3 Ways for Nonprofits to Opt Out of Unemployment Tax

Author, Sam Brown, Vice President, Human Services Group, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

Image of ball of 100 dollar bills with the words “funding” around it.

Nonprofit leaders who want to reduce overhead and tax burdens should consider revisiting their organizations’ unemployment tax status. More to the point, thanks to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act of 1972, nonprofits can eliminate the unemployment insurance tax and outsource the headache of claims administration. Let’s investigate further.

Traditionally, the state charges a nonprofit employer payroll tax to fund the state unemployment insurance program. Each nonprofit’s tax rate adjusts each year depending on employee turnover and unemployment claims. According to several sources, nonprofits pay an average of $2.00 in taxes for every $1.00 in paid claims. So how do we reduce this overage?

Now for the good news; nonprofits are not required to pay the state unemployment tax. Provision 3309a of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act allows 501(c)(3)s to choose whether to pay into the state program at the prescribed tax rate, or to pay into the program an amount equal to the actual unemployment benefits paid out by the state program. In other words, a nonprofit employer may “opt out” and reimburse the state.

Below are three “opt out” and administrative solutions a nonprofit should consider depending on its desired level of risk.

  1. First Dollar Insurance: A private insurance company provides a fixed rate based on the nonprofit’s individual claims history and expected future claims. This option provides budgetary certainty with a low-risk product. If unemployment claims exceed expectations, there is no additional cost to the employer.

  2. Customized Stop-Loss Insurance: For nonprofit leaders who want to accept more risk and realize higher savings, the employer pays an agreed upon self-insured retention, after which point the insurance company pays all benefits.

  3. Nonprofit Unemployment Trust: For nonprofit organizations with high employee retention or low unemployment claims frequency, a trust can offer a high return in exchange for higher risk. In most cases, the trust protects the employer against unexpected, catastrophic charges. The nonprofit employer has a high retention that must be met before the protection is triggered.

Each solution presented above provides services to further reduce risk and unemployment expenses. These services include claims management, hearing representation, unemployment cost management training, and transparent billing and accounting.

Whether the nonprofit pays unemployment taxes or reimburses the state, there are advantages and disadvantages. Nonprofit leaders who understand these details and the nuances of each solution will have the confidence to move forward in the direction that best suits the organization.