How can I make the most of my new job's benefits?

The benefits package: What’s in it for you?

Yes, a good salary is important, but so is the benefits package that comes with your job. Taking advantage of health, retirement and other benefits can give you priceless peace of mind.


Renew your retirement effort
When you start a new job, retiring might be the last thing on your mind. But a retirement plan is the first benefit you should look into. Social Security may only provide a fraction of your income after you retire. Contributing to your employer’s plan can make a big difference.


  • Know your plan. Your new employer may offer a 401(k), a 403(b), a 457(b) or a SIMPLE IRA. These are all types of retirement plans that individuals can contribute to, but they each work in their own way.

  • Make a match. If your employer offers to match a percentage of what you contribute, consider saving at least that much from your paycheck. That “free money” is like a bonus added to your salary, so don’t walk away from it.

  • Get vested. If your employer is contributing money (in a match or otherwise) to your retirement account, it may not be fully yours until you’ve been with the company a certain number of years. The amount you contribute, however, is always available to you.

  • Investigate investments. Each retirement plan offers a different choice of investments, which you may want to review with a financial professional. One of the easiest options is a target date fund. It's a single fund with a mix of stock and bond investments designed to increase the emphasis on bonds as you near retirement. The aim is to help manage the risk of market declines.

  • Know your limits. Plans like 401(k)s have contribution limits, so make sure you know what they are when you plan how much to put aside. And remember, the pretax amount you contribute lowers your taxable income.


Check up on health care
Health care is a big one. Many people consider having health coverage to be the most important benefit of their jobs. Most companies with 50 or more employees who work at least 30 hours a week are required to offer health care plans.


  • Compare your options. There’s usually a range of plans available, with a variety of costs and levels of coverage. HMOs may cost less than PPOs, for instance, but cover fewer doctors and providers. If your partner has a plan, you should compare the two. You may save some money by going with your partner’s plan instead of your own.

  • Consider a health savings account. If you opt for a high-deductible insurance policy (HDIP), you’ll pay most expenses out of pocket. But if your employer offers a health saving account (HSA), you can put pretax money aside to spend on future medical needs not covered by your insurance. And if you won’t use it, you don’t lose it. The account has the potential to grow over the years, so you can pay for health care services you may need later.

  • Mind the gaps. You don’t want to pay for overlapping coverage, but you do want to avoid lapses. If you won’t receive coverage right away, research and compare the costs of COBRA, private health care insurance or enrolling in a partner’s plan.


Inspect insurance
Life insurance can be an important safety net for you and your family. Getting it through your employer can save the time you’d spend shopping for it elsewhere.


  • Calculate coverage.  You may automatically be eligible for some insurance coverage. Take a careful look at the expenses you would still be responsible for if something were to happen to you. You may be able to increase your coverage by paying a slightly higher premium.


Stay flexible
If your company offers a flexible savings account (FSA), that can be a good way to lower your taxable income. If you know that you have certain expenses for childcare or medical costs each year, you can put aside pretax dollars from each paycheck to cover them.


Pay attention to perks
Companies that want to attract and keep the best employees are offering extras like bonus plans and profit sharing. Some employers reimburse tuition costs or help with student loan repayment. You may even be able to ask for additional vacation days or a flexible schedule. Be sure to consider every angle of your work-life balance as you take this next big step.


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