Disability and Life Insurance Taxation

By Chris Noffke, GBDS, CSFS, Vice President of Employee Benefits

Chris Noffke

Taxation of benefits is a unique and important topic. Many groups I work with want to make sure their employees are not taxed for an employer paid life insurance benefit and other clients want to ensure that if an employee becomes disabled, they do not have to pay taxes on their already reduced income. Making sure these benefits are set up correctly, both by the insurance carriers and in your payroll service, is vital to tax-free benefits for employees.

Life insurance

Life insurance is the easier of the benefits to establish correctly. If an employer provides up to a $50,000 benefit to each employee, then this benefit and premiums paid for it can be excluded from an insured employee’s taxable wages. If you offer coverage to employees for a benefit over $50,000 and it is employer paid, you are required to tax premiums for the amount above $50,000.  

Disability insurance

A bigger discussion happens regarding disability insurances (both Long-term and Short-term). When an employee or owner/partner is out of work due to a disability, they will receive only a fraction of their pre-disability earnings, the average benefit being 60% of pre-disability earnings. If an employer is paying 100% of the disability premiums, the employer can decide to offer these benefits as a “gross-up” to employees. A gross-up is structuring the premiums paid by the employer to be a taxable benefit on the employee payroll. The benefits received by the disabled employee (disability income) will then be tax deferred. The rule is direct, if employees are paying payroll taxes on the premiums that the employer is paying, the benefit will be tax free – however – it is very important that the payroll taxes begin prior to the benefits being received.

When premiums are split between the employer and employee, we need to make sure there are a few rules followed. If a benefit has a premium contribution of 50% paid by the employer and 50% paid by the employee, the setup will determine if the benefit is partially or fully taxable. If in this situation the employee pays their premiums pre-tax and there is no gross-up for the amount the employer pays, this full benefit will be taxable income. Another example is if the employer pays 50% of the benefit (not grossed-up) and the employee is paying for 50% of the benefit with post-tax dollars, then when the employee receives this disability income benefit, 50% of the benefit will be taxable. So, to make the full benefit tax deferred, you need to have the employer premiums paid be grossed-up and the employee portion needs to be paid with post-tax deductions.

This can get a bit confusing, and I would love to talk if you have any questions. Please email me at chris.noffke@wismedassure.org or call 608.442.3734.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as insurance advice related to your specific policy or situation. Please consult with a qualified insurance advisor or professional before making any policy decisions. Full disclaimer and contact information.

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