It’s your first day on the job and you’re handed a large packet of information about your employee benefits. You have two weeks to enroll. You are shuffled into the conference room for orientation with your new project team. The employee benefits information gets buried under reports and flow charts and spreadsheets and before you know it, the two weeks are up and you’re filling out paperwork to get into your 401(k) without ever having read all your benefit options. When you are asked if you want to sign up for some of the voluntary programs available to you, you have no idea if you want to or not. So you check “no” and move on.
But we encourage you to spend some time reviewing your options, including the voluntary benefits and services that are offered. These voluntary benefits and services can be elected during the yearly open enrollment period, and often they can be elected throughout the year. They may offer very affordable solutions to your financial needs.
What are voluntary benefits and services?
Voluntary benefits and services are gaining importance for employers who are trying to entice top-tier employees amid the economic realities of salary and bonus budget constraints and medical insurance cost increases. These voluntary benefits and services supplement core benefit packages by offering more personalized benefits to employees. Many employees appreciate the choice, convenience, and affordability of these voluntary products, which are usually paid for through payroll deductions.
What are some of the most popular voluntary benefits and services?
- Critical illness insurance – supplements core medical coverage
- Identity theft insurance – lower cost due to group rate
- Financial counseling – pay a yearly fee for counseling as needed
- Legal counseling – pay a yearly fee for counseling as needed
- Health Savings Accounts – funded with pre-tax dollars and used with a high deductible health plan
- Flexible Spending Account – funded with pre-tax dollars and used to pay any qualifying medical expense
- Additional life insurance – supplements company-paid life insurance
- Additional long-term disability insurance – supplements company-paid long-term disability policy
- Long-term care insurance – lower cost due to group rate; may be portable
- Accidental death and dismemberment insurance – supplements company-paid insurance
- Auto, home, umbrella, and pet insurance – lower cost due to group rate; may be portable
- Child Care – offered at affordable prices, sometimes as low as $10/day
- Mass transit and parking reimbursement programs – permits employees to pay for bus and train/subway fares and/or parking expenses with pre-tax dollars
Benefits that cost nothing
Companies also offer benefits to employees that cost nothing to the employee but may not be highly advertised, and therefore go unused. You might check to see if you company offers any of these free services:
- Employee Assistance Plan – provides a limited number of confidential visits with mental health professionals.
- Health Advocate – personalized, one-on-one assistance across a broad range of health care-related matters, helping employees and their families deal with clinical, insurance and administrative issues.
- Telemedicine Benefit – delivery of health-related, general acute care services and information via telephone, web video, or email by certified medical personnel, some of whom are physicians with the ability to write non-narcotic prescriptions.
- Adoption Benefit – up to a certain amount of money to offset adoption expenses.
- Perk portal – a website with employee discounts for movie tickets, computer hardware/software, travel, health club memberships, etc.
- Retirement Counselor – assists with Social Security and Medicare signup; assists with obtaining Medigap insurance.
Most employees have limited compensation dollars to spend on additional voluntary benefits. First priorities should be to have health insurance and to make contributions to your retirement plan before considering additional voluntary benefits. But if you have the ability to take advantage of some of these options, you are likely to appreciate the convenience and the affordability they provide.
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