John J. Diak, CFP®
Making the Most of Your Employee Benefits
When was the last time you took a good look at your employee benefits? Professionals and skilled workers have come to expect good benefits, and employers know attracting top talent requires having good benefits in place. However, once people learn the basics of their benefits package during new employee orientation, they rarely give these important perks more than a passing thought until a need arises.
The reality is your employee benefits hold tremendous value, both monetarily and for the convenience and confidence they provide. Your employer often pays a hefty sum to cover a portion of the overall cost of benefits to ensure their staff has access to what they need to be protected, secure, and supported for the purpose of fostering loyalty and goodwill. After all, happy employees are good for retention, performance, and business. Moreover, you work hard to earn your employee benefits, so you deserve to take full advantage of what they have to offer.
Here’s a brief overview of the major types of employee benefits and how you can make the most of them.
Types of Employee Benefits
It goes without saying that we all recognize the importance of having medical insurance; we’ve all heard horror stories of individuals and families who faced financial hardship and received subpar care due to a lack of good healthcare coverage. Having health insurance means protecting yourself and your family from financial losses, considering you never know when a health crisis may strike.
Without insurance, an emergency room visit may cost anywhere from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. With medical insurance, the average copay is just $250. Major surgery, treatment for chronic conditions, and even childbirth have been known to cause serious financial hardships for many Americans.
It’s possible to buy your own health coverage without having an employer-sponsored plan; however, because employers tend to cover a portion of the cost—as much as 50 to 100 percent—it is typically less expensive and better coverage when you are insured through your employer. So if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance as an employee benefit, it makes sense to select the best option available and take full advantage of it.
Never underestimate the importance of life insurance; it can be exactly what your family needs to get through a difficult time of loss. Fortunately, many employers offer group term life insurance as an employee benefit. Often referred to as basic group life, these policies are typically a relatively small standard amount or an amount that represents a multiple of the employee’s salary, sometimes with the option to buy supplemental upgrades.
A major advantage of employer life insurance plans is that group policies are usually guaranteed without requiring a medical exam to qualify. This means even if you are older or have a serious or chronic medical condition, you cannot be excluded, which may be the best option available to many Americans.
Best of all, work-sponsored group policies are often free or very inexpensive. In many cases, it may make sense to get as much supplemental coverage through your employer as possible. The drawback is having a policy that is tied to an employer that you could lose if you leave the company, but in some cases, you may be able to convert it to an individual policy if you leave.
Be sure to complete the paperwork and add your beneficiaries as soon as possible to take full advantage of this valuable benefit. At the very least, it will help your family cover end-of-life expenses and ease the financial burden during a challenging time.
Most people are not able to stay afloat financially for long without the ability to work and earn a paycheck. Disability insurance protects you against the risk of losing your income due to illness or injury.
Generally, disability policies replace a portion of your monthly income—typically ranging from 60 to 80 percent—in the event that you become unable to perform your job. Having disability insurance coverage provides some level of financial security for you and your family.
Long-term disability coverage protects the income of those who are affected by a disability for an extended period of time, up to several months or years, while you are recovering and even permanently. Short-term disability coverage typically pays a lower amount and generally covers lesser injuries or illnesses that require you to be out of work for weeks or months.
Your employer may offer group long-term or short-term disability coverage and pay some or all of the premium cost as an employee benefit. Like group life insurance policies, group disability allows eligible employees to automatically qualify without a medical exam or underwriting. The disadvantage is your eligibility is contingent upon your employment with the company at the time you become disabled, and the plan is almost never portable.
Again, you should complete and submit your paperwork right away to take full advantage of this benefit.
An employer-sponsored retirement plan is an employee benefit your company may offer to help provide you with income in your retirement. It may be a defined benefit plan, also known as a pension, which promises a specific amount of retirement income. Or more commonly these days, it could be a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), which helps workers save for their own retirement, often with some assistance or matching by the employer.
The advantages of your company’s retirement plan depend on the type of plan they offer, but what’s most important is that you take full advantage of whatever is available to you. For example, if your employer offers a company match, you should be contributing at least enough to your plan to get the matching funds; otherwise, you are leaving free money on the table.
For most people, an employer retirement plan is the foundation of their retirement savings. It’s easy to enroll, and saving and investing are often automatic. Your contributions will be taken directly out of your paycheck, and the tax advantages often mean your take-home pay does not go down as much as you might assume.
The downsides include possible requirements around length of employment to qualify or to be fully vested in your matched contributions, having less flexibility than individual plans, and potentially high fees.
While participating in your employer retirement plan can be as simple as filling out enrollment paperwork, you’ll want to educate yourself about investing to get the most out of your savings. Tap into any resources your employer provides, which may include access to advisors, or better yet, work with your own personal financial advisor to help make well-informed retirement planning decisions.
Maximizing Your Employee Benefits
In addition to standard benefits, your employer may offer a wide range of premium perks, from gym memberships to family counseling to tuition reimbursement, long-term care insurance, travel discounts, and much more. Make sure you are familiar with everything available to you and never hesitate to use whatever you need or want—you’ve earned it!
Whether you’re looking at health, life, disability, or retirement, the first step to maximizing your benefits is understanding the options, policies, and plans available to you. What your employer offers may be sufficient to protect your assets and interests, meet your needs, and provide security and confidence for your family. On the other hand, your benefits package may serve as a foundation for supplemental coverage or plans that your financial advisor can help you select.
The bottom line is your employee benefits are there for your benefit; don’t let them go to waste or be underutilized.
John J. Diak, CFP® is the Principal & Client Wealth Manager at Oatley & Diak, LLC in Parker, Colorado. He assists clients through many difficult lifestyle changes such as business downturns, retirement planning, divorce, the death of a spouse, and family estate issues among others. Oatley & Diak, LLC is a family-run registered investment advisory (RIA) firm that provides clients with investment management and financial planning services in a hands-on, intimate environment. Learn more about them at oatleydiak.com.
This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.
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