There’s more to compensation than just getting paid.
Chances are your salary will be your biggest concern when choosing a new job. After all, regular income is the most basic priority. If you don’t have enough to pay for essentials like housing, food, and clothing, benefits like a retirement savings plan and even health insurance might seem unimportant. But it pays to consider a wide variety of benefits.
Health insurance is by far the most common job benefit—and the most popular. Employer-provided health insurance helps you pay for checkups, medical procedures, and other health-related expenses. Regardless of if you contribute some money from your paycheck each month or if your employer covers the entire cost for you, the protection you get from health insurance is more than worth it.
Even if you’re usually healthy, it’s still better to have it than not. Without insurance, one serious injury or emergency operation can put a huge hole in your financial security.
In addition to basic health coverage, many employers offer disability insurance and life insurance as well. Whether these added forms of protection are worth the money depends on your situation. Many young people don’t feel like they have much that would need protecting if they died or were suddenly disabled, but if you’re supporting a family or paying a mortgage, you should consider taking these kinds of precautions.
Retirement plans are another popular benefit, and one you should make a priority. Retirement might seem a long way off when you’re just getting started, but starting early can make saving enough for a comfortable retirement much easier.
The most common plan offered by employers is a 401(k). A 401(k) is a salary reduction plan that will take a percentage of your gross income and invest it. Some employers will even match the amount of money that you contribute. Be aware 401(k) is not a savings account, it's an investment. This means that rates of return and earnings can fluctuate and money can be lost.
Illustration: Kyle Smart
Make Your Own Benefits: Cafeteria Plans
Some employers let you participate in creating your benefits package by offering cafeteria plans. These plans will often include several core benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement savings plan, as well as Flexible Spending Plans that let you set aside pre-tax income for certain expenses. You could use this money to cover extra life insurance, uninsured medical expenses, childcare, or a variety of other things.
Cafeteria plans can be a great opportunity to tailor your benefits package to your needs. And since the amount you put aside reduces your taxable income, you can actually end up with more money in your pocket than if you didn’t participate. The catch is that you usually have to spend the full amount on eligible expenses before the end of the year. If you don’t spend it, you lose it.
Options With Options
Some employers offer stock options as part of compensation packages or instead of cash bonuses. These options give you the right to buy the company’s stock at a set price. In certain cases, such as if the value rises or a private company goes public, selling the stock may earn you more money, but that’s not guaranteed. The company stock prices can also drop below the price that you paid, making them effectively worthless to you.
Plus, many companies require you to work for a set period of time in order to become fully vested, or entitled to these benefits. If your company goes public, there may be restrictions on when you can sell your stock.
Some privately held companies have no immediate plans to go public, but still want to let you share in the profits if the company increases in value. To do that, they may offer stock appreciation rights (SARs) instead of options. Like stock options, SARs do not offer guarantees of future benefit. Depending on how your employer’s plan is set up, you might be paid the difference between the value of the stock at the time you received your SARs and the value at a “triggering event” such as a sale, initial public offering (IPO), or you leaving the company. You may also be able to convert your SARs into stock options at some point.
One big difference is that you don’t need to purchase stock in order to benefit from an increase in value with SARs.
Most employee benefits are financial, but some companies also offer perks that can improve your lifestyle. These benefits generally fall into two categories.
The first category focuses on big benefits for specific situations. For example, some companies offer paid leave if a child or parent is sick, a sabbatical break if you’ve been working there for a while, or tuition assistance. While you may not use them every day, they can be a big plus if you use them eventually. However, of course, there's the chance that you won’t ever get to take advantage of these benefits if you leave the company or the situation never arises.
The second category focuses on improving your day-to-day life. This can mean anything from a subsidized on-site cafeteria to free daycare services. Of course, you will want to be sure that these benefits are really worthwhile, especially when you take into account that most companies provide these benefits because they want you to spend more of your time and energy at work.
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