It’s open enrollment season: time to pick your benefits. You may think of your salary as the only benefit your employer provides. But in most instances, salary is only a small part of what an employer makes available to you.
The sum of available benefits can translate into hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in your pocket each year. That can mean the difference between financial success and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Dig deep to find benefits
You likely already know about health insurance and a retirement plan your employer offers. Those are great benefits — but typically only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, you may find the number of benefits available to you overwhelming, but it pays to dig below the surface.
“When considering job offers, there’s a lot to take in,” says Zoe Morris, COO of Mason Frank International. “Not only should you compare the salary, the paid time off, as well as 401(k) and health insurance, but there are several other perks organizations offer that can fly under the radar.”
If you don’t know what benefits your employer offers, ask your human resources department. It’s their job to direct you to available perks for being an employee, and it’s to your benefit to ask. Here are five overlooked job benefits that can take your finances and more to the next level.
Life and disability insurance
Life insurance is something we think we can put off for another day. Unfortunately, delaying buying life insurance often results in paying more for coverage because you’re older. Worse yet, you don’t want to leave your family in need in the event of an untimely passing.
Your employer likely offers a solution to those problems in the form of group term life insurance. Group term life insurance lets you buy inexpensive term coverage — often up to five times your annual salary. Your employer may even offer a base amount for free. Even if you don’t think you need life insurance, this is a bargain not to overlook.
Your employer may also offer similar benefits for disability insurance. Even if you think you’ll never have to miss an extended amount of time at work, this is an important benefit to have in your pocket to protect your income (and therefore your ability to pay the bills).
Your employer benefits when you’re happy and in good health. That’s why many employers offer wellness programs. Maybe you’ve heard of wellness programs but don’t know exactly what’s offered. Below are some common offerings found with many employers:
- Onsite exercise facilities or discounts at local gyms
- Health screenings
- Nonwork-related legal counseling
- Onsite massages
- Smoking cessation assistance
- Weight loss assistance
- Free fitness tracking devices
- Walking clubs
As with other benefits, ask your human resources department what wellness programs your company offers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 70% of government and 40% of private employers offered wellness programs as of 2017, so it pays to ask.
Flexibility isn’t always quantifiable, but it’s a huge benefit in today’s work climate. Your employer may offer a flexible work schedule or even remote working. Employers may have been reluctant to offer such flexibility in the past, but its use is increasing.
“As a recruiter, we’re seeing a year-on-year increase in the number of roles offering 100%t remote working,” Morris says. “With more and more businesses adopting cloud technology, working from home has definitely become more commonplace. Companies are going out of their way to attract the best global talent and workers have embraced remote working.”
Employers know providing flexibility breeds a better work-life balance and happier workers. “Personally, I care much less about salary and more about work-life balance as a working mom,” says Amber Nash, CPA and blogger at Live Simply Better. “This is the number one reason I hold my current job — the amazing flexibility.”
Having a better work-life balance helps Nash take care of what matters most to her, while also being a productive employee not bound by a traditional 9-5 schedule.
“In recent years, they’ve also offered us the option of choosing cash or time off when we receive an award,” Nash adds. “As a parent, I always choose the time off.”
In most cases, time and money are equal to an employer, whereas time is more valuable to an employee. If your employer doesn’t offer a flexible schedule arrangement, ask your HR department to consider it.
You may not think of your employer’s 401(k) plan as an overlooked job benefit, but the statistics show otherwise. Although nearly 80% of employers offer a retirement plan, only 32% of employees take advantage of those plans.
Saving for retirement is important, and the sooner you start, the better. The match your employer provides is the best way to increase what you’re saving — it’s free money. All you need to do is put away enough money to receive the match, which is often only 3%-6% of your paycheck. In many cases, you can even take this money with you to your next employer to grow the money even more.
Student loan assistance
Student loan debt is a major problem. News reports indicate we have over $1.5 trillion in debt. This can plague many workers as they seek to improve their financial stability.
More employers are offering help to workers struggling under the burden of debt. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 4% percent of employers offered repayment assistance as a benefit in 2017. While small, SHRM reports the number of employers offering such assistance is growing.
If you have student loan debt, ask your employer if this is a benefit they offer. You never know: If enough employees ask, your employer may take a look at a program.
Many employers offer much more beyond salary. Take a serious look at your benefits package to see what you can take advantage of to improve your finances. If you don’t see something offered, don’t be afraid to ask for it.