Ed note: That first day on the job can be overwhelming. There are details about retirement plans, meeting your coworkers, filling out a thousand HR documents and pressing things like finding the bathrooms and break room. Don’t let the important new job perks get ignored in the shuffle. Here’s a brief primer. Leer en español.
You’ve aced your interviews, jumped through hoops and now the great news: You’ve landed the job. Congratulations! But are you ready for the next test?
Benefits make up an integral part of any full-time job and should be an essential question you ask on your job search. Yet when learning the ropes, it’s easy to get lost finding your new cubicle, let alone figuring out what your benefits package contains and what options you have. Here are six tips for making the most of the benefits that come with new employment:
Learn what your 401(k) offers—especially in terms of a company match. “Contributing to a 401(k) plan, which is a savings plan for retirement, may not seem important right now,” said Jeanine Schottler, Director of Human Resources Field Services with Oasis Outsourcing. But keep in mind that the money is tax deferred, meaning you won’t have to pay taxes on it right away. Also, some businesses provide a company match. So if you put away 5% of your pay, and the company gives you another 50% on top of that, why not take the extra retirement cash?
Choose your health insurance wisely. If you get to pick among several plans, consider whether your doctors are in the health insurance network, meaning that you’ll pay less for routine visits and more expensive services. Here’s another way to keep costs down: “Unless a [chronic] health condition is present, select a qualified high-deductible health care plan,” said Susan Tillery, President and CEO of Paraklete Financial. She also advises contributing to a health savings account, where you can store money tax free and withdraw it for expenses ranging from eyewear to medical emergencies.
Ask about a stock purchase plan. Some employers allow you to buy company stock at a discount, which could mean healthy returns if you’re patient and hold the investment over time. But don’t overdo it, as there is some risk: “That maximum should be 10% of your total portfolio,” said Amy Merrill, Principal with TrueWealth Management in Atlanta.
Assess vacation and time-off policies. You may receive a combination of vacation, sick days and personal days, or get one bucket of time to use as you choose. “Review the offerings of your organization and understand when you earn the time and how you can use it,” Schottler said. “This is an important part of a total compensation package for most people, and a generous, flexible offering can sometimes outweigh a higher salary.” Also ask about the company policy regarding overtime pay verses comp time (one day off for each extra day worked).
Evaluate additional perks. Here you might find the deciding factor between one job and another. “Even when one job offers a more competitive salary, the perks can sometimes outweigh a greater salary,” said Lindsey Pollak, a spokesperson for The Hartford. “These might include gym memberships, free access to a bike-sharing program or Fridays off in the summer.” If you’ve already accepted a job, don’t overlook these extras. Ask questions of your HR department and be sure to get clear answers.
Finally, talk to your new co-workers. They can clue you in on everything from unusual fringe benefits (free parking in the company’s downtown lot on weekends) to caveats (you’ll need to stay at the company at least three years to keep all that 401 (k) money). You did a lot of research prepping for your interviews. Remember to put just as much effort – or more – into taking advantage of the benefits your new employer has to offer.
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