Guide to Employee Stipends

Are you looking to boost your employees’ total compensation with fringe benefits? Or, are you looking to replace in-office perks for a virtual team?  Employee stipends could be an option for your organization. Get everything you need to know about employee stipends in our complete guide below.

Learn more about stipends with our downloadable guide.


Are you looking to better attract and retain your employees?

In today’s tight labor market, employers must do more to recruit and retain top talent and meet employees’ increasing expectations for comprehensive and personalized benefits. While salaries and traditional benefits like group health insurance and retirement plans are still important to workers, their needs have changed. 

According to our 2024 Employee Benefits Survey Report, 81% of employees said an employer’s benefits package is an important factor in whether or not they accept a job.

To effectively hire and keep your employees, you need to offer a standout benefits package that addresses their individual needs. 

With employee stipends, you can build inclusive and personalized lifestyle benefits that will enrich your team’s employee experience. You can give your employees stipends to cover the costs of remote work expenses, gym memberships, and other perks to build a competitive employee benefits package that’s easy to administer. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about offering stipends to your workers.

Topics covered in this guide include:

What is a stipend?

Employee stipends, sometimes called fringe benefits, lifestyle benefits, or lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs), are a fixed amount of money offered to employees to help pay for various expenses. You can think of stipends as monthly allowances—a flat amount budgeted for each employee, which they can spend however they choose.

Traditionally, stipends were offered to graduate students, unpaid interns, and student researchers to help them pay for housing and other education-related expenses. However, any organization can offer them as an extra benefit for employees.

As an employer, you can use stipends to create a truly customized employee benefits package.

How do stipends work?

You can offer your workers an allowance for a specific purpose or expense with a stipend. For example, if your employees want more professional development opportunities, you could offer them a $100 monthly stipend that covers their online courses, textbooks, certifications, and more. 

Stipends can be offered on an annual, monthly, quarterly, or on-the-spot basis, and can be paid up-front for employees to use on specific perks, or through reimbursement after an employee incurs the cost of a lifestyle benefit.

As an employer, you can offer stipends for practically any expense category you choose. Because stipends are employer-funded, there are no annual rate increases or participation requirements that are normally found with benefits programs. 

Why offer employee stipends?

There are many benefits to offering employee stipends, from improving retention to simplifying your benefits package. 

Strengthen your employee experience

Employee stipends help improve the employee experience, making retaining and attracting employees more effective. It can also make your benefits package more inclusive as it caters to the unique needs of your employees. Employees increasingly expect their employer to provide benefits that meet their specific needs. By offering stipends to your workers, you’re creating an individualized benefits program your employees will love.

More control over your benefits and budget

Stipends enable employers to set monthly allowance caps, giving them complete control over their benefits costs. Since you can offer a stipend for anything, from meals to cell phone reimbursement, you can design a benefits package that fits your organization's and your employees' needs.

By administering your benefits through an employee stipend platform, you can keep all your perk benefits in one place, making it easy to offer and manage different types of reimbursements. No matter how many stipends an employer offers, all of them can be administered in one place—no need to juggle multiple vendors.

Employees get more choice

Your workers also enjoy flexibility with stipends, as they can choose where they spend their stipend allowance. They aren’t restricted to specific vendors, giving them more freedom to use their benefits how they want to. For example, instead of employees being forced to use a gym near your workspace, they can use their money on gym memberships at any facility that works best for them.

Are employee stipends taxable?

A question many employers have is whether or not stipend payments are taxable. It depends on how you structure your benefits program and what expenses you reimburse employees for. 

Most stipends, such as health and wellness stipends, are considered taxable income because they are essentially additional compensation for employees. Employers may need to withhold any federal, state, or local income taxes, and employees will be taxed on the amounts reimbursed. As stipends aren’t considered wages, Social Security and Medicare taxes aren’t required to be withheld. Taxable stipends appear as additional income on employees’ tax returns.

Other stipends may be considered tax-free or tax-advantaged. You’ll want to reference IRS Publication 15-B to see what fringe benefits qualify. 

