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20 Employee Benefits To Take Advantage Of

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employee benefitsSure you drink the free coffee in the break room, but your company might offer a lot more. These are 20 employee benefits to take advantage of.

You Probably Have No Idea

Remember that big thick packet the Human Resources Department gave you when you first started your current job? Did you read it? You didn’t? That’s okay, no one does. But inside that tome, there might be all kinds of great employee benefits offered by your company that you aren’t taking advantage of.

1. 401k Matching

We made this one the first on the list because if your company offers 401k matching, it’s money for nothing! A 401k plan is a tax-advantaged investment account that helps employees save for retirement. All you have to do to get the matching offer is to contribute the required amount to your 401k.

There are different matching programs, but a typical one requires an employee to contribute 6% of their income to the 401k. The employer will then contribute the same amount, 6%. Your 6% is now worth 12%!

Other employers may offer a 50% match. For example, an employee contributes 10% of their salary to the 401k, and the company will contribute 5%.

A 401k is a great investment vehicle. Not only is it a way to automate retirement savings (the money is taken out of your paycheck and invested before the check is direct deposited to your bank account) but it can lower your taxable income as well. So we should all be participating. But the cherry on top is if your company offers to match. This is one employee benefit that everyone who has access to should take advantage of.

2. Student Loan Help

If you thought the free money to invest with via 401k matching was great, you’d love this benefit some companies are offering. Employees can get matching for their student loan payments. An example would be offering to match the first 5% of annual student loan payments an employee makes over the minimum.

Other programs help employees refinance their student loans which often means getting a better interest rate which can save thousands of dollars over the life of a student loan.

3. Employee Stock Purchase Plan

If you work for a publicly traded company, you may be able to buy company stock at a discount, typically 10-15% less. The post-tax money is usually deducted right from your check.

If you want to buy individual stocks rather than investing in an index fund, you need to do a lot of research on each company, so you know whether or not a particular stock is a good buy. But it can take a lot of time and effort to do that research. Not if you’re buying shares in the company you work for though, you already know a lot of what you need to know to make a good decision.

Just be careful not to put too big a chunk of your investing money into your own company’s stock. If the price plummets and you lose your job, it’s a double whammy to your finances.

4. Profit Sharing

Profit sharing means your company will give you a percentage of its profits quarterly or annually. This is a great employee benefit and can give employees extra incentive to work hard and create value for the company but never count on profit sharing money.

If the company is having a bad quarter or a bad year, there might not be any profits to share.

5. Life Insurance

You might have a life insurance policy through your employer and not even know it! Some employers offer free life insurance, and all employees are automatically enrolled.

The type of insurance is usually group life. If your employer doesn’t offer it for free, you can enroll for little cost. The amount of the policy isn’t enormous, usually $25,000, $50,000 or the employee’s annual salary. All you have to do is fill out the necessary forms and choose a beneficiary.

If you’re fresh out of college and don’t have a spouse or children and your employer doesn’t cover the entire cost, you might hesitate to have any more money deducted from your paycheck. Fair enough unless your parents co-signed for your student loans. If you were to die, as co-signors, your parents would be responsible for paying back the loans. If your parents co-signed your loans, you should absolutely pay the small amount required to have life insurance and make your parents the beneficiaries of the policy.

Some employers also offer employees the option to buy a supplemental group life insurance policy. You can typically purchase additional coverage of up to four times your salary. If you choose to buy this additional coverage, you may need to fill out a health questionnaire.

If you have a family or dependent, the additional coverage is something to consider. Because you’re buying it in a pool with many other people, the rates will probably be better than if you purchased an individual policy. This is especially true for those who suffer from serious medical conditions that make individual policies prohibitively expensive.

6. Healthcare Savings Account, Flexible Spending Account

Even if your employer offers generous health insurance coverage, not even the top of the line policies cover everything and what they don’t cover can be extremely expensive.

To help mitigate out of pocket medical, dental, and vision care expenses, some employers offer an HSA or FSA account. These programs allow employees to set aside pre-tax money to cover these out of pocket expenses each year.

The maximum allowed contributions for 2018 are $3,450 for a single coverage plan HSA and $6,900 for a family plan, and for an FSA the amount is $2,650. Contributing to these plans not only saves you money on health care costs but can lower your taxable income as well which can save you money come tax time.

Like 401k matching, some employers offer to match for HSAs and FSAs as well. Check the fine print; some programs don’t allow unused money to be rolled over to the following year so any unspent money left over will be lost.

Wellness Programs

This is a really broad category, and if I found a 9-5 job that had them all, I’d probably quit writing and go work there (No I wouldn’t. Working for yourself from home is too great!)! Why more companies aren’t offering wellness perks to their employees is a mystery because ever how much the employees might benefit, it’s nothing compared to how much the company could benefit.

Employers spend an average of $10,000 per year, per employee on health care costs. A Harvard study found that for every $1 spent on wellness programs, employers saw medical costs fall by $3.27 and the cost of absenteeism by $2.73. That is a pretty impressive Return on Investment!

Wellness programs can include lots of things; getting rid of junk food and soda vending machine and replacing them with free, healthy snacks and bottled water. Offering standing desks because new research is showing that sitting for long periods of time as nearly every office worker does is extremely detrimental to our health. Bringing in experts to give talks on things like nutrition, exercise, and stress relief techniques.

