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Simple Cafeteria Plan Eligibility Requirements


A church is considering adopting a simple cafeteria plan in order to provide its pastor and other employees a choice between two benefits. What requirements must be met for the church to be eligible to establish a simple cafeteria plan? 


Section 125 Plans, often referred to as Cafeteria plans, allow employers to offer employees certain benefits on a pretax basis. In most cases, participants in a cafeteria plan must be permitted to choose from at least one taxable benefit (i.e. cash) and one qualified nontaxable benefit such as health plans, group term life insurance, and others described in IRS Publication 15-B. In order to be Section 125 compliant, the employer must retain written documentation of the plan and meet various requirements described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 125.

One common type of Section 125 plan is a Premium-Only Plan (POP). POP's allow employers to withhold and remit each employee's portion of health insurance premiums pre-tax. For these plans, the option presented to employees is between receiving their standard full cash compensation or electing a salary reduction to pay their portion of health insurance premiums. 

Certain qualifying employers (discussed below) may choose to establish a simple cafeteria plan, which is treated as meeting "any applicable nondiscrimination requirements" (IRC § 125(j)). Traditional cafeteria plans require nondiscrimination testing, which can be relatively involved and often confusing for the employer. Simple cafeteria plans do not require this testing, and are automatically considered to be nondiscriminatory. This can significantly lessen the amount of reporting required by an employer.

Certain requirements must be met in order for an organization to be eligible for a simple cafeteria plan. These requirements, found in IRC Section 125(j), are described below.

    1.) Employer Eligibility Requirements

In order for an employer to be eligible to establish a simple cafeteria plan, it must have employed an average of 100 or fewer employees during either of the two preceding years. For example, ABC Company wishes to establish a simple cafeteria plan in 2020, and had an average of 95 and 110 employees in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Because ABC Company only had an average of 95 employees in 2018, it is eligible to establish a simple cafeteria plan in 2020. 

If a startup company wishes to establish a simple cafeteria plan it must use an expected average of the current year, because there are no preceding years. Furthermore, once a simple cafeteria plan is established the employer is eligible until it employs an average of 200 or more employees in one year, at which point it is no longer allowed the benefit of a simple cafeteria plan.

    2.) Employee Participation Requirements

In order to establish an eligible simple cafeteria plan, an employer must also meet certain requirements regarding employee participation. Every eligible employee must have the option of electing any benefit offered under the established plan. The employer cannot offer certain employees one benefit while not offering it to others. Also, the plan must be made available to all employees who worked at least 1,000 hours in the preceding year. The only employees which an employer may exclude from the plan are those who are not yet 21 years old and those who have not yet worked a full year as of the beginning of the plan year.

    3.) Employer Contribution Requirements

Employers must also meet certain contribution requirements under a simple cafeteria plan. The employer must make a contribution on behalf of each participating employee in amount equal to either 1) a uniform percentage at least 2% of each employee's annual compensation, or 2) the lesser of twice the amount contributed by the employee or 6% of their annual compensation. Also, a highly compensated or key employee cannot receive employer contributions at a higher rate than that of other employees. A highly compensated employee is one who is an officer, a 5% or more shareholder, received annual compensation exceeding $130,000 (2020), or is the spouse or dependent of a highly compensated employee.

While eligible employers can reduce the amount of testing and documentation required of them by making use of a simple cafeteria plan, they must still be careful that they keep the plan compliant. Careful documentation should be maintained and updated annually, and if necessary a professional in benefits administration services may be consulted.


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