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Charging and Paying for Benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars and Graduate Students

Date: October 30, 2003 (Updated in July 2020)
Reference: GFS Policy Manual




Faculty and Departmental Staff


Godfrey Mungal
Associate Dean of Graduate Policy


October 30, 2003
Modified April 7, 2005, for clarification of benefits funding for Postdoctoral Scholars. Premium costs and rates updated yearly.

subject: Charging and Paying for Benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars and Graduate Students
cc: Debra Zumwalt


In 2002, Stanford University implemented a health insurance benefit for most graduate students and expanded benefits coverage for Postdoctoral Scholars. Explanation of benefits coverage is available on the web at the following locations:

   Postdoctoral Scholars
   Graduate Students

Questions have come up with regard to the funding of these benefits, specifically whether or not it is appropriate to use sponsored or other restricted funds to pay the cost of insurance and other benefits for these individuals. This memo addresses those questions.

Because this entails the use of federal and other sponsored funding, it is important that everyone involved understand and adhere to the principles outlined below. Since negotiated fringe benefits rates are charged on Postdoc and RA salaries, no other direct charges may be made to sponsored projects to pay the cost of insurance or any other benefits for graduate students or postdocs.


Stanford University's policy regarding the appointment, compensation and benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars was revised in 2002, as recommended by the Provost's Committee on Postdoctoral Scholars and approved by the Provost. That policy includes expanded insurance benefits for postdocs (medical, dental, life and disability) as well as other improvements concerning available leaves. These benefits are provided for all Postdoctoral Scholars as a condition of their appointment. The full text of the policy is in the DoResearch Guide.

Postdoctoral Scholars are normally appointed on a full-time basis and they must be supported by either Stanford grants and contracts, training grants, departmental or School fellowship funds, or external fellowships, or by a combination of these sources. Postdoctoral Scholars may not be self-supporting.

A fringe benefit rate is charged on the salaries of Postdoctoral Scholars. (Effective September 1, 2020, that rate was 25.1%.) For Scholars receiving salary payments, as distinguished from stipend payments, the source of funding for benefits depends on whether the Scholar is being paid a salary for more than 50% effort on a project(s).

If the Scholar is being paid a salary for 50% FTE or more (from one or more projects), then the full cost of the University's benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars, as defined in the policy referenced above, is paid from the benefit pool. No further department contribution is needed.

If the Scholar is being paid a salary for an appointment of less than 50%, then departmental or other unrestricted funds must be used to pay the cost of benefits. The cost of benefits for this individual may NOT be charged to the sponsored project paying the salary.

The guidelines above apply to all Postdoctoral Scholars being paid salary, regardless of whether they also receive fellowship or other financial support.


Postdoctoral Scholars receiving stipend support are also entitled to benefits as defined in Stanford's policy. Where there is no salary support involved, and therefore no fringe benefit pool to draw on, please follow the following sequence to determine the appropriate method of payment.

If the Scholar is supported by a fellowship or an institutional training grant which provides funds to pay for the recipient's benefits, then those funds should be used for that purpose. For example, the NIH NRSA awards and training grants include an "institutional allowance" to be used to pay additional expenses, including health insurance, on behalf of the recipient of the award. Those funds may be used to pay the cost of benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars.

If no fellowship or training grant funds are available to pay the cost of a Scholar's benefits, then the cost must be borne by a departmental or other unrestricted account. Under no circumstances may the costs of the benefits be directly charged to sponsored projects.


Starting in the Fall of 2002, Stanford University provides a payment of approximately half the cost of the single-student Cardinal Care premium for most of the university's PhD students. The subsidy is triggered by assistantship appointments or fellowship stipends at a specified level (tuition-only fellowship awards do not qualify the student for this subsidy). In the 2020-2021 academic year, the single-student 12-month premium for Cardinal Care was $5,928. Most enrolled students will pay that 12-month cost in three payments of $1864 (the quarterly cost for Autumn, Winter and Spring quarters, which will include the cost of Summer Quarter). The subsidy for a student with at least a 25% assistantship, or a comparable fellowship stipend (non-tuition) payment, will be one-half of that amount, i.e., $932 per quarter in Autumn, Winter and Spring quarters.

The subsidy is funded by several sources, including a fringe benefit rate on the salary of RAs and TAs (effective September 1, 2019, that rate is 5.1%). Students who qualify for the subsidy will receive it automatically. The subsidy is paid from the benefits pool, with no additional charge to departmental funds.

Departments wishing to make a payment to a graduate student to pay the BALANCE of the cost of health insurance (above the University subsidy) may do so with a stipend payment designated for this purpose. Such payments may be made ONLY from unrestricted accounts and may not be charged to sponsored project accounts.

Questions about Postdoc insurance should be directed to the Postdoc Benefits Office. Questions about the graduate health insurance subsidy should be directed to the Financial Aid Office