Editor's Note: This week, one of my good friends (and an employee benefits expert), Amanda Eisenberg, is offering tips for how to take advantage of your benefits at work. Eisenberg is an associate editor at Employee Benefit News. Enjoy!
Employers widely consider benefits to be the differentiator between their company and the competition. Yes, pay is important, but benefits are designed to keep you financially, mentally and physically healthy. To figure out what's in your benefits package, tinker through the HR portal. It's generally the place where you request time off or log your hours. The marketplace section acts like Amazon, where you can buy discounted movie tickets, book hotels, flights and car services, and sign up for discounted gym classes.
You should also reach out to your HR contact to walk you through your benefits if you don't know what your company offers. Some popular benefits include:
- Free therapy (among other counseling services): Feeling stressed about the election? You can use your employee assistance program (EAP) to find a therapist or counselor and book three to five free appointments. The EAP is the most underutilized employee benefit, yet more than 92% of employers offer it. Counseling sessions can be made per incident, whether it's domestic abuse, anxiety or financial problems.
- Commuter benefits: A debit card that will let you buy anything from standard Metro, bus or train travel to Uber rides to the office. It's a tax-free benefit, meaning it comes out of your pre-tax salary (the number your company gave you when you were hired, not what you see in your bank account each month).
- Health savings account (HSA): If you are in a high deductible health plan, your employer will offer an HSA. These accounts offer triple tax relief: you can save pre-tax dollars and it will grow tax-free; if you need to withdraw money to pay for medical expenses, you won't be taxed on that either. With the growing concern about how Americans will finance their healthcare under the AHCA, an HSA can help when unexpected medical bills hit.
- Flexible spending account (FSA): If you are in a preferred provider organization (PPO), your employer will offer an FSA. You can save pre-tax dollars to pay for that $30 dermatologist co-pay, for example. However, the money you put in an FSA won't roll over to next year, so it's important to use up everything in your FSA by the end of the calendar year. The website FSAStore.com is a great place to spend any leftover pre-tax dollars.
- Gym or boutique fitness classes: Your employer is likely to offer discounted or free gym membership through a wellness program. Some employers might have an on-site gym you can use for free or an agreement with local gyms for cheap, year-long membership. Your company might also offer reimbursements for boutique classes.
- Student loan assistance: With student loans totaling more than $1.4 trillion in the U.S., employers are increasingly offering student loan aid to their millennial employees. The most popular offering is refinancing, which allows employees to transition existing student loans to a new servicer, typically at a lower interest rate. Some employers are offering eligible employees up to $200 a month (with a lifetime employee cap) to help pay off student loans faster.
- A master's degree: Thinking about taking classes to better improve your skills? Your employer is likely to cover it. Some employers will offer tuition reimbursement to take classes that directly coincide with your work.
- Everyday discounts: Need a flight, hotel and car service? What about tickets to Disney or Six Flags? Your HR platform likely has a marketplace where you can find and redeem discounts for things you already buy at full price.
- Amanda Eisenberg / She Spends Issue #3