If the only time you looked over your employee benefits was when you picked your healthcare coverage during your first week on the job, chances are you're missing out on a bunch of other things your company can do for you. In fact, more and more employers are offering benefits, discounts, and savings plans that help you keep more of your hard-earned paycheck in your bank account.
If you're not taking advantage of these benefits (or not even sure your company offers them) check with your HR team now. Open enrollment is typically offered during the fourth quarter, so you don't want to miss out!
Grow Your Retirement Fund
Although many employers have switched to DIY style retirement planning for their employees—and pensions are pretty much a thing of the past—some companies still offer to match a portion of your 401(k) contribution. If yours is one of them, not taking advantage of this benefit is akin to walking away from free money. Contribute at least enough to your 401(k) to qualify for the full match.
Not sure whether that's enough to fund your retirement goals? More and more companies are providing their employees with free or reduced services with a financial advisor or counselor. Find out if yours is one of them (or suggest it to HR!).
Get in Shape
In an effort to contain rising healthcare costs, many businesses promote a healthy lifestyle among their employees by reimbursing for the costs of health club memberships—or even by providing onsite gyms, free yoga, or wellness consultations. While these services will obviously save you on your monthly fitness costs, taking care of your body now can save you even more in reduced medical costs in the future.
Sharpen Your Skills
Want to earn an MBA, but not looking forward to the cost of tuition? Many companies will reimburse you for coursework related to your line of work. Before you sign up for classes, check with HR to find out what expenses are covered and any other qualifications you need to meet. For instance, you may need to stay with the company for a year or two to qualify; if you move on sooner, the company may require you to return the funds.
Your company or department may also cover the costs of conferences, seminars, webinars, or other opportunities for you to grow in your role, as well. Often, these opportunities aren't always advertised, though—so it's definitely worth it to ask!
Keep More Pre-Tax Dollars
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) let you set aside your pre-tax earnings to cover your out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare, childcare, or the costs of your commute. (Not all companies provide FSAs for each purpose; ask your HR team for your options.) You enroll in the plan at the beginning of the year, determine how much you'd like to contribute to your account, and have a portion deducted from each paycheck. Then, as you incur those expenses, you submit your bills or receipts for reimbursement.
The benefit of an FSA is that it reduces your income taxes, as your FSA contributions are deducted from your pay before federal, state, and Social Security taxes are calculated. Just be careful not to overestimate your expenses—you'll forfeit any funds remaining in your account at the end of the year.
Ask About Additional Benefits
These are the basics, but your employer may provide you with additional industry-specific benefits. For example, since I work for a credit union, I get a nice discount on my auto loan rate (and will on a mortgage when I decide to buy a home). My husband, an engineer with a major appliance company, gets significant discounts on washers, dryers, refrigerators, and more. The discounts specific to your company can add up to huge savings (or more temptation to spend—as I found while working in a bookstore café during college!).
So, take a peek at your HR website and see what might be offered to you. Going from leaving these benefits on the table to taking advantage of the savings can be almost like getting a raise!