Personal Finance

These workplace perks could save you a few bucks in 2019

Key Points
  • Whether you need to clean up your finances, draw up a will or improve your career, your employer might be able to help.
  • The IRS allows employers to provide up to $5,250 of educational assistance and exclude that amount from workers’ wages. More than 9 out of 10 employers offer this perk.
Westend61 | Getty Images

Whether you're looking for pet insurance, legal services or a little help with your master's degree, you just might be able to find it at work.

As employees sign up for next year's workplace benefits, they ought to keep an eye out for additional perks being offered.

These run the gamut from tuition assistance to financial planning and more, and they may be offered alongside more common benefits such as health and life insurance.

See below for more details on some of the extra services you may be able to sign up for during benefits enrollment season.

As with any other workplace benefit, you should take some time to read about your company's offering and compare it with what's available outside of the plan before you commit to it.

"Consider all of the benefits employers are offering," said Amy Hollis, owner of Hollis Consulting, an employee benefits consultancy.

"They are looking at financial health for employees and what they can offer beyond the paycheck," she said.

Here are some benefits you might be able to apply for this fall.

Educational assistance

 Hero Images | Getty Images

If you're thinking of upgrading your career trajectory, your boss might be able to help.

Close to 95 percent of 68 large employers polled by the National Business Group on Health said they offered tuition assistance.

The IRS has blessed this break: Employers may exclude from a worker's wages up to $5,250 of educational assistance. Applicable expenses include tuition, books, equipment, fees and supplies.

Be aware that there often are strings attached to your company's educational assistance program. For instance, your employer may require that you maintain a certain grade point average.

You may also be required to remain with the company for a specified period after completing the coursework or else you're on the hook for the tuition paid.

Legal expertise

Robert Daly | Caiaimage | Getty Images

You may not need to talk to a lawyer every year, but about 3 in 10 workplaces offer their employees access to legal assistance, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

In this program, a participating worker pays for access to a network of attorneys through payroll deductions of about $20 a month, according to MetLife. You can access a lawyer for a range of issues, ranging from civil litigation to document review.

If you're looking for a good deal, consider tapping your company's group legal plan for help with your estate.

Make sure you read the fine print and do your research to make sure you're making a selection that's based on your personal circumstances.
Amy Hollis
owner, Hollis Consulting

"They can put together a comprehensive estate plan for no additional cost, including wills and powers of attorney," said Darin Shebesta, a certified financial planner and vice president of Jackson/Roskelley Wealth Advisors.

By comparison, estate planning attorneys may offer a package of core documents — including a last will and testament, a revocable trust and a powers of attorney — for thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of your case.

"For younger clients, especially those with kids, the group legal plan is a no-brainer," said Shebesta. "Opt out of it the next year if you have what you need."

College savings

MoMo Productions | Getty Images

You can set up a 529 college savings plan for your child on your own, but some employers have brought that opportunity to the workplace.

California's ScholarShare 529 plan, for instance, has spent the last several years partnering with companies so that they can offer workers the opportunity to save for college.

Workers who opt in have the convenience of funding their 529 through after-tax payroll deductions, said Julio Martinez, executive director of the ScholarShare Investment Board.

Be aware that if your employer offers you access to a 529 plan, you should still research the fees, available investments and potential state tax benefits available to make sure it's the right one for your family.

Pet insurance

Protect your pet & purse
Protect your pet & purse

Close to half of 68 large employers polled by the National Business Group on Health offer pet insurance for their workers.

Pet owners in the U.S. are expected to spend nearly $18.3 billion on veterinary care in 2018, according to data from the American Pet Products Association. That's a 7 percent increase from 2017.

Employers generally offer two varieties of coverage for workers' pets.

The first is an actual insurance plan, which comes with deductibles and premiums that can run from $300 to $1,000 a year per pet, according to Hollis.

The other is more of a discount program that will give the pet owner access to lower cost medical care at a select network of providers. This program can be closer to $80 to $200 per year per household, Hollis said.

Bear in mind that pet insurance plans often have limitations: Preexisting conditions may not be covered, and there could be additional exclusions.

For that reason, your healthy six-week-old kitten might be a better candidate for coverage than your 10-year-old diabetic cat.

"Make sure you read the fine print and do your research to make sure you're making a selection that's based on your personal circumstances," said Hollis.

More from Personal Finance
Here are two big tax breaks you shouldn't overlook
Live on a Caribbean island for as little as $24,000 a year
These 18 state tax measures could have a big impact on your wallet

How to retire in your 30s
How to retire at 30