Slow down as you pick out your employee benefits for next year. Your household finances could depend on it.
Open enrollment season — a period in which employees update their insurance coverage and other perks for the upcoming year — is just around the corner.
It's tempting to merely choose last year's insurance coverage and perks.
About a third of employees polled by Prudential Financial decided to keep their benefits from the prior year, but did so after making an informed decision.
The insurer polled 2,000 adults in August.
"People miss the mark when they stick with what they were doing before without double-checking their assumptions," said Kelley C. Long, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs' consumer financial education advocates.
"Most people set their benefits when they start their jobs, but they don't revisit their decisions," she said.
Pay close attention to these three areas of your benefits plan.
Take a close look at your health insurance coverage before making a commitment.
About 9 out of 10 employers plan on offering a high-deductible health-care plan in 2020, according to the National Business Group on Health.
These plans typically come with a tax-advantaged savings account known as a health savings account.
Workers put away pretax or tax-deductible dollars into an HSA, where it grows free of tax. You may take tax-free distributions from the account if you're paying for qualified medical expenses.
In 2020, account holders can contribute up to $3,550 on a pretax or tax-deductible basis if they have self-only insurance coverage ($7,100 if they're on a family plan).
Failure to closely examine your health insurance choices could mean you'll miss out on using the HSA — a mistake Long made when she was just starting her career.
"My parents said, 'Pick the insurance plan with the best hospital coverage,'" she said. "It was the plan with the highest premium and deluxe coverage."
"A high-deductible plan would have saved me money in my pay check in retrospect," she said.
A disability that keeps you from working will put a dent in your finances.
Employers may offer short- or long-term disability coverage, which pays up to 60% of your salary if you're unable to work.
Know the terms before you sign up.
There are two flavors of disability insurance. "Own occupation" coverage will pay if you're unable to perform the duties of your specific job, making it more generous.
"Any occupation" pays if you're unable to perform any job — a tougher standard for applicants to meet.
Long-term disability benefits have a waiting period of 90 days to six months.
A short-term disability policy that's available at work might help you get through that waiting period, but a flush emergency fund would also suffice.
"It starts to pay for itself when you get the benefits," said Leston Welsh, head of products for Prudential Group Insurance. "It's like thinking about home or auto insurance; you don't want to use it, but it's there if you need it."
Group life insurance offers workers a base level of protection with little to no medical underwriting.
Further, the premiums your employer pays to provide you with up to $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage is excluded from your income.
Odds are that this coverage alone isn't enough. You can boost your death benefit by buying supplemental life insurance at work, but it'll cost you more money and you'll go through additional underwriting.
In that case, you might be better off finding cheaper 20- or 30-year term insurance with more generous death benefits outside of your plan.
Remember: Your workplace insurance coverage is tied to your employment, so you probably can't take it along if you change jobs.
"Be aware when your coverage is tied in with your membership to that particular group," said Long.