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10 Obamacare Facts Small Business Owners Must Know

Picture of road sign with message complications ahead

The Affordable Care Act burdens small businesses with a number of complexities.

Lots of small business, I suspect, have ignored the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law we all better know as “Obamacare.”

But that’s not practical because there are probably at least ten Obamacare facts small business owners and their managers need to know and potentially act on in the coming months.

Mandate Kicks In at 50 Employees for 2016

Here’s the first thing you need to know, for example.

You aren’t required to provide employees and their dependents health insurance if you have fewer than 50 employees. But if you do have 50 or more employees, yeah, you are required to provide them with health insurance.

Note: For 2015, only employers with 100 or more employees are required to have health insurance for employees and their dependents. The 50 or more employees threshold applies to 2016 and later years.

By the way, you count employees using basic “full time employee” math. And a full-time employee is someone who works (basically) 2000 hours a year. (The rules are a little more complicated than this, but you get the idea.)

Just to flesh out the details, then, if you have 49 2000-hour-a-year employees, you have 49 full-time employees. And in this case you fall one employee short of the “50 or more employees” trigger.

Similarly, if you have 99 1000-hour-a-year employees, you have 49.5 “full time equivalent” employees—and here you fall half an employee short.

However, if you have 80 half time employees (which equals 40 full time equivalent employees) and then 10 full time employees, you sit at 50 full time equivalent employees. And now you are required to provide health insurance to employees and their dependents.

Seasonal Employees Often Don’t Count

Even if you break the 50-employee threshold, you aren’t considered to have crossed the “50 or more employees” threshold if your employee count meets or exceeds 50 employees for 120 days or less only because of seasonable employees.

Employers with Same Ownership May Be Combined

A quick point: You can’t split a business with, say, 80 full-time employees into two smaller employers each with only 40 employers and get around the law. Or do anything else like this.

Tax law makes you combine the “smaller” employers with the same ownership into a single employer for purposes of Obamacare. (Tax law also requires you to do this in a bunch of other cases, too, by the way.)

Nearly All ACA Rules Still Apply to Employer Group Plans

An important point: If you provide employees with a group health plan, your plan must still comply with nearly all of the Affordable Care Act’s rules and regulations. If you don’t, you could be subject to a $100 per day per employee penalty.

Just to make this point clear, then, if you have fewer than 50 employees, you don’t have to provide health insurance to employees. But if you do provide health insurance to employees, you have to provide ACA-compliant insurance.

Caution: Where small businesses get into trouble even if they have fewer than 50 employees is when they offer one or more employees some half-baked, free-form health insurance arrangement that doesn’t comply with ACA. (Most of these free-form, ad hoc arrangements surely won’t comply… just so you know.)

Note: For more about this penalty, see our blog post here.

Self-employed Health Insurance Deduction Still Exists

Okay, another quick point: The self-employed health insurance deduction still exists in the Obamacare era. Which is good.

But how the deduction works? Yeah, that’s a little unclear for partners in partnerships and shareholder-employees in S corporations. Sorry.

Coverage Required for Full-time Employees

If you have to provide insurance for employees and their dependents because you employ 50 or more FTEs, you should know that you have to provide coverage for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week or more than 130 hours a month for at least 120 days.

By the way, just in case you’re confused: Yes, the definition of a “full-time employee” for purposes of the determining whether a particular employee needs to be covered differs from the “full time equivalent” employee definition used for purposes of determining whether an employer employs 50 or more full-time workers.

Health Plans Must Meet Minimum Coverage Requirements

If you do have 50 or more employees, any health plan you offer as an employer must meet a “minimum coverage” requirement. This means you need to offer at least bronze-level ACA-compliant health insurance. A bronze-level insurance policy should cover at least 60% of an employee’s healthcare costs.

If you have more than 50 employees and you don’t meet the minimum coverage requirement, you will be penalized with an employer responsibility payment. The penalty formula is complicated, but roughly speaking you will pay $2,000 per employee minus $60,000.

For example, if you have 70 employees, you pay $80,000 because 70 employees x $2,000 – $60,000 equals $80,000.

