If there's one thing that pretty much any business owner would say yes to, it's free money. Brooklyn-based Alice, a new startup offering a simple way to automate pre-tax spending for employees, claims it can help you pocket some. Is it legit?

Give your employees up to a $4,000 raise without spending a penny.

The idea behind Alice is simple. Employees are legally allowed to pay for some work-related expenses, like commuting and childcare, with pre-tax income, saving themselves a nice chunk of change over the course of the year. Administering this benefit, however, has traditionally been a pain in the neck, which means lots of smaller businesses simply ignore pre-tax spending.

Alice aims to make offering it dead simple. Here's co-founder Avi Karnani's overview of how it works for employees: "We make pre-tax spending automatic. As an employee, you connect your credit, debit, and prepaid cards to Alice, take a picture of your health insurance card if you have one, and answer a few easy questions. Then you go and spend like normal--Alice figures out for you what should be pre-tax based on your spending history. If we need something, like a transaction confirmation, the name of your childcare provider, or a receipt, we'll text you."

Things are equally easy on the HR side, Karnani promises. Alice connects to most major payroll systems and set-up is super quick. It then automatically updates employee deductions in your system, keeping you compliant with little additional hassle. The best part for businesses is there's no additional cost--Alice just keeps half of whatever you save in payroll taxes.

How much will that be exactly? That depends on your employees' choices. "Maybe you don't have kids and you're filling prescriptions each month. Or you might use daily contact lenses, pay to park for work, and have two kids in daycare," says Karnani. "We have some Alice-using employees saving as much as $2,700 a year. If you're maximizing across the board, you can add $4,000 to your take-home pay."

"If you have W2 employees, full-time or part-time, who have eyes, teeth, kids, or a commute, Alice will increase their take-home pay, pretty much automatically," he says.

But while Alice can benefit basically anyone who works, it is particularly valuable to hourly workers who traditionally have missed out on the full range of benefits offered to salaried employees. Karnani and co-founder Paul Barnes-Hoggett received a Robin Hood Fellowship in 2014, which supports talented would-be founders as they work on problems facing working class Americans. Alice is the result of their study and collaboration.

Is this legit?

All of which makes Alice sound like a no-brainer for small-business owners, but does it actually work as advertised? At least one business I spoke to said yes. Over email, Sandy Smith, the HR director of Ethan Stowell Restaurants in Seattle, explained that before Alice her company wasn't offering pre-tax spending at all. Now employees are saving a modest but significant $765 a year.

Set-up was easy she reports, adding "our employees really like it and I recommend it to other Seattle restaurants." She also thinks it would be a great fit for companies in the construction industry or other sectors with lots of hourly workers. Her only quibble with the product is that car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which are popular with her employees, can't yet be counted towards pre-tax spending.

This is only one glowing review, of course, but given that employers risk basically nothing but a few minutes of time setting up Alice, it might be worth a try.

Published on: Aug 28, 2018