Whether you offer a tax-free or taxable stipend, you’ll want to use a stipend administration platform to keep track of your expenses and store employee receipts in case the IRS audits you. Many stipend administration platforms can work as an accountable plan.

You should consult with your accountant or tax professional for more information on how you can offer tax-free employee stipends.

What types of stipends can I offer?

You can offer stipends for almost any expense or perk you can think of. You can customize your stipend program to fit your company culture, values, and the needs of your unique workforce. Dating app Hinge offered its New York employees a $200 monthly stipend for dates, while Seattle-based Rover, a dog-walking app, offers its employees a $1,000 one-time stipend for adopting a dog or cat.

While these stipends are unique to their respective organizations, they’re excellent examples of how you can customize them to fit your organization. To illustrate the types of stipends you could offer your employees, here are some common types of stipends and what they cover.

Health and wellness stipends

Health and wellness stipends can help you create a holistic wellness program by reimbursing your workers for their health and wellness-related expenses. 

You can offer a taxable health stipend to cover your employees' out-of-pocket medical expenses and health insurance premiums. However, you can’t require employees to submit receipts or invoices for any items included in IRS Publication 502 as this would trigger regulations regarding HIPAA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

A better, tax-free alternative to a health insurance stipend is a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). This IRS-approved and employer-sponsored benefit allows you to reimburse your employees for their qualifying medical expenses, including out-of-pocket costs and sometimes health insurance premiums, depending on the HRA offered.

Instead of offering a health stipend, you can offer your employees a wellness stipend to reimburse them for any wellness-related expenses. This is an excellent way to encourage employees to live healthier lives, making them more productive in the workplace. It also allows you to better support your employees' holistic well-being. 

Common wellness expenses and services that employees can purchase with a wellness stipend include:

  • Mobile apps (such as those for sleep tracking, meditation, fitness, and more)
  • Gym memberships
  • Exercise or yoga classes
  • Wearables and devices for tracking fitness activity
  • Home exercise equipment
  • Mental health counseling

This allows you to provide a completely customizable and cost-effective wellness program.

Remote work stipends

A popular stipend among employers is a remote work stipend. This allows you to reimburse your employees for their work-related expenses. While remote work is a popular benefit for employees today, remote workers may not have access to the same resources and perks as in-office employees. 

With a remote stipend, you can ensure your entire workforce has the support it needs to be successful and productive. Your employees may need ergonomic chairs to support the long hours spent sitting at their computers. Or they might need a second monitor to multitask better. You can help your employees acquire what they need with remote employee stipends.

With a remote work stipend, you can help employees with the following:

  • Home office set-up costs (such as desks, chairs, equipment, software, and more)
  • Office expenses
  • Coworking space memberships
  • Cell phone bills
  • Internet access costs

Depending on where your employees live, you may be required to reimburse them for their work-related expenses, including cell phone and internet access costs. Providing work-from-home stipends to employees makes it easy to comply with state and local laws.

Professional development stipends

Offering a professional development stipend is an excellent way to upskill your workforce in addition to on-the-job training. Also called a learning stipend or an education stipend, this benefit allows you to give your employees support for various educational expenses, including online courses, tuition fees, textbooks, and more.

This is a great way to show your employees you care about their career growth. Investing in your workers’ career development can also attract and retain employees who want to further their skills in a particular field. 

With a professional development stipend, your employees can use their money for expenses like:

  • Conferences
  • Webinars
  • Books
  • Certifications
  • Educational assistance
  • Student loan repayment programs
  • Training costs

Commuter and transportation stipends

Employees who work in-office or at your business location must commute to work. Not only is commuting to and from the workplace time-consuming, but it can be costly. To help your employees with commuting costs, you can offer a commuter stipend. This allows you to support employees with various transportation-related or travel expenses.

You can also use your transportation stipend to align with your company goals. For example, if reducing your environmental impact is vital to your organization’s mission, you can offer a stipend for transit passes or bike sharing and maintenance to encourage employees to find greener ways to commute.

Or, if your employees have to drive to work, you can offer a stipend to reimburse them for gas.

