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Plan Compensation and Imputed Income

“What is imputed income and how does it affect a 401(k) plan, if at all?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings plans. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from Virginia is representative of a common inquiry related to compensation.

Highlights of Discussion

Imputed income relates to group term life insurance (GTLI). Offering GTLI may affect the administration of an employer’s qualified retirement plan, depending on the definition of compensation selected for plan purposes.

The first $50,000 of employer-provided GTLI is excludable from an employee’s taxable income pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC) §79. Once the amount of coverage exceeds $50,000, the imputed cost of coverage, based on the IRS Premium Table, is subject to income, Social Security and Medicare taxes (see IRS Publication 15-B). The imputed income is considered a taxable fringe benefit to the employee.

An employer must report the amount as wages in boxes 1, 3, and 5 of an employee’s Form W-2, and also show it in box 12 with code “C.” At an employer’s discretion, it may withhold federal income tax on the amount.

As taxable income, the amount may be included in the definition of compensation that is specified in the governing documents of an employer’s retirement plan. For example, with respect to the safe harbor definitions of compensation that plans may use, treatment of imputed income is as follows.

Compensation Type Form W-2 3401(a) 415 Safe Harbor
Taxable premiums for GTLI Included Excluded Included



Imputed income from GTLI coverage may be includible compensation for retirement plan administrative purposes. Employers and plan administrators must always refer to the specific definition of compensation elected in the plan document to know when to include or exclude imputed income.



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