Personal Finance

It may sound crazy, but employees are leaving money on the table at work 

Key Points
  • Salary only makes up a portion of your actual compensation. If you fail to optimize your employee benefits, you’re missing out.
  • Fewer than 3 out of 10 workers say they’re very confident that they’re using their workplace benefits to their fullest potential.
  • On average, your workplace benefits — including retirement plans and health insurance — account for 31.7 percent of your compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Can you imagine refusing a portion of your paycheck and giving the money back to your employer instead?

That's essentially what you're doing if you fail to use your benefits to their full extent.

"It's often the little things that add up," said Kelley Long, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs' Consumer Financial Education Advocates.

"It can equal a couple thousand dollars per year, literally cash in your pocket," she said.

In fact, your workplace benefits average out to approximately 31 percent of your compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The point isn't lost on workers: Four out of 5 individuals polled by the AICPA said they would choose a job with benefits over an identical gig that offered a 30 percent increase in salary but no benefits.

The institute surveyed 2,026 adults in an online poll in April.

Here are the most valued workplace benefits and how to get the most out of them.

Highly favored benefits

More than half of the participants in the AICPA survey cited employers' 401(k) match and health insurance as the most desirable workplace benefits. Paid time off came in third, garnering 33 percent of the vote.

Further, about 1 in 5 participating millennials indicated that student loan forgiveness would help them reach their financial goals.

Though retirement plans and health-care benefits tend to be the headline workplace perks for many employees, Long said that workers should get to know the other perks they may have to get the most value from their compensation.

Underrated workplace benefits include access to back-up care services for employees who have small children or elderly parents, as well as counseling sessions for workers who are grappling with stress and other troubles, Long said.

Reimbursements of certain employee expenses are another item that might go overlooked, she added. If you're staying at the office late, ask about a reimbursement for a cab ride home or for dinner you consume at work.

"Take the step to get a reimbursement because, if you don't, it's literally money you're leaving on the table," said Long.

Optimize your benefits

Here are a few ways to maximize your use of workplace benefits, according to Long.

Participate in wellness activities: Whether it's your company's initiative to get you to log additional steps during the day or a gentle nudge to register for a financial wellness program, you might be eligible for a small bonus just for signing up, said Long.

"It's money for things you want to do anyway," she said.

Be smart about your health savings account: This tax advantaged savings account is paired with high-deductible health-care plans.

With an HSA, you can put away pretax dollars, have them accumulate free of taxes and then spend them tax-free — as long as you use the money for qualified medical expenses.

"These plans deserve a second look if you're young and healthy," said Long.

Think beyond your traditional workplace offerings: Don't be afraid to dive into the nitty-gritty with your employer. Ask about how each works and learn more about how to get the most from them.

"Student loan repayment perks are very sexy, but how do they work?" asked Long. "They're usually capped at a certain amount."

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