Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Take advantage of your employer! (ethically)

OK, did that post title hook you in? What I meant by that is to take advantage of the benefits, discounts, and other perks your employer might offer. Companies buy a lot of things, from computers and real estate to insurance plans. They buy in bulk. An employer in most cases can get a better deal than you can individually on health and dental insurance. They also might be able to negotiate deals on things like dry cleaning, certain restaurants, and daycare centers for their employees. Maybe there's an opportunity to get a transit pass at a discount. Take a look at your company handbook or intranet or talk to your HR person to find out if there is anything available for you.

Flexible spending accounts are also offered by some employers and can be helpful. There are healthcare accounts which allow you to put income aside to spend on healthcare expenses. Similar ones are available for day care and transportation. The big benefit is that your taxable income is decreased, which means your taxes are calculated off of a lower amount.

Another biggie is retirement. Many employers match part of your contribution to a plan such as a 401k. My former employer matched dollar for dollar up to 5% of my pay. That is free money! If you can't enroll right away when you start with a company, mark the eligibility date on your calendar and sign up the MINUTE you are able. I won't lecture on compound interest, but beginning to put away even 5% of your income for retirement now at age 25, 30, or even later will add up!

So, long story short, pay attention at employee orientation and during annual benefits enrollment. Take some time to understand what benefits are available and how to use them. Talk to your human resources or benefits representative or financial advisor. Then go ahead and take advantage of your employer!

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