Human Resource teams go to great length to research and offer Employee Benefits Programs to employees to achieve their organisational goals and Finance Managers work their hardest to evaluate and implement cost minimisation strategies. The provision of well researched and planned employee benefits can achieve both!
The age old debate between Tax Minimisation and Tax Avoidance remains, but where you can legally obtain a tax deduction why wouldn’t you! Employers should be looking to these tax advantages and promoting them to their most valued assets, if they truly feel that they are the organisations’ most valued assets.
Kerry Packer, the iconic Australian billionaire media magnate and rival to Rupert Murdoch said in a tax investigation in 1991 – “I am not evading tax in any way, shape or form. Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.”
A Disclaimer for Me
The information contained in this article is based on Australian knowledge only and any action taken as a result of this article is to be thoroughly investigated as to its’ currency and legitimacy with the appropriate taxation legislation in Australia and any other country you seek to apply any information from this article to. While I am only discussing Australian options, there will be similar options in other countries and these will provide food for thought for your particular country, organisation and circumstance.
A Disclaimer for You
Individuals Are To Be Explicitly Encouraged to Seek Professional Financial Advice!
I’ll say it another way… You absolutely must advise individuals to seek professional advice from their taxation department, their financial planner or accountant prior to taking up any financial related salary packaging or employee benefits programs. Each employees’ financial situation varies significantly and there are financial consequences in salary packaging and encouraging people to utilise tax advantages that may not suit their individual financial situation.
Why Would We Bother?
A carefully planned salary packaging system can provide various cost savings to an organisation. Many automatically think that the company has to incur the fringe benefits tax (FBT) on employee benefits. On the contrary, the salary package can be structured to incorporate the FBT component, or employees can make voluntary after tax contributions to minimise the FBT liability, or both.
I will restate the “Knowledge is Power” and “Fore Armed is Forewarned” from the previous article. A benefit of working for your company does not have to be a physical benefit; it can be the provision of empowering information that assists the employee to make decisions for a better future. Some of the information in this article is simply that, tax advantages that are open to individuals no matter which company they are employed by, that they simply may not realise it exists.
If you are the one that opens their eyes, then they will hold you or the company higher and value the contribution you have made to them. If you dedicate some time to seek, offer and advise employees of tax effective salary packaging and tax deductions or offsets, they will believe that you truly do care and that you are serving their best interests. You will gain credibility, build business relationships, contribute to employee morale and more. From a human resources perspective, there are so many reasons to bother and these are listed below.
Liaising with Human Resources & Finance
There are very few organisations where the Payroll Manager will be able to get most of these offerings across the line without liaising with HR & Finance, with some managers even wondering how you dare to have the audacity to bring them to the table. I recommend you do your homework and have prepared submissions that sell the implementation to both your HR & Finance people.
Highlight the benefits to both the organisation and the employees, do your numbers, study the social wellbeing aspects, calculate your numbers and present the ideas that will require organisational approval. If you can work with the management of HR & Finance to bring some or all of these ideas to fruition, your employees will be thankful, at the very least.
Key Arguments for Finance
- Potential cost savings of carefully planned salary packaging
- Zero cost effect to the organisation of the tax minimisation offerings
- Potential to reduce turnover, thus reducing the cost of employment and the cost of payroll production
Key Arguments for HR
- Actively contributes to Employee Engagement
- Contributes to Corporate Social Responsibility
- Steers you in the right direction to becoming an Employer of Choice
- The provision of valuable financial information contributes to relationship building, trust and loyalty
- Employees achieve more with the same rate of income and perceive they are being rewarded
What’s In It for the Employees?
- Employees obviously receive greater benefit from their salary or wage
- The increased perception of working for an organisation that does actually value them
Beware of Award or Industrial Instruments Excluding Employees
In Australia, we are undergoing a modernisation of our industrial relations system and the employment awards within it (although some would question the use of the word “modernisation”). There have been awards that specifically exclude salary sacrifice arrangements, so ensure you review your employees’ industrial instruments for exclusions.
What are Non Salary Packaged Tax Minimisation Options for Employees?
