How to choose benefits: Yours or your spouse's?

How to choose benefits: Yours or your spouse’s?


How to choose benefits: Yours or your spouse’s?

Figuring out what benefit options to select from your employer can be a challenging task. The difficulty only increases when both you and your partner receive benefits from your respective employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nearly half of married couples had both partners working in 2016, so this is a situation that many couples face.

You may have many questions as you face competing benefit plans, such as which health insurance plan to pick or what benefit will save you the most money. If both you and your partner work, and receive benefits, here are some things to keep in mind come Open Enrollment season.

Making Sense of Health Insurance

Health insurance is likely going to be the most important piece of the two benefits packages you will look at. You need to keep a number of things in mind, such as:

  • What are the plan and network types of each package?
  • Can you continue to use your primary physician?
  • Do you take regular prescriptions?
  • How much do you plan to spend out of pocket?
  • What will your, and your spouse’s, medical needs be for the following year?

There may be other questions you want to consider, but this will give you a good start.

Cost is another main factor to consider. You may want to both be on one plan, or both pick the plan through your respective employer. “With medical coverage, it is probably less expensive to add a spouse to the medical plan than to go out and get an individual medical plan,” says Kathy Plummer, Director of Product and Market Development at Unum.

The average employee saw a 5% increase in premiums for the 2017 year, compared to a near 25% increase for many buying coverage on their own so it’s important to compare costs under each possibility available to you.

Other Benefit Options

Health insurance is just one piece of the benefits puzzle you must figure out as a dual-earning couple. There are many other benefits possibilities each employer may provide, such as:

  • Disability insurance – both Long-Term and Short-Term
  • Life insurance
  • Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)/Health Savings Accounts (HSA)
  • Childcare subsidy
  • Wellness programs

It’s likely that your employers will offer contrasting benefits plans. You want to compare them to see which is best for your particular situation, both in terms of coverage and affordability.

One such example of this is disability insurance. “For disability, you want to cover the earnings being replaced to the greatest extent available and the most cost-effective amount,” says Plummer pointing out that life insurance coverage should work the same way.

As you compare plans, make sure both you as the employee, and your partner will receive benefits – if needed. If not, it may pay to consider single coverage through each respective employer.

Not Everything is Equal

Comparing benefits plans as a couple can be a challenge, but don’t make it more difficult with the assumption that both partners need the same exact coverage, as that may not be the case.

Disability coverage is one such example. If one partner makes significantly more than the other, the lower-earning partner will likely not need as much replacement coverage.

With this in mind, it’s critical to know your exact needs, as close as possible. “It is really a situational decision process where couples need to consider their individual and joint incomes, health conditions, age, work situation (both full-time or one full-time and one part-time), their expenses and family situation,” says Plummer pointing out the importance of looking at each respective benefit option to find which is the best for you and your family.

No Two Situations Are the Same

Each couple, and family, is unique. Each will have their own unique situation and, as a result, needs. It is important to keep that in mind as you compare benefits plans as a dual-earning household.

Take the time to go over each employer’s benefits packages and choose the one that will provide the most peace of mind, while at the same time being the most cost-effective. Look at the benefits you choose in light of your holistic financial picture so you can put yourselves in the best possible situation.

Remember to ask questions of your employer. If there is confusion, ask to verify that benefits are offered both to you and your partner. If there is a benefit your partner receives through their employer, but not from your employer, ask your employer if they can provide it. You never know; they may be able to offer something competitive, or better, allowing you to get something more beneficial.

Choosing between two benefit plans as a couple can be a challenge, but with a little homework, it’s possible to put your family on solid footing.

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