By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Poring over complicated issues like health insurance can feel like drudgery that we want to avoid.
More than two out of three employees (67%) spend less than 30 minutes reviewing benefits options during open enrollment season, while almost half spend less than 20 minutes, a new Voya Financial survey shows.
Yet the average American spends more than two hours a day on social media.
To get enrollment over with quickly, more than 90% of employees click the same options as last year, a new report by insurer Aflac shows.
Treat benefits like a pile of cash on a table instead, because your choices can add up to thousands of dollars each year. Compound that figure from enrollment every November, and you can see how your options can create a solid financial future or a shaky one.
Employee benefits account for almost 30% of total private sector compensation, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. For government workers, the proportion rises to almost 40%.
“Open enrollment isn’t just a formality. It’s a financial cornerstone,” said Sean Lovison, a financial planner in Moorestown, New Jersey. “Neglecting it is essentially leaving money on the table.”
Here are three tips to make the most of your benefits.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BEST TAX DEAL AROUND
If your company offers a Health Savings Account, put in as much as possible for the triple tax advantage. Contributions are pre-tax, lessening your IRS hit on April 15. You can invest and withdraw that money tax-free for qualified medical expenses.
Contributions to Flexible Spending Accounts are also pre-tax but cannot be invested, and must be used up within the year.
Employers might contribute to HSAs or even match what employees chip in. Since an account is not tied to a job, you can take it with you to another employer. Even better, you need not use the funds by year-end but can let them grow until you need them.
“HSAs are very underutilized,” said Jack Heintzelman, a financial adviser in Needham Heights, Massachusetts. “If you have a high-deductible health plan, you have to be using these.”
INSURE, INSURE, INSURE
For individuals, the cost of insurance coverage in areas like life and disability can be prohibitive.
Large employers, thanks to group purchasing power, often offer such policies at very attractive premiums. If available, consider covering yourself to the hilt, perhaps even on top of policies outside of work.
“Group life insurance is crucial for people with pre-existing conditions who are denied independent coverage,” said certified financial planner Spenser Liszt of Motif Planning in Dallas. “The benefit covers up to certain amounts without evidence of insurability.”
Employees have a 1-in-4 chance of sustaining a disability during their career, Liszt noted, making company-paid disability policies vital to covering potential loss of income.
You might also encounter a growing number of voluntary insurance options designed to address healthcare system gaps, said Nate Black, Voya’s vice president of health solutions product. Supplemental policies like accident, critical illness, and hospital indemnity can help cover whatever your main policy does not.
More than a quarter of employees (27%) leave important financial choices until the last week before the deadline, the Voya survey showed, leaving little time to consider the best options.
Do due diligence to maximize your benefits. That could mean talking to HR, going through an employee handbook, or watching company videos to walk you through the process.
After all, things might have changed since the previous open enrollment.
“Keep an open mind, and don’t just automatically do the same thing you did last year,” Black said. “Plans change, and benefits change, and it’s always worth exploring to see what else is available.”
(Reporting by Chris Taylor: Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)