The Australian Taxation Office has common tax offsets available to individuals. It is well worth investigating the offsets in your country and utilising your knowledge base (from Innovation 1 – Creating a Knowledge Base) to advise employees who may not know these exist or that they are entitled to claim them.
Pre-Declaration of Income Tax Returns by Employees (ITWV Variation)
In Australia this is known as an Income Tax Withholding Variation Application (ITWV) or if you are old like me, the former terminology is the 221D Variation. Do not presume that wage earners are automatically excluded from this as I’ve met many people with multiple investment properties, hands in businesses and all sorts of tricky financials who are school teachers, tradespeople and process workers.
The ITWV Variation Application allows employees to apply for a variation on their tax rates by anticipating their future tax return. Instead of waiting until the end of the financial year to claim, if approved, they will receive a reduced tax rate during the current financial year and will receive additional net pay on a per pay basis.
Publish information and forms on your knowledge base for employees who may not know that they can apply for tax variations on their earnings.
After Tax Voluntary Superannuation Contributions
Any employee can contribute additional after-tax monies to their compliant superannuation fund. There is no immediate financial benefit from this, but it has the potential to change an individuals’ future. If the employee is a low or middle income earner though, they may be eligible for the Superannuation Co-Contributions Scheme, where personal after-tax superannuation contributions may be matched by the government, up to $1,000.
After Tax Voluntary Spouse Superannuation Contributions
Additionally, if an employees’ spouse works part-time and is on a low income, they may be eligible for rebates on contributions (to a threshold) that they make to their spouses’ superannuation.
Deferred Income Payments
It is legal, under Australian taxation law to defer employee payments (by request of the employee) so the tax implications in one financial year are minimised. It is only viable to do this if the following financial years’ earnings are not going to be impacted greatly by the withheld payment. If an employee is going on parental leave, taking an extended period of leave without pay, or retiring this is an option that could have significant financial benefit for the employee.
Although this is technically salary sacrifice, it does not usually fall within the same structure or framework as the offering of salary sacrificed employee benefits as it is governed by separate legislation and is to be made available to all employees.
If your organisation is active in the community and values its’ corporate responsibility, you could work with your management team to encourage the board to commit to matching contributions. Your employees will feel that the company is working with them to improve the community. This program has so many benefits in the eyes of employees, it’s hard to understand why after years of the legislation being enacted, so many organisations still haven’t got a Workplace Giving Program in place.
Open discussion with registered business owners or ABN Holders to test the legitimacy of them contracting to your organisation.
This is an area of risk, but again, if researched and managed properly is a potential winner for organisations and employees. There are many people employed by organisations that have businesses registered and are true or legitimate contractors. Organisations should really investigate the cost savings of employing these people as contractors, providing they can pass the employee-versus-contractor test under the taxation system.
Use your Current Creditor List as a Potential Employee Benefits List
Almost every organisation has creditors (and debtors for that matter) who wouldn’t mind expanding their businesses and creating a few new customers. If your business is sizeable enough, it is worth speaking to a few of these other organisations to see if they would like to offer benefits or discounts to your employees, to potentially increase their customer base. Employees will see the benefit in discount or special offerings for:
- Vehicle leasing or purchasing
- Banking or Financial Products
- Tools and equipment
- Computers and computer software
- Practically anything is of value to someone!
Partner with Personal Service Professionals to Provide Employee Benefits
Find professionals that are willing to offer their services at a discounted introductory price, with the potential to create a larger client base. Any professional who understands the lifetime value of a customer, would jump at the chance to service a reasonably large potential client base.
If you directed 100 new clients to a professional on the first occasion, the lifetime value of that customer base alone would far outweigh any introductory discount on the initial service. A percentage of the initial 100 clients will refer the professional to their friends and family. If that professional returned every six to twelve months and secured new employees as customers their business will grow exponentially just from your partnering invitation.
What can you offer?
