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From Life Insurance to Tuition Reimbursement: How to Maximize Your Work Benefits

By Zina Kumok Jun 29, 2022

Remember the days of steady raises, big promotions and guaranteed pensions?

Yeah, me neither.

The media’s abuzz with talk of the “Great Resignation,” which (depending on who you ask) is a sign of an overheating labor market or of workers simply not taking bad jobs anymore. Whatever its cause, times are changing and workers have more leverage in the workplace than they’ve had in a long time. In addition to greater leverage for negotiating salaries, workers have the opportunity to get creative about maximizing all their work benefits. Particularly if you’re working at—or want to work at—a small business without a tremendous budget for a base salary, benefits can be a great way to reconceptualize compensation. 

Chances are, your company currently offers some form of compensation you’re not taking full advantage of.

Read ahead to learn about some common benefits you might be ignoring—and how to use them effectively.

Life Insurance

Many companies offer term life insurance as an employee benefit. Although the exact offering varies from place to place, this is most commonly term life insurance. Term life insurance lasts for a specific period of time, or term, like 20 years. If you were to pass away during that time, the beneficiary of your choice would receive money. They could use this “death benefit” for living expenses, debt repayment, college expenses or anything else.

Many employers offer a baseline of term life insurance at no charge to their employees, though such coverage usually has a low face amount (that’s the amount that would go to your loved ones if you were to die). If you need more coverage than that, you can generally purchase what’s known as “supplemental coverage” to augment your employer’s policy. In situations where someone has no financial dependents and no real need for life insurance, then this free coverage could be a boon. 

That said, if anyone depends on you financially, such as a child or aging relative, then you probably need a more significant life insurance policy than the default coverage your employer offers. While you may be able to purchase this through your employer’s plan, you might find similar rates on the open market. Plus, a life insurance policy through your job may prove difficult to keep if you change employers. In some cases it may not be “portable,” and in others you may have to pay a lot more in monthly premiums if you convert your group plan into an individual plan for just you. And if you choose to simply get your own individual policy after leaving that job, you may be a few years older by that time, and life insurance gets more expensive the longer you wait.

Bottom line: If you have no financial dependents and no one who’d be on the hook for your debts if you were gone, then free or inexpensive life insurance through work could be free money for your loved ones if you were to pass away. If you have greater life insurance needs, then it may make sense to get a quote for your own life insurance policy and explore whether group term life insurance at work fits your needs.

Unpaid Vacation

Everyone knows about paid vacation and personal time, but what about unpaid vacation days? Some companies allow their employees to buy extra vacation days or take time off without being reimbursed.

Tuition Reimbursement

Both large and small companies offer tuition reimbursement to employees, ranging from full semesters to one class a year. Classes and degrees usually have to be related to your current position and most jobs ask that you stay above a certain GPA to qualify.

The current average cost of a credit hour is almost $600, so even taking one class for free could save you $1,800.

Conferences and Training

Most companies want you to stay abreast of the latest trends, so talk to your boss about any conferences or classes you want to attend to help you stay current.

If your supervisor seems wary, show them how learning the newest strategies can improve the company’s bottom line.

Matching Charitable Contributions

If you regularly donate money, you might be missing out on a huge employee benefit: matching charitable donations. Just as many firms match your 401(k) contributions, they can also match what you give to charity. BP matches every dollar up to $5,000 total while General Electric matches up to $25,000, for example.

Mental Health

Some companies offer a few free sessions with an approved therapist. Improved mental health resources helps with employee retention, since a staffer who’s dealing with depression may be unable to perform at his or her peak.

How to Find Your Benefits

If you’ve been at your company for a while, it’s probably been a long time since you’ve talked to your HR rep. Emails and memos about benefits often go unnoticed, which means you could be missing out on key perks.

Find the latest copy of the employee handbook and go through it diligently, even if it’s mostly full of information you already know. Then, schedule a meeting with HR to discuss all your benefits and make sure you understand them.

Also, talk to your coworkers about any benefits they’ve found like discounts with hotels or car rental services, museum admission and more. Private businesses can sometimes offer discounts if you work for the government or a nonprofit.

Health Insurance Benefits

Many health insurance companies provide their own secret benefits if you poke around.

Providers save money when you’re healthy, so many offer free or inexpensive wellness programs to entice customers into adopting a better lifestyle. These can range from free pedometers to one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer or nutritionist.

For example, some offer wellness education, reimbursements for bike helmets, including phone access to a registered nurse and discounted gym memberships.

Other insurance companies dole out gift cards as perks. I’ve earned everything from a $25 movie theater gift card because I don’t smoke to another gift card for providing proof of my gym membership.

“My insurance company gives card rewards for doing things like getting a check up, completing an online health program or doing coaching with a nurse on the phone for things like weight loss” said money expert and Smart Family Money blogger Cindy Scott. “Between my husband and I, we usually make around $200 a year in gift cards through this program.”

Contact your insurance company directly to see what you’re eligible for—you might be surprised.

Written by

Zina Kumok

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Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.

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