7 Ways to Get More From Your Benefits

Four out of ten workers don't fully understand their total compensation or employee-benefits package, according to the payroll provider ADP. Educate yourself before this year's open enrollment so you can harvest every dollar. 
Luci Gutierrez

1. Be Strategic About Your Health Coverage

If you're eligible for a medical plan through work, compare each option side by side: the deductions from your paycheck and out-of-pocket threshold; the cost for prescriptions, doctor visits, and emergency care; and the coverage for pregnancy and birth. Follow the same protocol if your partner also has a health-plan option. Find out whether either employer pays you for declining coverage, suggests Stephany Kirkpatrick, CFP, Moms Money Clinic advisor and vice president of financial advice for LearnVest.com. If someone in your family has a chronic illness, it might be worth enrolling in both plans—with a coordination of benefits, more of your expenses may be covered. 

2. Protect Your Pearly Whites and Baby Blues

Company-sponsored dental plans are worth the expense for most families. While they tend to have coverage limits, many pay generously for checkups and cleanings. If you're anticipating major expenses—crowns, root canal, braces—and both you and your partner have a dental plan, it might make sense to double up on coverage, says Ellie Kay, Moms Money Clinic advisor and author of Living Rich for Less. Vision plans are less clear-cut. You and your kids may already get your eyes checked as part of your annual wellness visit. If just one family member needs specs, consider signing up that person so he or she qualifies for new glasses or contacts each year. 

3. Set Up Spending Accounts

Many companies offer a flexible spending account (FSA) that lets you contribute up to $2,550 pre-tax to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses and a separate FSA of up to $5,000 toward eligible child-care expenses—including after-school care and summer camp. By maxing out on both, you could pocket close to $2,000 per year in tax savings. 

4. Or Open an HSA

If you have a high-deductible medical plan, a health savings account (HSA) is an even better bet than an FSA: You can contribute up to $6,650 pre-tax per year (some employers even kick in bucks for you), and what you don't use rolls over and can be invested for future medical expenses. "HSAs work a little like retirement plans, since your savings grow tax-deferred," Kirkpatrick explains. 

5. Crank Up Your 401(k)

If your employer offers a retirement savings plan, take advantage. And if it matches some of your investment, contribute enough to get this "free money" (and more if you can swing it). A growing number of companies also offer a Roth 401(k)—a hybrid between a traditional 401(k) and a Roth IRA. You won't get a tax break up front, but the money can be withdrawn tax-free once you retire. 

6. Understand Your Disability Plan

Many employers provide short-term disability, which usually covers 50 to 60 percent of your salary lost due to injury or illness (including pregnancy and childbirth) for up to 26 weeks. You may also be able to buy long-term disability coverage at a discount. This "just in case" insurance pays up to 70 percent of your salary if you're physically unable to return to work. However, it might be smarter to buy your own long-term policy, since you can take it with you when you switch jobs, points out Farnoosh Torabi, Moms Money Clinic advisor and host of So Money, a daily podcast. 

7. Take the (Free) Insurance

Lots of companies offer a nominal life policy (such as one or two times your annual salary) for no charge. Be sure to opt in. However, take a pass on supplemental life coverage. You'll do better buying an individual life policy, and it won't expire when you change jobs, advises Torabi. The one exception: If you have health issues that might make obtaining life insurance on your own prohibitively expensive, buy what you can at the company's group rate. 

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