- Will & Estate Planning
- Financial Planning
- Budgeting Assistance/Debt Reduction Strategist
- Health Insurance Analyst
- Home Loan Analyst
- Tax Preparation Services
- Legal Services
You could also partner with local businesses to provide discounts or loyalty programs such as Car Washes, Cafes, Dry Cleaners, Automotive Repairers, Home Maintenance & Cleaning, Tradespeople… the list is endless and your employees will love it.
Salary Packaging Employee Benefits… now it becomes more complex
Public Benevolent Institutions (Charities) and Hospitals in Australia In Australia
Public Benevolent Institutions, Hospitals and similar industry bodies are legislated separately for salary packaging. If your employer falls under this legislation, fringe benefits are offered and taxed separately and differently to the standard Fringe Benefits Tax legislation.
Employee Benefits are “Fringe Benefits”
Under the Australian Taxation System In Australia, employee benefits are not income taxable but are fringe benefits taxable (including benefits provided to spouses, family members and associates as a result of the employment of the individual).
Minimise the FBT liability by Employee Contributions
FBT liability is incurred by the employer and is a major discourager to organisations. Employees who make voluntary FBT contributions can minimise or eliminate the employers FBT expense. Your organisation can offer salary packaging with a company policy that provides that employees will incur the FBT liability and incorporate it into their salary package or have them make after tax contributions.
Organisations can Claim Back the Goods & Services Tax (GST)
Where the organisation provides a benefit, then the amount expended on the benefit becomes the organisations expense. The benefit provided to the employee is a good or a service purchased or leased by the organisation and therefore, the organisation is entitled to claim the GST back on that expense (taking into account Goods & Services Tax legislation, record keeping requirements and the actual “claim ability” of certain items).
Without an effective and efficient management system, managing the GST claim back of employee fringe benefits can be an administrative nightmare. As with all complex administrative processes, a good think, a good plan and good management will resolve the issues.
A warning for employers who provide employee benefits
If you provide cash benefits to employees, such as Expenses Payment Cards, the obligation is on the employer to ensure employees are purchasing legal goods and services. An expenses payment card program should not be implemented without the explicit requirement to produce valid receipts to support the expense, which should tie in to the expenses payment card statements, which the employer should receive digital copies of for record keeping and benefits management purposes.
A warning for employees who receive employee benefits
If an employee receives an employee benefit under a salary sacrifice arrangement (including all purchases on expenses payment cards), the employee is not entitled to any of the following:
- Claim an income tax deduction for the expenses
- Claim GST on the item as they did not purchase it
- Depreciate the asset on an income tax return
It is important that employees understand this, as they may be falsely claiming deductions on tax returns.
Example 1: Right to claim Educational Expenses Tax Deduction In Australia, we have the ability to claim deductions for certain educational expenses for our children. If an employee has an expenses payment card issued by the employer as an employee benefit and uses that card to purchase a computer, monthly internet connection fees and stationery for their claimable school child, they will not be able to claim these items as a legitimate tax deduction. These items were legally purchased by the employer and the employer has the right to the expense as a business deduction and any associated GST. For the employee to claim a legitimate tax deduction on these items, they would have to purchase them out of income taxed earnings.
Example 2: Claiming a purchase as a legitimate business expense If an employee also happens to own a business and purchases business items on an employer provided expenses payment card (or physically receives these items as an employee benefit), the employee is not entitled to claim these items as legitimate business expenses, not claim the input tax credits on them. These items are not eligible for depreciation under the employees business either, as they are not legitimate business expenses. The goods or services were legally purchased by the employer and as such are legitimate business expenses for the employer not the employee.
Example 3: Using Employee Benefits for Investments (Properties or Other Investments) Serious issues arise when employees utilise employee benefits (including expenses payment cards) to fund investments (properties or otherwise) or purchase items for investment properties. Again, an individual cannot claim a tax deduction where the investment or the purchase has legally been made by the employer, through the provision of an employee benefit.
Example 4: Claiming Home Office Expenses on a Rented Home where the Employer Makes Rental Payments under a Salary Sacrificed Arrangement An employee has their total rental payments paid under a salary sacrifice scheme and all other expenses are paid by the employee from after tax wages, including their utility bills. If the employee or their spouse is a business owner and seeks to claim their home office and a portion of the utilities as a tax deduction, they are not entitled to do so. It is not a legitimate tax deduction as the employer is legally paying the rent on the home. They are entitled to claim a portion of the utilities however as these were paid from after tax wages. If your organisation offers benefits that could impact individuals in these ways, it is imperative that you advise them of these issues. Mortgage/Rental payments and expenses payment cards are the two primary areas of concern, but there are others.
Basically, employees need to understand that if they are not paying tax on it, they shouldn’t be able to claim a tax deduction on it!
What Can You Offer With Your Salary Packaging?
An employee can be provided any legal benefit and if the organisation agrees, just about anything can be paid or provided under a salary sacrifice arrangement, again provided it is legal. Any offer of salary sacrifice should be accompanied with strong encouragement to the employee to seek professional financial advice, as some benefits can actually expose the employee to financial losses in other areas.
An example of this is the salary sacrificing child care fees in Australia, which would increase the employees’ assessable income with the additional fringe benefits value added to their gross reportable income. This in turn, could reduce the employees’ claim to childcare rebate, making the employees’ child care fees even more exorbitant than they already were.
If you have a staff cafeteria, it is common to offer meal expenses payments as an employee benefit whereby staff make their purchases as they choose and the bill is paid by the employer to a pre-determined annual value.
Other offerings can include:
Health and Wellness Programs
- Weight Watchers or similar
- Quit Smoking Programs
- Gym Fees
- Health Insurance
Life & Other Insurances
- Life Insurance (there is now a minimum requirement in super funds)
- Funeral Benefit
- Total & Permanent Disability (TPD)
- Accident Cover
- Trauma Insurance
- Income Protection
Note: Income Protection insurance is claimable as a tax deduction at Item 24 on the Individual Tax Return, so professional advice should be sought on the tax effectiveness of salary packaging Income Protection Insurance.
Payment of Student Loans
Employers could offer payment of student loans (HELP/SFSS Debts in Australia).
Employee Benefits Exempted from Fringe Benefits Tax
The Australian Fringe Benefits Tax legislation has the “minor benefits” exemption. A minor benefit is a benefit which has a ‘notional taxable value’ (grossed up value) of less than $300. Where you provide an employee with separate benefits that are in connection with each other (for example, a meal, a night’s accommodation and taxi travel) you need to look at each individual benefit provided to the employee to see if the notional taxable value of each benefit is less than $300.
Don’t think you can provide a myriad of minor benefits to an employee though, as a consistent provision of benefits of this kind, could be construed as an expenses payments fringe benefit.
Please note that employers must report on Payment Summaries, all Fringe Benefits items $2000 and over (grossed up value, per the Payment Summaries gross up method) and this has to be taken into consideration by employees for determination of assessable income for other financial situations.
Industry related education and training courses would be accessed by more people if they were more affordable. Offer employees access to it appears that someone else is footing the bill for it. While this is salary packaging, I’ve separated it from the salary packaging section, as an industry or “in the course of your profession” course does not fall under standard employee benefits incurring fringe benefits tax.
Professional memberships and subscriptions to trade journals or industry publications can be provided to employees either as a company offering or under a salary sacrifice arrangement, if the budget doesn’t extend to servicing all of your employees’ professional subscription and membership requirements.
There is provision in the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act (Section 58N) to provide Emergency Assistance as exempt employee benefits. Benefits you provide by way of emergency assistance are exempt from FBT. Emergency assistance is assistance for immediate relief of a victim, or potential victim, of an emergency where the assistance is any of the following: first aid or other emergency health care; emergency meals, food supplies, clothing, accommodation, transport or use of household goods; temporary repairs; any similar matter.
Read up on this before you offer it though as there are restrictions on the provision of “health care” and these few paragraphs do not cover the complexity of Emergency Assistance as exempt employee benefits.
Salary Sacrificed Superannuation
Salary sacrificed super contributions are not a fringe benefit and are treated as employer contributions. Employers receive the tax benefit of paying additional funds into employees’ complying superannuation funds. There are complex restrictions on salary sacrificed super though and both employers and employees must remain vigilant of the contribution caps, maximum thresholds, concessional components and age based limits.