Health Plans Must Meet Affordability Requirements

If you have 50 or more employees, any health insurance you offer employees must also be affordable. Per the law, “affordability” means an employee can’t pay more than 9.5% of his or her annual household income for his or her health insurance.

As a practical matter, just to make this point clear, someone who makes $10 an hour can’t pay more than $.95 an hour for their health insurance.

If insurance costs more than 9.5% of the employee’s annual household income, an employer needs to subsidize the insurance to meet the affordability requirement.

Two related points here: First, employers won’t really know what an employee’s annual household income equals. (An employer would only know the employee’s wages earned at the employer’s place of business.) Second, the affordability requirement hits employers of low-wage employees much harder than employers of high-wage employees.

If you have 50 or more employees and you don’t provide affordable healthcare, you will be penalized with an employer responsibility payment. Again, the penalty formula is complicated, but roughly speaking you will pay whatever amount is less: $2,000 per employee or $3,000 for every employee who gets a premium subsidy for their health insurance.

For example, if you have 70 employees but only 2 employees buy their insurance through a state exchange and get a premium credit, your penalty equals $6,000 because 2 employees x $3,000 equals $6,000.

Note: The IRS will send you a bill for your previous year’s responsibility payment shortly after the year ends.

Small Businesses and Self-insurers Need to File New Returns

Small businesses need to report on health insurance they provide to employees on employee’s W-2s starting in 2015 (which means the W-2s small businesses provide in early 2016 need to include this data).

You can refer to this IRS article for more information on this: click here.

If you are subject to the employer shared responsibility penalties (for minimum essential coverage or for affordability) or you’re operating a self-insured health plan, you will also need to file either 1094-C and 1095-C returns or 1094-B and 1095-B returns.

You use the 1094-B/1095-B returns if you’re operating a self-insured health plan and the 1094-C/1095-C returns if you’re subject to the employer shared responsibility penalties.

Note: See this IRS brochure for more information: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5196.pdf

Tip: We understand that not all of the big payroll service companies will prepare these forms for you and expect few CPA firms to prepare them for you, so you’ll want to verify this reporting requirement doesn’t drop between the cracks. For example, we believe ADP and Paychex will provide these services, but it appears at this writing that QuickBooks won’t. And we don’t plan to offer this service to our clients at this point.

Small Businesses Tax Credit May Work for Some Employers

One final thing you should know about is the ACA’s small business tax credit for health insurance purchased for employees.

In a nutshell, if an employer has 10 or fewer employees making on average $25,400 or less per year, you get a 50% credit for premiums paid for two years.

Example: You have ten employees making on average $25,400. For each employee, you pay half of a $200 a month insurance premium, or $100 a month

The credit in this case equals $500 a month, calculated as 10 employees times $100 a month times 50%.

If you have more than 10 employees or your average wages exceed $25,400, the credit phases out. At 25 employees or at $50,800 of average wages, you don’t get any credit.

More Detailed Information is Available

Cover image of monograph, Small Businesses and the Affordable Care Act: What Every Tax Practitioner Must Know

Earlier this spring, we published a monograph (downloadable as a pdf) for other CPA firms trying to help their clients deal with the Affordable Care Act’s complexity. If you’re a client of our CPA firm, we are happy to provide you with a complimentary copy of the monograph. Just call us.

If you aren’t a firm client but rather are a CPA, know that we’d be happy to sell you a copy of the monograph for $100. Roughly 60 pages in length, the monograph outlines everything you need to know in order to advise small business clients on the elements of the Affordable Care Act they must know. The monograph also includes useful Appendixes which provide sample health plans, sample W-2s that show how ACA-compliant W-2 should be prepared, sample client letters, and sample handouts you can use to help clients learn the new law. (Need more info? Click here.)

In summary, this relatively short whitepaper should save tax practitioners and their clients hours of learning time by describing the ACA issues that one needs to understand if one operates in the world of small business.

Purchase and Download View Cart

Money Back Guarantee

As with all of our publications, the Small Businesses and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) monograph comes with a money-back guarantee, so if you purchase it and then for whatever reason find it’s not what you need or what you expected, simply email us your refund request. We will happily issue you a refund, no questions and no hassles.

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