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Starting a Career: Maximizing Your Company Benefits

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Questions about workplace benefits?

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Congratulations! You’ve just landed a new job and are looking forward to a long and promising career. As a new employee, you’ll get your company ID card, email account, and other essentials on the first day. If your company provides an orientation session, you’ll probably also receive a bulky welcome packet that includes most of what you need to know about all the benefits your new employer provides. Your job may provide some nice perks, like an on-site, subsidized cafeteria and discount movie tickets, but what you’ll have to think critically about are the benefits that contribute to your health and overall financial well-being, such as health insurance, life insurance, disability income insurance, and retirement savings plans. Some of these benefits are paid for by employers and will cost you nothing. You may have to pay for other benefits, but generally they are deducted directly from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis, so you won’t feel a significant financial strain.

If you’re just beginning your career, you may not realize just how much most working Americans rely on benefits for the bulk of their financial security. In fact, eight out of ten employees say that benefits are the deciding factor in taking a new job or staying with their current company.1

While the volume of information you receive from your employer may seem overwhelming to digest, keep in mind that the sooner you learn how to take full advantage of any benefits your job offers, the better off you’ll be in terms of getting your personal finances off to a strong start. Many people focus only on health insurance; however, it’s important to understand all of the company benefits you’re offered. Attend educational sessions, but also ask your human resources or benefits administrator for any additional online tools or other materials that may be available. Learning as much as possible about your coverage options means you’ll be armed with the information you need to select what is most appropriate for you.

Here are some of the options you may have:

  • Medical insurance. Typically, the cost of health insurance plans available through work is significantly less than what you might pay if you were to enroll on your own. Usually, employers will offer more than one option. Some plans have higher deductibles, which is the fixed amount you must pay out of your pocket annually toward health care services before your health insurance begins to cover costs. Plans with high deductibles have less expensive monthly payments (premiums), which make them a good choice if you are relatively healthy and plan not to use health services too frequently. Make sure to take your personal health into account before deciding which coverage option will work best for you.

  • Dental insurance. Dental plans offered by employers give you access to a network of dentists who have agreed to provide discounted rates on services, including X-rays, and fillings. Typically, the insurance provides two cleanings a year to ensure your teeth stay healthy, and will help with the cost of other dental treatments if you need it.

  • Vision insurance. A vision plan can save you money on annual eye exams, glasses, and contacts. Even if you don’t need glasses or contacts, it’s important to consider vision insurance as part of your overall wellness.

  • Life insurance. Many employers offer life insurance as a way for you to financially protect family and loved ones in the event something were to happen to you. This typically is term life, which provides protection for a limited time period – usually the period of time you’re employed at your current job. You likely won’t need a medical exam to enroll in this basic insurance coverage through work, so be sure to select it. And as your career progresses or your needs change, you may want to look into additional types of coverage, such as whole life, which is a permanent type of life insurance. 

  • Disability income insurance. Your company may offer this insurance to help safeguard your income if you are unable to work due to an accident or illness. This coverage can replace approximately 40-60% of your income, to make sure you can meet your daily living expenses, such as housing costs and car expenses, even if you can’t work. You may be offered different options of coverage from which to choose, such as short-term and long-term disability insurance, so make sure to consider all of your options.

  • Retirement savings plans. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, funds you pay in will reduce your taxable income, and many firms will match a certain percentage of your contributions, which is like getting free money from your employer. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, or if you want to save more, consider opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and making that your primary savings vehicle.

  • Accident insurance. Accidents can involve unexpected expenses – such as ambulance services, emergency room treatment, X-rays and physical therapy – that other insurance may not cover. This insurance provides you with direct payments that you can use any way you choose, based on a wide variety of circumstances related to a covered accident.

  • Cancer insurance. Look into cancer insurance, which provides direct payments to you to help manage the financial burden of recovering from cancer. This coverage can help ease the financial strain of treatment and out-of-pocket expenses – such as transportation to and from treatment – that other insurance may not cover.

  • Travel insurance. If you travel for business or pleasure, look into the travel coverage your employer offers. It offers emergency travel assistance, such as replacing lost travel documents and providing physician and hospital referrals. Many times you can secure this insurance at a more reasonable rate through your company than you can independently.

1 Guardian Workplace Benefits Study, 2014.

Medical insurance is not underwritten or serviced by Guardian.

This material is intended for general public use. By providing this material, Guardian is not undertaking to provide investment advice for any specific individual or situation, or to otherwise act in a fiduciary capacity. Please contact a financial professional for guidance and information specific to your individual situation.