Your small business has finally grown to the point at which you are ready to bring on employees. In so doing, you have been considering offering benefits. You know how important benefits are to recruiting and retention. You also know that a good package could prove invaluable to your employees.

Looking into benefits can be a scary proposition. There is a lot to learn. In fact, the learning curve is pretty steep for business owners who have never dealt with things like health insurance and retirement plans before. If this sounds like you, here are some things to think about as you prepare for that first benefits package:

Affordable Care Act Mandates

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now more than a decade old. It was enacted under the Obama administration way back in 2010. The most important thing to know is that the ACA requires most employers in the U.S. to offer some sort of health plan with minimum essential coverage (MEC).

This does not necessarily mean you will need a health plan is place as soon as you start hiring. Nonetheless, you should look into the employer mandate and its requirements. If you do have to start offering MEC right away, you have plenty of options.

Insurance Isn’t the Only Way

Group health insurance is not the only way to satisfy the ACA’s employer mandate for MEC. You can also choose a self-funded or level-funded plan. Both types of plans can be administered in-house or left to third-party administrators (TPAs).

According to StarMed, a TPA based in Las Vegas, self-funded health plans are low-cost alternatives to traditional insurance. They are funded entirely by employers and their employees. A level-funded plan is a type of self-funded plan that offers more stability and reliability by tying claim payments to an insurance carrier.

Health Plans Are Considered the Bare Minimum

You should also know that, as far as employees are concerned, health plans are considered the bare minimum. Today’s employees have a reasonable expectation that they will have access to some sort of employer-sponsored plan. As such, it is nearly impossible to build a competitive benefits package if a health plan isn’t included.

The obvious exception here is coverage for part-time or minimum-wage workers. Neither type of worker necessarily expects MEC-qualifying plans. If you can offer one, great. But if not, it probably won’t affect your ability to hire and retain part-time and minimum-wage workers.

Retirement Plans Are a Big Plus

It is not unusual for an entry-level benefits package to combine both a health plan and a retirement plan option. Retirement plans in this day and age are pretty much 401(k) plans. Employers contribute a certain amount, usually as a matching amount based on a predetermined ratio. Employees contribute through payroll deductions.

Voluntary Benefits Are More Important These Days

A typical employer benefits package offers both a health plan and a retirement option. Anything above and beyond is considered an extra. Note that these extra benefits are classified as voluntary benefits for the simple fact that employees can choose to participate on an as-needed basis.

Voluntary benefits are cost-effective because you can share the cost with your employees or put it all on them. This means you can offer a basket of voluntary benefits without putting a big dent in the budget.

You have a lot to think about as you prepare for that first benefits package. Don’t go it alone. Hook up with a benefits broker, consultant, or third-party administrator who can help you create and administer the best possible package for your employees.