Benefiting You

5 tips to ace your open enrollment at work

Cool weather, trick-or-treats and pumpkin spice lattes are great reasons to look forward to fall. But there’s another important annual event that typically comes after summer: open enrollment at work. It’s a limited period when you’re allowed to sign up for or change your employee benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement plan.

It’s important to make the most of the opportunity to shop and compare benefit choices for you and your family. Missing the deadline means you’ll be stuck with last year’s choices, unless you have a qualifying life event, such as getting married, divorcing or having a child.

Use these five tips to ace your open enrollment at work:

1. Evaluate your health insurance options carefully. One of the biggest decisions during open enrollment is which health insurance to choose. Three common plan types include:

  • Preferred provider organization plans — may charge higher premiums than other options but allow you to choose doctors and specialists.
  • Health maintenance organization plans — may offer lower premiums but come with restrictions, such as having a primary care physician coordinate your health care services.
  • High-deductible health plans — charge the lowest premiums but require you to pay a higher out-of-pocket deductible. They can be paired with a health savings account (HSA) for additional money-saving tax benefits, which you’ll learn more about in the next tip.

The best health insurance option for you depends on various factors such as:

  • How often you and your dependents visit the doctor
  • Whether you need costly prescription medications
  • How the monthly premiums and out-of-pocket expenses fit your budget
  • Whether you anticipate a change in your health care needs
  • Whether your preferred doctors and hospitals are in the network

Some companies assess a surcharge if you add a spouse or partner who is eligible for health insurance at his or her job but enrolls in your plan. In other words, it may make sense to be covered under separate plans. Shop your options to find the best benefits at the lowest price.

Many employers offer seminars, webinars or team meetings to discuss changes to your benefit choices. Be sure to participate so you understand what’s offered or ask your human resources department for clarification if you’re unsure what’s right for you.

2. Weigh the benefits of an HSA. HSA-qualified health plans can be a good option if you’re in good health and aren’t likely to pay the full deductible each year. Also, many employers make contributions on your behalf to an HSA to incentivize enrollment.

While high-deductible health plans require a potentially higher out-of-pocket cost, you can save money by using an HSA. Funds in the account can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses completely tax-free. Any unused funds roll over from year to year with no penalty.

For 2019, the HSA contribution limit when you have family coverage is $7,000, up $100 from the 2018 limit. If you have self-only coverage, the contribution limit for 2019 is $3,500, up $50 from 2018.

3. Consider enrolling in dental and vision insurance. Unlike health insurance, dental and vision coverage isn’t required under the Affordable Care Act. So, even though it may be wise to have them, you won’t be penalized if you don’t.

Consider if you’ll only need preventive checkups or may need expensive oral surgery, orthodontics or prescription eyeglasses in the coming year. These add-on insurance plans typically come with low monthly premiums — they’re well worth it if you need to use them.

4. Use voluntary insurance to fill any financial gaps. Although health insurance is typically the focus of open enrollment, your company may offer other types of coverage to protect your finances. If you have a spouse, partner, or dependents who rely on your income, it’s wise to enroll in a voluntary life policy. It can supplement life insurance you already have or purchase on your own in the future.

Disability insurance is another policy that protects your finances if a covered accident or injury leaves you unable to earn an income. There are short- and long-term policies that can replace a portion of your income if you have a temporary illness or a serious health problem that keeps you from work.

5. Reevaluate your retirement contributions. While you can make changes to your retirement plan at any time during the year, open enrollment is a good time to review it. Consider if you’re saving enough to meet your retirement goals and if you can increase contributions by a percent or two.

Most workplace retirement plans also offer free matching funds. If you haven’t enrolled yet or don’t contribute enough to get the full match from your employer, don’t waste time getting those benefits.

A final tip is to review and update your designated beneficiaries on life policies and retirement accounts. If you’ve recently had a major life change, such as a marriage or divorce, open enrollment is also a good time to make sure your benefits reflect your wishes.

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