Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Make the Most of Common Workplace Benefits

Make the Most of Common Workplace Benefits

Bills. com suggests ways workers can maximize their work perks.

San Mateo, Calif. (PRWEB) September 12, 2007

Now that Labor Day is past and Americans are back in the swing of work, thoughts may be turning to our work -- and according to Brad Stroh, co-CEO of free online consumer portal Bills. com (www. bills. com), workers should understand common workplace benefits, 1 and how to get the most from them.

Below, see the list of benefits and Stroh's take on what these benefits mean to workers.

1. Immediate eligibility for a health-care plan. No waiting means no risk period. If your job doesn't offer this, be sure you remain covered during the waiting period. Employees can purchase their former employer's coverage under COBRA legislation. Also check with a broker on the cost of short-term coverage plans, which can be more affordable.

2. A 401(k) plan with a typical match of 50 cents for each $1 an employee contributes. It can't be said often enough: If an employer matches 401(k) contributions, employees are throwing away income if they do not contribute to the plan.

3. Retirement eligibility at age 65 and health-care coverage to retirees. Health-care coverage post-retirement is a tremendous benefit. Last year, Fidelity Investments reported that the average couple can expect to pay $200,000 for 20 years of health care.2 If workplace programs cut costs, do take advantage of them.

4. Access to a dental plan. This is another money-saver. If an employer does not provide dental coverage, consider your family's needs before purchasing it as an individual. It can save a great deal on dental emergencies, but for routine care, the premiums might outweigh the benefits.

5. Access to a vision plan separate from medical or dental coverage. Follow the same caveat as with dental insurance: The costs of vision care often are not excessive. Prioritize medical coverage.

6. A group life insurance plan that pays a year of wages as a death benefit. Life insurance is important to support a family in the event of the death of a breadwinner. Whether an employer provides it or not, look into individual life insurance coverage. It can be had as cheaply as $20 per month for several hundred thousand dollars of coverage.

7. Long-term-disability benefits replacing 60 percent of pay. Because individuals are more likely to become disabled than to die,3 income replacement coverage is very important.

8. On average, 11.7 days of vacation and eight to 12 paid holidays a year. Time off is a great benefit -- with these averages, employees are paid not to work four weeks out of the year. Be sure to take the time off that is coming to you -- or understand your company's policy for compensating you for unclaimed vacation time. (If you receive a check at the end of the year, use it to pay off debt or build emergency or retirement savings, securing future time off.)

9. Dependent-care spending accounts and health savings accounts. These accounts offer tax advantages. Understand maximum contributions and qualifying expenses, and make the most of these benefits.

10. Educational reimbursement up to $5,000. The U. S. Commerce Department estimates a master's degree provides $1.3 million more than a high school diploma in lifetime earnings.4 If education can strengthen your career, go for it. Be cautious not to borrow more than necessary. And don't dive into a program unless you can secure good grades -- some reimbursement programs demand this focus, and you'll reap more rewards with a strong report card.

"As for what workers want, they yearn for more time off -- for vacation, sabbaticals, kids and aging parents -- flexible schedules, and help with errands and mortgages," Stroh said. "Meanwhile, until you find that perfect job, make the most of what you do have."

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills. com is a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. The company blogs about consumer finance issues at http://www. bills. com/blog (http://www. bills. com/blog). Since 2002, Bills. com has served more than 15,000 customers nationwide while managing more than $350 million in consumer debt. Bills. com is a division of Freedom Financial Network, LLC, whose co-founders and CEOs, Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh, have been named Northern California finalists in Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.