Volunteer to Benefit

In the past, employees tended to think of a benefits package as being pretty straightforward: It included health coverage and retirement savings. Oh, and, every once in a while, someone would tell you about supplemental life insurance, a “voluntary benefit offered through your company.” A lot of people shrugged and stuck to the basic package. In recent years, the list of voluntary benefits – optional benefits offered through, but not necessarily paid for by, your employer – has virtually exploded and grown increasingly valuable to employees … at least to those who take advantage of them.

How can you benefit from voluntary benefits? By understanding what’s available and how to make the most of it. The following are some concepts to consider as you review your options:

Why would I want voluntary benefits? Traditionally, voluntary benefits added value to what your employer offers (supplemental life insurance, for example) or filled in gaps in your benefits (vision coverage, maybe). More recently, voluntary benefits have sought to provide things like increased financial security, access to credit solutions, and even pet insurance. In these and other cases, you pay for the benefits yourself, but you likely get a better deal by buying it through your employer.

What’s available? Employers typically choose from a broad menu of voluntary benefit options (e.g., Critical Illness, Identity Theft Protection, Pet Insurance) based on what they think their employees will value. Check with your HR team to find out what your employer offers. If there’s a great benefit not being offered by your employer, ask if it could be added.

What should I consider before signing up? Think about what would make your life better. Do you need to protect yourself from a financial catastrophe? Do you need to resolve old debts? Do you need some sort of additional health coverage? In other words, look to fill a need, not just get more benefits.

Why get them through my employer? For one thing, they’ll likely be cheaper, but that’s not the only advantage. You also know that they’ve been vetted by your HR team, so you can have more confidence in what you’re getting. You also might have greater flexibility in what you can get than if you went to a broker, and you can have the cost deducted from your paycheck.

Use what you get. You’d be surprised by how many people have access to valuable voluntary benefits but never take advantage of them. As with flexible spending plans and retirement accounts, many employees “leave money on the table” by failing to take advantage of everything they could. Do your homework and make yourself a good benefits customer. You might find you have access to a lot more valuable benefits than you realized.

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