A cheaper commute? Yes, with a commuter benefits program

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone helped with the cost of your daily commute?

Well, there’s a way through a program called “commuter benefits,” but only if your employer enrolls in a commuter benefits program.

With commuter benefits, you have the monthly cost of your commute deducted from your paycheck before paying taxes. Those tax-free dollars are then put on a debit card, voucher or paid directly to your transit or parking operator, in accordance with Internal Revenue Service regulations.

The monthly limit is $270, as set by the IRS, for public transit and parking. You then spend the benefit on your commute. Drivers can use it to pay for qualified parking costs — meters or garages and lots at or near the workplace or from which the employee commutes via transit, vanpool or carpool. Commuters can receive both the transit and parking benefits.

You can’t, however, use the benefit for fuel or car maintenance, according to IRS rules.

The commuter benefit money can be used to pay for rideshare programs — like VanStar — and public transit such as buses, trolleys and trains.

How much could you save? Well, it depends on several factors, but, according to commuterbenefits.com, a public transit commuter in New York City who is single and earns $75,000 annually could save about $1,144. A married person in Boston who makes $100,000 per year and commutes by car could save $1,178.

Several cities and regions—neither Nashville nor Middle Tennessee are among them — have passed mandatory commuter benefit ordinances requiring businesses with a particular number of employees to offer pre-tax commuter benefit programs.

In Washington. D.C., for example, a company or organization with 20 or more full-time employees must offer commuter benefits, while those in the Bay Area of California with 50 or more full-time employees must offer them.

Other locations with mandatory commuter benefit ordinances include New Jersey, Seattle, Los Angeles, Richmond, Calif., and Berkeley, Calif.

Businesses located out of those mandatory areas don’t need large staffs to offer commuter benefits; they can start a program with just one employee.

If you’re interested in saving money on your commute, ask your company’s HR department about commuter benefits.