Some offices have tapped into people’s natural competitiveness and are holding contests to see which team can lose the most weight or rack up the most activity over a period of time. Not only is that healthy but it’s a better way to foster team building among colleagues than those silly retreats where you have to do a “trust fall” with your co-workers.

Even if your employer doesn’t offer much in the way of wellness programs, you can your co-workers can organize things on your own; start a soccer or softball team and join a local recreational league or sponsor a once a week potluck lunch where everyone brings in a healthy dish to share.

We spend a big chunk of our life at work so the more changes we can make to ensure that our workplace is a healthy environment, the better for our employer and us.

7. Pet Insurance

If your company offers human medical insurance you’re likely taking advantage of it but what about your pet? Veterinary care can be almost as expensive of human medical care. If your employer offers pet insurance and you have a pet, take advantage! I had a diabetic cat, and his vet bills cost a fortune.

8. Commuting Costs

Getting to and from work costs you money. The average cost of the work commute is $2,600 per year. Some employers offer programs to help reduce that cost. Some offer a program that allows employees to use pre-tax money to cover part of the cost including the cost of parking and public transportation. This helps reduce an employee’s taxable income.

Other programs can include the employers buying things like bus or subway passes in bulk for a discount which is then passed on to the employees. Or getting a similar bulk discount with a paid parking lot or garage.

9. Work From Home

Do you know what really cuts down on commuting costs? Not commuting. Because most of us have the ability to “be connected” almost no matter where we are, more employers are offering employees the opportunity to work from home, at least some of the time.

It’s not for everyone, some people will find that there are too many distractions at home that make it hard to get enough work done but if you can focus at home as well as you can in the office, working from home is a great way to save time and money.

10. Education and Training

Well educated and well-trained employers are what all employers want and some of them will pay for or towards additional education. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement, tuition assistance, certification, or required continuing education credits.

Employers are going to want a return on this type of investment though so be aware that if you take advantage, you may be obligated to stay at a job for a period of time.

11. Free or Discounted Tickets

Does your company donate to local institutions like museums, symphonies, operas, ballets, zoos, or botanical gardens? If your company is a patron, you may be able to get free passes or discounted tickets.

12. Allowances

If your employer allows you to work from home, you may have an allowance to spend on expenses you incur. It’s often known as a tech allowance and can be used towards things like your cell phone or internet bills, a computer, and even smaller things like printer paper and ink cartridges.

13. Comp Time

Not all employees are eligible for overtime pay, but some companies offer comp time to those exempt. For every hour of overtime, you work, you can take an hour off.

14. Flex Time

Someone at some point decided that a lot of us would work from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 at night. But not all jobs have to be done within those hours. If that’s the case for your job and you don’t love doing a 9-5 schedule, ask if your company offers flex time. Flex time allows people to come in early and leave early or come in late and leave late; sometimes employees can even work weekends and take time off during the week to make up for it.

As long as an employee is working a certain number of hours or getting all of their work done, some companies are flexible about when the work is being done. This is an especially nice benefit for those who work in places with terrible rush hour commutes because it allows them to leave before or after those peak traffic periods.

15. Paid Vacation

Americans don’t get much paid vacation time compared to workers in many other countries and a lot of us aren’t even using the small amount we are entitled too. This is crazy to me! Take your vacation everyone! I can understand if you don’t get paid for your time off but if you get paid to lay of the beach or hike in the mountains or museum hop around a city or whatever it is you like to do on vacation, what are you waiting for?

16. Volunteer Time Off

Does your company patronize a charity? Is it something you care about too? Some employers will allow employees to take time off to volunteer for a cause without using their own vacation time. The company may also often to match employee donations to a charity.

17. Employee Assistance Programs

An EAP is meant to help employees deal with personal issues that may affect their work or ability to work. Some plans offer things like mental health and substance abuse counseling, grief counseling after the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or being diagnosed with an illness, and help to arrange child and elder care.

A stressed, distracted employee is a less optimal employee, and companies realize that offering help is beneficial to everyone.

18. Legal Services

Your company may offer free or discounted legal services for things like writing a will or estate planning, medical directives, power of attorney, and adoption services.

19. A Credit Union

A credit union offers most of the services offered by a traditional bank, checking and savings accounts, loans, and financial products but often at a lower cost and with better customer service. In order to join a credit union, you have to be a member of a group. It could be a profession, a student or faculty member at a particular college or university, or an employee of a specific company.

Even if your employer doesn’t offer membership in a credit union, you should seek one out that you can join. Credit unions are a great way to avoid all of the fees and penalties big banks love to charge customers.

20. Relocation Expenses

Are you feeling like you need a change of scenery, but you like the company you work for? If your company has offices in other cities or countries and you can get a transfer, they may pay for your relocation expenses which can include things like moving, a temporary housing allowance until you can find a permanent home, and in the case of moving abroad, help with all of the legal work required to live and work in a new country.

Make the Most Of It

Given that the average pay raise is just 3%, we should all be taking advantage of every benefit our employer offers. While most of them aren’t going to add dollars and cents to our paychecks, they can save us a good chunk of money.

And a penny saved is a penny earned. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of everything your employer offers.

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