Reaping Company Benefits
So you landed your first job, you’re making money and paying bills, and now come the perks—free little acknowledgments that you're a bona fide adult with hard-earned privileges. They may not be as exciting as first-class chopper service to the faraway destination of your dreams
or souped-up Lamborghinis, but company benefits can be very useful and worthwhile. From free gym memberships to health care and 401(k) plans, you should talk to HR or even read that little welcome booklet so you know everything that’s on the table. Then, take advantage of every perk available. Even if you plan on leaving a job soon after you start, don't be bashful—all those free morsels are yours to enjoy, and you can even take some with you when you go. Here’s a guide to taking advantage of the company you work for (in a way they design and encourage).
If you had to pick only one company benefit to have, it would be health insurance. Fortunately, we have you covered with our guide to health insurance.
401(k) Retirement Account
If health insurance is the most valuable company benefit, 401(k)s are the most undervalued. In a nutshell, a 401(k) enables you to take money you’ve earned and deposit it into an investment account before you get taxed on it. Read our guide to 401(k)’s, Roth IRA’s and other retirement options to determine if it's right for you.
Workers Comp Insurance
Certainly an important one. Let’s say you’re a hand model like Ducovny in Zoolander. Well what happens if you have a terrible gasoline fight accident and burn your precious appendages in the process? