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What Is "Cafe 125" on a W-2 Tax Form?

Updated for Tax Year 2019


OVERVIEW

You might be confused to see "Cafe 125" listed on your W-2 form. This may sound like it has something to do with where you go on your lunch break, but there is a more reasonable explanation. "Cafe 125" stands for IRS regulation code section 125 regarding tax-free cafeteria plans.


Included plans

Employers can choose to set up “cafeteria plans” under section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code for a variety of reasons. These cafeteria plans allow employees to set aside pre-tax income for certain employer-offered benefits. Benefits provided by plans covered under section 125 include adoption and dependent care assistance, health insurance, 401k and group term life insurance policies. They are called cafeteria plans because employees are given a list of benefits to choose from, similar to a cafeteria-style menu.

Some benefits not covered by section 125 include: education assistance, Archer Medical Savings Accounts, meals and transportation benefits.

what is cafe 125

Employer benefits

Offering cafeteria plans to employees can save money for employers. Most cafeteria plans are not subject to Medicare taxes, and by allowing employees to defer income to these programs, employers generally pay less in payroll taxes. Cafeteria plans also can build employees' loyalty within the company by saving them money and offering benefits they could not otherwise afford.

Employee advantages

The employee advantages of enrolling in cafeteria plans are simple. Income allotted to cafeteria plans is taken directly from an employee's paycheck before taxes are taken out. These pre-tax contributions can save the employee hundreds—possibly even thousands—of dollars in income taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes over the course of a year. Employees also have the advantage of choosing which programs to enroll in and which to decline to get the specific benefits that are most important to them.

Considerations

Having Cafe 125 reported on your W-2 does not change the way you prepare and file your tax return. The money deferred to pretax plans should already be subtracted from the total amount of your wages reported in box 1 on your W-2. You should verify that this information is reported correctly before filing your tax return. If you find a discrepancy on Form W-2, you should contact your employer immediately to have it corrected. Also, remember that these benefits are paid for with pre-tax dollars so they are not eligible to be used as a deduction on your return. For example, health insurance is a common benefit offered by these plans, but you cannot also use these costs as a medical deduction on Schedule A if you paid for them through your cafeteria plan.

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