help cover the cost of health insurance. While this option is easy from a time and administration perspective, the value of these dollars will be greatly diminished because they are considered taxable income. Furthermore, simply writing off the stipend as a business expense will have payroll as well as income tax implications.

Health stipends aren’t subject to compliance issues that group plans have, and they can be really easy to administer through payroll. But they aren’t tax advantaged like an HRA. Not only are small businesses required to pay payroll tax on the reimbursements, employees must claim the stipend as income and there isn’t exactly any accountability for whether or not the money is even used for health insurance.

With HRA coverage, employers can make reimbursements without having to pay payroll taxes and employees don’t have to recognize income tax. In addition, reimbursements made by the company count as a tax deduction.

Reimburse employees with an HRA

For companies that help employees with health insurance by offering a “health stipend” or by “adding to employee salaries”, HRA coverage will typically have a huge tax advantage.

Sometimes referred to as “401(K)-style” insurance, two recently created HRAs allow an employer to reimburse for medical expenses and/or insurance premiums on a tax-free basis. Under this arrangement, employees purchase their own health insurance on the open market and then submit claims to their employer to get reimbursed for the cost of their premium and if allowed, all qualified medical expenses.

  • The qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA) requires your business to be small, with less than 50 Full Time Equivalent employees, and you can't offer a group plan at the same time. If you meet those qualifications, you can use an HRA administration tool (like ours!) to create your QSEHRA, decide how much you’ll reimburse each month (up to the contribution limits), let your employees choose the plan that works best for them, and reimburse them when they submit receipts!
  • The individual coverage HRA (ICHRA) is almost like a “super-charged” version of the QSEHRA. Instead of being capped at 50 employees, employers of any size can set up an ICHRA for their teams. There are also no contribution limits with this HRA. Another key differentiator from HRAs in the past? ICHRA allows business owners to customize their reimbursements across different classes of employees. While everyone must be treated fairly within a certain class, reimbursement rates can vary between full time, part time, seasonal, remote, etc.

How HRAs work

The employer chooses an HRA for her company, sets a budget that works for them, and then lets the employers know they can use it. From there, once an employee pays for a medical expense or premium, they just turn in the receipt and submit for reimbursement.

For companies that help employees with health insurance by offering a health stipend or by adding to employee salaries, tax-free reimbursement will typically have a huge tax advantage for both employer and employee. For example, if a 10-person company offers employees $300/mo ($3,000/mo in total reimbursement) by increasing salaries versus tax-free through an HRA, $1,200 a month ends up going to taxes each month.

→ Check out our HRA Heatmap to see how you can save in your location!

→ Learn more about our HRA Administrators 

Take Command can help!

Take Command makes setting up a small business HRA for your business easy. Our team will help you set your budget, take care of the admin paperwork, and help your employees pick a plan that suits their needs. No need to worry about finding the perfect plan that has the right doctor network or prescription coverage, ultimately leaving someone left out and disgruntled. With the HRA, each employee picks the perfect plan for them that fits within your budget. Our team of HRA administrator experts is here to help. 

Set up an ICHRA today!

Set up a QSEHRA today!

This post was originally published in 2022 and has been updated for 2023 to reflect all the exciting changes going on in the world of HRAs.