Cash in on your benefits


Cash in on your benefits

Most of us get health insurance at work, either from our own employer or a spouse’s or partner’s. Nearly all companies with 50 employees or more offer health insurance, and nearly a third of smaller employers do, too. And that’s great — but it’s only a start.

You may have access to many other valuable no- or low-cost benefits you’re overlooking — including some in your health plan. That’s like leaving money on the table.

“Employees who take full advantage of their benefits are likely to be better off financially as well as physically,” said Rob Hecker, vice president of Total Rewards at Colonial Life. “It helps employers, too: They spend a lot on their benefits programs, and that’s a good investment only if employees participate in the benefits available to them.”

Check this list to make sure you’re getting the most out of your benefits package.

  • Preventive care. Do you go to the doctor only when you or a family member gets sick? Most health plans have to cover preventive services such as shots and screening tests for free, if you use a doctor or provider in your plan’s network.
  • Flu shots. If your employer offers free flu shots, get one. Millions of people get the flu every year, but not from the vaccine. This could save you considerable cash in office visit copays if you roll the dice and lose.
  • Wellness benefits. If you have additional insurance, such as a cancer or critical illness plan, it likely includes a benefit for routine screenings such as Pap smears, X-rays and colonoscopies. Wellness benefits on voluntary insurance plans pay a set amount no matter what your out-of-pocket cost is. Depending on your plan, this could be an extra $100 or more in your pocket.
  • 401(k) plan. Putting some of your pay in a 401(k) rewards you three ways. First, most companies match some portion of your contributions — that’s free money. Second, your contributions lower your taxable income, so you pay less tax. And third, you’re socking away something for retirement that grows tax-free.
  • Flexible spending accounts. Reimbursement accounts for health care or dependent care expenses let you set aside money from your paycheck before taxes, then get it back when you pay for these items later. Like a 401(k), this lowers your taxable income, so you save money. Caveat: You need to plan carefully because any money you don’t use is gone. This is different than a health savings account, which does allow you to roll money over from year to year but is only an option if you have a high-deductible health plan.
  • Wellness programs. Want to lose weight, stop smoking or get in shape? Ask if your employer offers a discount on Weight Watchers classes, smoking cessation programs or gym memberships. Or start a break-time walking club. Getting healthier can also make you more productive and cut your medical expenses.
  • Life insurance features. Got life? Many plans include services beyond the benefit payment, from loans against the cash value to survivor support.
  • Employee assistance program. Some employers offer EAPs with help for problems that can affect your personal and professional life. Resources are usually free and help address issues such as substance abuse, stress, marital problems, legal concerns and major life events.
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