If you’ve been with a company for a long time, it’s easy to get comfortable with your position there. This goes for your employee benefits, as well: You might fall into a routine and not realize the many options your employer offers that fit you better than your current coverage. Don’t miss out by making these benefits mistakes.
1. Ignoring Communications
HR sends out all sorts of announcements about employee benefits — are you listening? If you’re not paying attention to employee communications, you could miss enrollment deadlines or valuable new benefits that you didn’t know you had. Chris Lokken, an employee benefits consultant with Johnson Insurance, says he often asks employees how many took advantage of the regular free eye exam their health insurance often covers. “Usually I get 3 or 4 hands to go up, and 5 or 10 people see me after the meeting and ask me how they can take advantage of that.”
2. Neglecting Your HSA
Your employer may have made changes to the health insurance it offers in the past few years due to changes from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA or Obamacare). If it implemented a High Deductible Health Plan, you may have missed a chance to contribute to a Health Savings Account. “The money an employee contributes reduces taxable income, which could mean hundreds in tax savings for high-income individuals,” says Cynthia Walter, president of Bagnall, an employee benefits and HR firm.
3. Failing to Tweak Your Retirement Fund
One of the main mistakes that employees make with their 401(k) is ignoring rebalancing, says Anthony Del Porto, of Questis, a financial wellness benefit for employers. Many people continue to put their money into the same funds and allocations as time goes on, when they should look at rebalancing, he says. “For example, if they originally allocated 40% bonds and 60% stocks but bonds have greatly outperformed stocks, their actual account may be closer to 60% bonds and 40% stocks.” They may need to sell to get back to their original allocation percentage.
“Another thing people don’t look at is changing their allocations as they age,” Del Porto says. “While younger workers should generally put more money into stocks, which tend to have more upside but more risk, older workers should look at putting more of their money into bonds, which are generally less volatile but have less chance for major upside.”
4. Not Shopping Around
Does your employer offer more than one plan or plan option? Have you considered it? “We often see participants choose the plan option with the lowest deductible or lowest co-payment without considering the impact that choice may have on the premium contribution deducted from their paycheck week in and week out,” says Thomas A. Kilcoyne III, of Summit Financial Corp. Factor in both the potential “out of pocket” cost of services and the guaranteed cost of the employee contribution, he says. Do this for any coverage your spouse might be eligible for to ensure you get the best deal for your family.
5. Passing on Voluntary Benefits
As employers make tweaks to the core benefits they offer, they often add voluntary benefit options to the mix. With voluntary benefits, employees can decide whether they want to pay for them or not, and chances are your employer offers some that would be useful to you. “More employers than ever are using voluntary benefits to fill coverage gaps for their employees as they move to high-deductible plans,” says Ciro Giue, of HUB International.
6. Not Tracking Benefits
Long-term employees often do not keep accurate records of their benefits, says Laura MacLeod, of the From the Inside Out Project. “Employees need to keep a record of everything and check it against pay stubs and HR records. This prevents confusion and ensures everyone is on the same page,” she says.
Stay up-to-date on vacation and time-off policies, for example, and make a paper trail about ones you want to use. “Protect your hard-earned benefits by keeping records and getting all the information,” she says.