Making the Most of Your Employee Benefits

    Making the Most of Your Employee Benefits

    By S. Caseria

    Want to increase your income today — without the hassle of renegotiating your salary with your employer? One possible way is knowing how to get the most out of your workplace benefits.

    The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that your employer-sponsored benefits are worth up to 30 percent of your salary.1 And many of us aren’t taking advantage of everything our employers put on the table — we may not even know all that’s available.

    According to HelloWallet, a firm that provides personalized financial guidance, fewer than 50 percent of people surveyed said they were extremely or very confident that they were able to get the most out of their employers’ benefits.2 That’s essentially money they — and most of us — are leaving behind.

    Even if you think you’re maxing out your benefits, you owe it to yourself to look at your employer’s most recent benefits package. Thirty-five percent of companies increased offerings in 2015. That benefits figure, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, is up from 28 percent the previous year.3

    Missed Income at Work

    1. Your HSA. One of the recent additions popping up on more benefits packages is a Health Savings Account (HSA). If your employer offers an HSA, check it out. There’s a triple tax benefit: money goes into your account tax-free, it grows tax-free and when you need to spend it on qualified health expenses, there are no taxes due. Experts suggest that while an HSA can’t replace a traditional retirement plan, it can bolster retirement savings if pre-retirement medical expenses do not exhaust the account.4 Left to grow for decades when you’re younger and presumably healthier, you could have money to devote to medical expenses later in life. On top of that, many employers contribute to their employees’ HSAs ($1,184, on average per year, as reported by an Employee Benefit Research Institute study).5 From a tax perspective, that’s better than an employer match on a 401(k) since the HSA proceeds, as it stands now, are not taxed if used for qualified medical expenses. A further detail – you can withdraw funds once you reach retirement age for non-medical uses and you’ll be taxed like a traditional IRA.

    2. Discounted Employee Stock Purchase Program (ESPP).  Employees can use this benefit as a saving vehicle with an automatic upside, since many employers provide a 15 percent discount on the stock. Indeed, some ESPPs have a “look back” provision that reduces risk and offers the possibility of a better return since the purchase price is based on the stock price either at the beginning of the offering period or the end, whichever is lower. Of course there’s no guarantee the stock’s value will rise, but you’re buying it for less than the current market value.

    3. Online medical care. Being able to take care of health issues without leaving the office can also add up to savings. Some employers offer access to services that provide non-emergency healthcare via video, phone and smartphone app, allowing employees to get medical consultations, diagnoses and prescriptions without setting foot in a doctor’s office or urgent care center.

    Even if you prefer to see your doctor in person, consider telemedicine for follow up visits to save yourself time waiting at the doctor’s office and a second co-pay.

    4. Tuition reimbursement. Getting reimbursed for a degree program is a great perk for employees, with 61 percent of organizations offering tuition assistance for undergraduate courses according to a 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management.6 But how about for employees’ children? The study goes on to say that 13 percent of employers offer repayment for dependents’ college education. For some workers that benefit is a major attraction of their current job.

    Take, for example, Stephanie Weirsman, who works for a major East Coast university. She describes the entire benefits package at her place of work as “very desirable” but concedes that the best part is the $15,700 per year of tuition reimbursement for any accredited college or university for employees’ children. She said in an interview that she’s looking forward to using it when her daughter attends college down the road.

    5. Discounts on everyday household expenses. Fifty percent of employers offer perk programs, with discounts on everything from event tickets to travel to car purchases, according to Michael Stapleton, vice president of marketing at AnyPerk, a company that manages discount and perk programs. 

    “Of those employers, 23 percent outsource it to a provider such as AnyPerk,” he said.

    It appears employees do indeed enjoy the perks, because “50 percent use the service three times per month,” Stapleton added in an interview. Perks and rewards platforms are customizable from company to company. The most popular items? “Ray-Ban products, tickets for AMC theaters, electronics like Beats By Dre and Panasonic, car rentals and trip (discounts) from travel planning websites Orbitz, HotelStorm,,” Stapleton said.

    6. All those unused vacation days. Paid time off is another benefit you shouldn’t throw away. Some employers have expiration or “use-by” dates on vacation time. Check with your employer. Remember, loyalty to a job is admirable, but it is important to take time away from the job to re-set. Also, in some industries, the work pace sometimes ratchets up to the point where employees may use only a portion of the vacation time they’re allotted.

    This is something Daniel Gross, a manager of talent operations and recruiting at marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi, has seen firsthand. But he and his team stress the importance of taking time off to recharge. If you simply cannot take time away from your responsibilities, Gross points out a way some employees can get an out-of-office experience while still being on the job.

    “Tap into your company’s global network of offices to see if you can work in one temporarily,” he said. With offices around the world, employees can request a temporary assignment in a far off location. Gross knows of a several co-workers who have worked for various stretches of time in the firm’s Hong Kong, London and Paris offices.

    7. It’s all in the family. Look at your company’s clients to see if there are perks available through them. For instance Gross’ colleagues receive discounts with agency clients Goodyear, Lenovo and American Express to name a few.

    Additional benefits you may be missing out on:

    • Long term disability income insurance: 1 in 4 people in their 20s working today will become disabled before retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration, yet only 31 percent of private sector workforce has long term disability coverage.7 If your employer offers it, consider it. (Calculator: How Would a Disability Affect My Finances?)
    • Life insurance: certain group policies can offer better rates than policies purchased directly through an insurer. And some policies are portable, meaning if you leave the job, you can take the insurance with you. (Calculator: How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?)
    • Some employers will match contributions to various savings programs, particularly 401(k) plans, up to a certain percentage. This is essentially “free money” that goes straight into your savings.
    • Health insurance deductibles: If you meet your deductible for a calendar year, try to get as much needed medical care before the deductible resets at the beginning of the next year.
    • Telecommuting: According to Global Workplace Analytics, workers can save up to $7,000 per year working from home alternate days – if their employer allows it.8

    To maximize your benefits, you have to know your benefits. So whether you’re a new hire or a company veteran, take the time to study your employer’s benefits portal. Or, talk to a human resource specialist. Chances are they’ll be eager to help you get the most from the benefits package that they’ve so thoughtfully put together for you.

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    1 Department of Labor, “Employer Costs for Employee Compensation,” March 10, 2016.

    2 HelloWallet, “Employees Are Not Listening: Financial Guidance and Employees’ Habits,” September 2015.

    3 Society for Human Resource Management, “2015 Employee Benefits,” June 2015.

    4 Employee Benefit Research Institute, “Notes,” June 2010.

    5 Employee Benefit Research Institute, “HAS Balances, Contributions, Distributions, and Other Vital Statistics,” June 2014.

    6 Society for Human Resource Management, “2013 Employee Benefits,” June 2014.

    7 Social Security Administration, Publication No. 05-10570, January 2015.

    8, “Latest Telecommuting Statistics,” January 2016.

    The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel.