It's the time of year when employers begin to review their benefits - open enrollment season. Stephanie AuWerter, Editor of SmartMoney.com, has some tips for getting the most out of your benefits package.
While most people just renew their benefits without looking into new possibilities, AuWerter suggests you should pay more attention. "If you take advantage of all the perks that your employer offers to you, it's like getting a raise without doing any extra work," says AuWerter.
She warns that healthcare costs are going up, so don't be surprised if you have to pay more this year. "In 2008, the average employee at the big firms is expected to shell out about $3,600 of their own money to pay for healthcare costs," says AuWerter. So, if you have multiple health plans to choose from, review your options and see which plan would benefit you most.
Flexible spending accounts are a great way to offset healthcare costs. However, many people don't take advantage of them. "You can set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for healthcare costs not covered by insurance," says AuWerter. This includes eyeglasses, contacts and over-the-counter medications, as well as stop-smoking programs and much more. However, keep in mind that if you don't use all your flex account money, you'll lose it at the end of the year. "Rather than not participating at all, you should just be conservative," says AuWerter.
There are other types of flex accounts as well, including Dependent Care and Transit Accounts. Dependent Care accounts allow you to set aside up to $5,000 to help offset the cost of child and elder care while you're at work. The second type of account, a Transit Account, allows you to set aside pre-tax dollars to help offset your commuting costs.
Take advantage of Roth 401k's as well. "Basically, like a Roth IRA, your contributions are made with after-tax dollars, but the withdrawals taken during retirement are completely tax free," says AuWerter. "This makes sense, particularly for younger workers." Try to contribute as much money to your 401k as you can.
In addition to your usual benefits, be sure to inquire about other discounts or membership options as well. These fringe benefits can save you a lot of money in the long run. "Breaks on gym memberships, cell phones, hybrid cars. You really do want to review all of these little perks because they can really add up," says AuWerter.
For more information on making the most of your benefits package, as well as other personal financial advice, click here.
By Erin Petrun
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