As open enrollment season is around the corner, Morningstar offered up an 10-minute video interview with Christine Benz discussing tips on maximizing your employee benefits. (Is it just me, or does open enrollment too often seem to be a game of “Guess What Benefits We Trimmed This Year?”)
Here are the five topics that were discussed:
- Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). The tax advantages can be better than a Traditional or Roth IRA. Contributions are effectively tax-deductible (you put in pre-tax money), the money can compound for decades tax-free, and even your withdrawals are tax-free when put towards qualified healthcare expenses. However, you have to be enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan, which means this works best if you are “healthy and wealthy” meaning you don’t really have big healthcare expenses and you have enough cash that you don’t need to use your HSA money now.
- Free and/or discounted investment advice with your 401(k) plan. You may be eligible for customized investment advice, or at the very least you should compare your personal rate of return with the performance of your target date mutual fund option.
- Employer-sponsored disability insurance. It may be both easier to qualify for and cheaper to buy disability insurance through your employer rather than with your own individual insurance plan.
- Tax-savings perks like commuter benefit programs or dependent-care programs. There are often smaller side-programs that can be helpful.
- Student loan repayment assistance programs. These are not very common, but are growing in popularity.
These five areas are fine suggestions, although you may prefer to buy your own portable disability insurance. First of all, it may not be cheaper to go with your broad employer plan. In addition, if you switch jobs for any reason, you might lose your disability insurance at the same time. Finally, specialized workers can purchase riders that will pay out as long as you can no longer perform your specific occupation (as opposed to any lower-paying job). However, in my experience it is easy to put this off, so getting some employer-sponsored disability insurance can be a good first step.
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