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what is it and how to use it

The meal card replaces the cash food subsidy and has advantages, even at the tax level. Learn how it works.

If you are negotiating a contract or if your company is going to start using the meal cardit is important to know how it works and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this system.

Contrary to what one might think, the food subsidy is not considered part of the remuneration nor is it required by law. Thus, unless it is part of the collective bargaining agreement, no private company is obliged to pay.

In addition, it is up to the employer to decide how he wants to make this payment. This means that you cannot refuse to receive a meal card, just as you cannot oppose your employer changing the way you pay this amount.

Meal card: what is it and how does it work?

The meal card is a prepaid card distributed by the company to its employees. It is loaded with a certain value, equivalent to the amount of the meal subsidy. It is important to bear in mind that this subsidy is only paid on days when the employee actually works, which excludes, for example, vacations and absences.

The value on the card thus corresponds to the daily value of the food subsidy times the working days. This card can be used in participating restaurants, but increasingly in other types of stores. That is, you can use that amount to, for example, go to the supermarket to do your home shopping.

How it works?

While there are several meal cards, the way they work is similar. For security reasons, each card has a PIN, which is personal and non-transferable.

The balance on the card corresponds to the amount of the food subsidy and is updated monthly. The available amount cannot be exchanged for cash and, if you do not use the entire balance in a month, it can be accumulated for the following month. You can check the available balance in the card app.

The meal card can be used up to the limit of the balance in participating restaurants or stores. As some are only used to pay for meals, it is important to know where and how you can use your card.

An important fact is that the worker does not need to have an account at the card-issuing bank and does not pay an annuity or maintenance costs, as the employer bears this cost.

And if you are telecommuting?

The obligation to pay meal allowances to telecommuting employees was one of the major doubts during the pandemic, when this work regime became more common and, in some cases, mandatory.

Since the meal subsidy is not part of the remuneration, would the employer have to continue to pay, even if the employee eats at home?

THE new telework regime, which entered into force on 1 January 2022, clarified this point. Thus, if the company pays a meal subsidy (whether in cash or by card) it will have to maintain this payment to those who are telecommuting.

The amount you receive account for the IRS?

This is an advantage of the meal card, as it allows you to receive a higher meal subsidy value, while maintaining tax exemption.

That is, according to the law, a food subsidy equal to or less than €5.20 is exempt from paying tax. From that amount, and if it is paid in cash, there is room for discounts for the IRS.

When the company chooses to pay with a meal card (or meal voucher) the non-taxable limit is €8.32 per day. In this way, the option for the meal card allows the worker to see his income increased. At the same time, the company saves on the amount subject to the single social tax (TSU).

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Meal Card

The meal card is, as we have seen, a good way to save on taxes, as it allows you to receive more and pay less IRS. Companies, on the other hand, save on TSU and offer an additional benefit to their employees.

The possibility of associating the meal card with the MB Way has simplified the use of this system. Not only does it allow you to use it through the app, but it also allows you to pay for meals delivered by digital platforms.

One of the disadvantages occurs when there is no agreement between the establishment where you want to use the meal card and its issuer. There are also cases in which you can only use the card in establishments with the CAE for catering, which limits purchases.

In cases where you receive the subsidy in cash, but do not use it for meals, you could use it elsewhere (such as a savings account). When receiving a meal card, you will have to spend the respective balance.

Article originally published in July 2019. Last updated in January 2023.

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