You got a new job—congrats! Now it’s time to review your employee benefits package from HR. A CFP® offers five key steps to make sure you’re getting the most out of your benefits.
You’ve gotten through countless interviews, successfully negotiated your salary, and accepted the job offer. Congrats! Your job search is finally over, and now it’s time to tackle your next challenge: onboarding with a new company and getting settled into your new role.
It can be tough to offer one-size-fits-all advice on how to show your new manager and coworkers what a rockstar you are. The to-do’s for an engineer and a marketing strategist, for example, will look very different. Nonetheless, these roles (and any other job you land) will hopefully have something very important in common: You’ll have a compensation and benefits package to review.
When navigating your new company’s Human Resources department, follow these five steps to make sure you’re getting the most out of your benefits.
Step 1: Research Your Available Benefits
Carefully review anything you can get your hands on regarding your company’s benefits: handbooks, brochures, your HR website, etc. If you miss a key point about your benefits, claiming ignorance isn’t going to do you much good six months from now.
If you’ve done your due diligence and are still confused about something, just ask! That’s exactly what your HR department is there for. If your company doesn’t have a dedicated HR staff, let your direct manager know you have questions and ask him or her to point you in the right direction. Even if they don’t know the answer, they can let you know who does.
Step 2: Calculate Your Take-Home Pay
When you accepted your new job, the HR department or your manager probably quoted you an annual salary. However, when you get your first paycheck, your take-home pay is going to look quite different. In order to avoid the “where the hell did my paycheck go?” moment, take some time to understand the difference between your gross salary and your actual net pay.
Net pay represents the amount you actually take home after taxes and deductions. This includes things like federal and state tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and contributions to your benefits. You can use a paycheck calculator to help you estimate your net pay based on your salary.
You will likely receive a W-4 or complete one online. The number of allowances you claim on this form controls how much will be withheld from each paycheck to pay taxes down the line. The more you claim, the less money is withheld; the fewer allowances, the more of your salary is sent to the IRS. Someone who is single with no dependents typically claims one allowance for themselves and a second allowance for being single with only one job; two is the total number of allowances.
Step 3: Choose Your Health Insurance
It’s easy to zero in on salary; after all, that’s what’s going to pay your bills, buy groceries, and help save for your goals. However, there’s a lot more to your compensation than the number that’s going to hit your bank account every couple of weeks. Take a deep dive into one of your most essential benefits: health insurance.
Under current law, everyone older than 18 is required to have health insurance or pay a penalty (although some exemptions apply). If your new employer offers a health insurance benefit, you will likely have a certain amount taken out of your paycheck to cover part of the cost depending on the plan you choose. However, this is likely much less than you would have paid on your own.
Some employers offer a range of different health insurance coverage options, so you’ll need to decide which best fits your needs. Start by understanding the types of plans available, which generally fall into two buckets: HMO or PPO (although there are others).
It may feel like alphabet soup at first, but stick with it! An HMO is best if you want to keep your costs low and are OK with seeing specific doctors in your insurance plan’s network. On the flip side, a PPO plan may cost slightly more, but you’ll have greater flexibility to see any doctor or specialist you like.
Pay attention to a few key elements as you compare each plan:
- Monthly premium—the amount taken out of your paycheck each month for your health care. (This is likely a portion of the total cost of your insurance, your employer covers the rest.)
- Copays—the amount you’ll pay for covered services like a routine checkup
- Deductible—the amount you must pay for health care before your insurance kicks in to cover costs
- Out-of-pocket maximum—the maximum you’ll have to pay for covered medical expenses in a given year. Once you hit this point, your insurance will cover 100 percent of expenses going forward.
Choosing your best health insurance plan will require a balancing act of all these factors. There’s no free lunch here, so paying less in premiums upfront means you would likely pay more in the event you have a health issue down the road (and vice versa).
Step 4: Start Saving for Retirement
Many employers offer a retirement plan to help employees save for the future. They may call it a 401k, 403b, or 457 plan—these are all retirement plans, they’re just defined by different areas of the IRS tax code.
You may or may not pay taxes on the money you contribute, depending on the type of retirement plan. Contributing to a traditional retirement plan gives you an immediate tax deduction because your contributions are taken out of your paycheck before taxes are paid on that money. From there, these funds grow tax-deferred, meaning you will not pay taxes on anything until you withdraw the money down the line.
On the flip side, your employer may offer the opportunity to contribute to Roth retirement plan. With a Roth, your contributions are made after taxes, however, your earnings will grow tax free. Typically, the lower your tax rate now, the more it makes sense to choose a Roth retirement plan. This assumes your tax rate will be lower now than in retirement. Instead of paying a higher rate in the future when you would withdraw your funds, you pay the taxes upfront.
When you contribute to an employer retirement plan, sometimes they will offer a match. For example, if you contribute a percentage of your earnings, some employers will match a portion or even the whole thing. This is free money!
You can use a simple retirement calculator to crunch the numbers and see how much you can save given your plan.
Step 5: Check Your Other Benefits and Perks
Beyond the obvious benefits like health insurance and retirement, your employer may have a host of other offerings for you to take advantage of: dental and vision coverage, life insurance, disability insurance, free or low-cost parking, a subway pass, continuing education, professional fees or dues, subscriptions, company discounts, and more.
You may find that you need to sign up or complete certain tasks in order to qualify for these other benefits, so be sure not to miss out. Even the most frivolous of perks can add up. Take a free gym membership, for example: That could mean an extra $50 a month that you’re able to put towards your student loans, be debt-free faster, and pay less interest over the life of the loan.
The Bottom Line
Employers are offering increasingly more benefits to entice prospective hires and retain employees. These perks are part of your overall compensation package, so it’s important to take the time to understand exactly what is available to you and how you can best utilize what your company has to offer.
Karen Carr Brady is the founder of Simplie, a financial planning company that offers virtual appointments with CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals. Karen is a former member of the Society of Grownups planning team and is now based in New York City. When she’s not writing about personal finance or meeting with clients, you can find her roaming around NYC looking for the best place to eat.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.