Just over half of employees understand their health benefits, according to one study. If that’s you, consider these steps.
When it comes to employment satisfaction, nothing quite measures up to a generous benefits package — including, for some, a higher salary.
One in five workers would choose more health benefits over increased wages, and more than four in 10 prefer work-life balance to a bump in salary, the 2017 State of Employee Benefits Health and Workplace Benefits Survey, conducted by EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Health, found. And yet for all their importance, the same survey reported that only 52 percent of employees understand their health benefits, and only 43 percent understand their non-health benefits.
This disconnect could mean that employees are leaving tangible perks on the table, or worse, making ill-informed and costly choices about health insurance or retirement savings. Here are a few ways to make sure you aren’t missing out.
Communicate with HR
Communication is the first step to better understanding your benefits, according to Chad Rixse, co-founder of Millennial Wealth, a Seattle-based financial planning firm. “The main issue is that many employers simply don’t do a good job of educating their employees of the benefits available to them, how to choose between the different options and how to enroll,” Rixse says.
As for the paperwork: “Oftentimes, it’s just a packet of documents with lots of acronyms and fine print with little to no direction as to how to proceed from there. This ends up only overwhelming employees and leading them to do nothing at all as a result.”
You’re not alone if you feel intimidated by legal or industry jargon. The full meaning of benefits documentation can be difficult to grasp – co-insurance vs. co-pay vs. deductible, anyone? Rixse recommends enlisting the help of your employer’s HR team to decipher the fine print, without embarrassment. “These benefits are for you, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions,” he says.
Reassess your knowledge
Think you know the lingo and completely understand your options? Spend some time talking to HR anyway to learn whether you are missing out on additional perks or savings. Check twice to make sure you have the facts straight. For example, more than half of respondents (52 percent) to a survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International mistakenly believed that they could use health savings account funds for over-the-counter medications, and 51 percent believed they could pay their health insurance premiums.
Learn about retirement savings
The average couple today needs $738,400 to survive in retirement, according to “Finances in Retirement: New Challenges, New Solutions,” a 2017 report by Age Wave/Merrill Lynch. That said, 81 percent of those surveyed said they did not know how much money they would need to fund their retirement.
Make sure you understand the options your employer offers, including savings vehicles for retirement such as 401(k) plans, or more rarely, defined benefit plans such as pensions. Taking advantage of any matching contributions can reduce your annual taxable income — and it’s free money. For instance, suppose your company matches up to 6 percent of your 401(k) contributions, a maximum of $18,500 for workers under 50 in 2018. Their generosity will reduce your savings burden by $1,110 per year. At a 7 percent rate of return, maxing out your 401(k) for as little as five years will grow it $108,574.
Many employers, particularly those in talent-hungry tech fields, offer extra perks and discount programs. Microsoft’s Prime card, an exclusive program for full-time employees, offers discounts on dining, shopping, child care and home construction. According to Rixse, making the most of these benefits comes down to personal responsibility. “As for why some still don’t take advantage of their perks, it’s simply not front of mind for many employees as they go about their daily lives,” he says.
Consider placing a physical note in your home — on the fridge or in a conspicuous location — to remind yourself to take advantage of your employee benefits on a regular basis.