Employers have more to offer workers than just a paycheck. Employee benefits packages should play a big part in deciding whether or not a job is right for you. Some packages will suit you better than others, so the green flags you should look for are benefits that meet your needs. Of course, that’s not always easy. There are a lot of terms and rules to learn, and sometimes it can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. But learning about the different kinds of benefits will help you compare your options and choose a job that fits your goals and lifestyle.
If you’re working full-time for an organization with more than fifty employees, you’ll likely be offered health insurance through your company. There are a lot of complicated details involved in health insurance, but here are a few definitions, tips, and reminders to help you know what to expect. As you read through them, think about what coverage you most want, how you would like to pay for it, and what costs you’re hoping to keep low. These will help you decide what your green flag plan looks like.
Premiums and Deductibles A premium is a fee to keep your insurance, usually paid monthly. A deductible is a set amount of money you are responsible for paying to cover your healthcare costs. A low deductible means that you won’t have to spend as much on your medical costs because the insurance company pays most or all of the costs beyond that deductible number. A high deductible means you will spend much of the cost yourself if you have medical bills. If you have a plan with a high deductible, your prices will probably be balanced with a lower premium, and a high-premium plan will usually be balanced with a lower deductible. To put this simply, if you expect a lot of medical expenses in the coming year, a lower deductible would likely save you money because even though your premiums are high, you’ll be responsible for only a small part of the costs of doctors appointments, medication, and procedures throughout the year.
Copay A copay (or copayment) is a fixed amount you pay for medical care, usually charged after you meet your deductible. For example, if your deductible for the year is $2000, and you have spent $2000, you would expect to be done paying for your medical expenses, but you may still need to pay fees for appointments or medication.
HSA/MSA Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) are available with insurance plans with high deductibles. They involve pre-tax dollars, which means that you can take a portion of your income that would be taxed and place it into an account specifically for medical costs. In a way, this is like the government helping you save for medical expenses; you get to keep money that you ordinarily pay in taxes on earnings, interest, and withdrawal. There are limits on the amount you can contribute to these accounts, but the money rolls over (remains available) year after year, even if you don’t spend it.
FSA/HRA A Flexible Savings Account (FSA) also allows you to save pre-tax dollars, but any money left in the account at the end of a coverage year isn’t rolled over, so you no longer have access to it. Like an HSA and MSA, there are limits on how much money you can put in an FSA. A Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) is a way that your employer can pay you back tax-free dollars after you’ve spent money on healthcare costs.
Vision and Dental Vision and dental insurance are separate from regular health insurance. Your employer may still offer these plans, but you will likely pay an additional premium on top of your health insurance premium, and these plans come with their own rules.
Retirement should be one of your most important long-term goals, and your employer can help you prepare. 401(k) and 403(b) accounts are used for retirement savings. In both, your employer sets up an account that allows you to put pre-tax dollars into an account to save money and earn interest for your retirement. Because the money you deposit is pre-tax, it allows you to save more than if you opened a separate account and deposited what was left of your paycheck after taxes. The main difference between these accounts is that 401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies, and 403(b) accounts are provided by government, education, and tax-exempt organizations. These accounts can be a great advantage in preparing for retirement, and they’re important green flags employers can offer. Still, an even better option is when an employer “matches” your 401(k)/403(b) account contributions, which means that the organization will pay as much into your account as you do, doubling your yearly retirement savings. This is one of the biggest green flags you can hope for from an employer, and it should definitely be considered when deciding which job you want to take.
You want to find a job that gives you time to rest and recharge. Generous amounts of time off are green flags, but you also need to consider how that time is offered. Employers mostly use two main methods in setting time off for workers. The first system has a few different types of leave. They usually take the form of
- Sick Leave The time set aside for workers to stay home when sick. Employers may require proof from a doctor when taking several sick days in a row.
- Vacation Leave Scheduled time off, which is generally meant for trips but can be used for any needs. Often it must be requested well in advance.
- Personal Leave Time off for unusual or unexpected life needs like taking care of family members, DMV visits, or necessary appointments. Usually can be called in on short notice.
The second system puts all the types of leave together as Paid Time Off (PTO). Employees are given a certain amount of time off and can use it however they need to. Employers will likely still request advanced notice for vacations to make sure work is covered, but generally, this is a more flexible system. Of course, any system that gives a comfortable amount of days off is a green flag, but if you have a strong preference, that’s something to keep in mind.
Parental leave is also an important benefit to consider. There’s no federal law enforcing leave for parents having or adopting children, so the required amount of leave varies greatly by state. If your family may grow in the future, it’s a very good idea to ask about the amount of leave the company offers for parents and whether that leave is paid or unpaid. Even if new children aren’t in your plans, generous parental leave at a company is a green flag; it shows that the company values its employees and wants them to stay for years.
Even if your company doesn’t offer parental leave, you may be eligible for time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
. This isn’t exactly a “benefit”, but it can be an important factor in deciding if a job is right for you.