Your employees can get the following with a commuter stipend:

  • Parking fees
  • Transit pass and fares
  • Gas
  • Ridesharing
  • Tolls
  • Bike sharing programs
  • E-scooter sharing programs
  • Vehicle maintenance

Meal stipends

Another popular option is a meal stipend. Some employers use a food stipend to pay employees for the cost of meals while at work, such as ordering lunch. However, others offer it as a general perk for employee food expenses.

Your employees can use their stipend for the following:

  • Groceries
  • Meals at work
  • Dining out
  • Snacks

Rewards and recognition program stipends

You can also offer a stipend to recognize your employees’ hard work. For example, you could give your employees a one-time stipend they can use for any expenses they want as a way to say thank you. Or you could offer a stipend for vacations, leisure activities, and more. This is a more meaningful and structured way to reward your employees instead of handing out gift cards or company swag. 

Other types of stipends

There’s no limit to the types of stipends you can offer to your workforce. Here are some other options for your benefits package.

Other stipend ideas include:

  • Housing stipends to support living expenses for employees with mortgages, rent, or moving
  • Book stipends to promote reading and learning
  • Childcare or dependent care stipend

Get our free guide: How to set up personalized employee benefits in an hour

Who can offer stipends?

Any employer with employees or contractors can offer stipends, including nonprofit organizations. So stipends can work for your needs, whether you’re a small business looking to stretch your benefits dollars or a large company committed to HR innovation and benefits expansion. 

However, you can’t offer a stipend to any W-2 employee instead of a regular salary or hourly wages. Stipends are intended as an extra perk.

Who is eligible for stipends?

It’s up to you! Stipends are completely customizable, so you set the rules for which of your employees are eligible to participate. This includes full-time employees, part-time workers, international employees, and independent contractors

How to administer an employee stipend program

If you’re looking to offer employee stipends to your employees, these tips can help.

Here’s a four-step breakdown of the process:

Step 1: Decide on your goals

First, decide what you want to accomplish with your employee benefits. Are you trying to recruit new employees? Do you need to offer more robust benefits to stand out against the competition? Are you looking to replace in-office perks for a new remote team? The answers to these questions will help you choose the right benefits for your organization. 

Need help determining which benefits your employees want most? Conduct a benefits survey using our free template!

Step 2: Design your benefits package

Once you’ve honed in on your goals, you’re ready to design a benefits package tailored to your organization's needs. This includes choosing what kind of stipends you want to offer and how much you’d like to offer your employees.

Stipend administration software lets you easily set up customized allowances for each stipend. You can often choose to offer an annual, quarterly, or monthly stipend and set benefit end dates.


Step 3: Communicate the benefit to employees

Before you launch your benefit, you’ll want to communicate and engage with your employees on the roll-out of your new benefits. One key communication step is to send a notice to your employees letting them know about your new stipend offerings. Your notice should include things like what stipends you’re offering, when the benefit will start, and how much of an allowance you’re offering. 

Step 4: Analyze usage

Finally, after you’ve offered your stipends for a while, it’s a good idea to analyze employee engagement and participation rates to ensure your employees are making the most of their benefits. Which stipends are being used the most? Are employees using their total allowance amount?

By keeping a close eye on these metrics, you’ll be able to measure the success of your benefits to ensure they’re achieving the goals you set up in the first place. And if they’re not, you can better determine what changes need to be made to realize your goals.

Additional resources on employee stipends


Frequently Asked Questions

How do stipends differ from business expenses?

While stipends can include support for work-related expenses such as office equipment and internet access, some key differences exist. For instance, they can also include money for your employees’ personal use outside of work, such as gym memberships, wellness apps, and mental health counseling.

Where is the money held for stipends?

Stipends are generally paid out on an employee's paycheck. There's no requirement to set up an account to offer a stipend.

Can employees choose where to spend their allowance?

Generally, yes. Some employee benefits solutions limit employees to a set marketplace of vendors they need to shop from. With others, such as self-administered stipend programs, employees are welcome to make purchases from anywhere.

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