The tax on entry of funds into a superannuation fund is 15% (and 16.5% on exit), so an employee pumping salary sacrificed super away needs to take into consideration their retirement needs and the tax rate that would apply to this money if they earned it as salary or wages.
Beware of the caps! There are caps on the amount of concessional (before tax) and non-concessional (after tax) contributions you can make each year. If you exceed the cap, there is an excess contributions tax of an additional 31.5% of the amount exceeding the cap.
Access to Financial Assistance Outside of Your Organisation
This was mentioned in the Innovation 1 article, but is such a pertinent item in todays’ crazy world with environmental disasters, high divorce rates, the rise in terminal illnesses, the collapse of the housing markets and all the other day to day tragedies we face as a community. Your employees may be in desperate need of financial assistance and most of us don’t like to advertise our desperation, so if we post on our knowledge bases ways to access financial assistance, we are providing an invaluable community service to our employees.
Look on your local council, state & federal government and welfare department websites for information that would assist your employees. Private companies also are able to assist in times of financial crisis, such as mortgage providers freezing loan repayments, superannuation funds releasing funds for crisis and so on.
Advising Employees of Available Tax Deductions & Tax Offsets
It costs nothing to post information on your knowledge base about employee eligibility to legitimate tax deductions and tax offsets. Many organisations are wary of their liability in providing such information, which is easily waived by posting tax department published PDF files or internet links to your taxation departments publications.
Some people do not realise that they are entitled to claim for the travel between work and their training institution, or the difference between what they normally would travel for work and the extended travel to a training course or business meeting. This is a value add for your “customers” that may have a significant impact on them.
Self Education expenses is another area where employees may benefit from more information as they do not realise the extent of the deductions they are entitled to. Additionally there is the Housekeeper Tax Offset; Education Tax Refund; Family Tax Offsets; and Investing on Behalf of Children.
Now to Get Started…
The offering of employee benefits is a minefield, but it’s a minefield worth crossing if you truly want to offer your employees the best value out of their salaries and wages and provide an employee benefits program that engages rather than alienates employees.
If you are unsure what your employees would be interested in, ask them! Even if you got together a working party and included a cross section of your employees in that working party to begin the big picture design. If you do your homework and it falls on deaf ears, at the very least you can begin to populate your knowledge base with the wealth of information that employees could utilise on eligible tax deductions and tax offsets. If they know about these options, they can plan for them and save their receipts.
Should you decide to embark on this path, I wish you well in your endeavours and as always would love to learn more from you or help you in your journey. You can open discussion via this site or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2012, Louise Vidler
Excerpts from the Australian Taxation Office:
About tax minimisation and tax avoidance schemes
You are entitled to minimise your tax liabilities through investment activities and to receive the benefits provided for under the law. Tax minimisation is when you legitimately arrange your tax affairs to reduce the amount of tax you pay. These arrangements comply with both the letter and spirit of the law. However, investment schemes and legal structures that do not comply with the law are considered to be aggressive tax planning arrangements – referred to as tax schemes. A tax scheme is an artificial or contrived arrangement to avoid or defer tax obligations. Schemes often involve a series of complex transactions. They typically move funds through several entities, such as trusts, in order to avoid or minimise tax otherwise payable. Schemes may also involve distorting the way funds are being used to enable a taxpayer to claim deductions they are not entitled to.
What is a salary sacrifice arrangement?
A salary sacrifice arrangement is also commonly referred to as salary packaging or total remuneration packaging. It is an arrangement between you and your employer, whereby you agree to forgo part of your future entitlement to salary or wages in return for your employer providing you with benefits of a similar value.
What are the requirements for an effective salary sacrifice arrangement?
The requirements of an effective salary sacrifice arrangement are: • the arrangement is entered with your employer before you perform the work • there is an agreement between you and your employer • there should be no access to the sacrificed salary – if a fringe benefit that has not be provided by your employer is cashed out at the end of a salary sacrifice arrangement accounting period, the amount cashed out is your salary and is taxed as normal income.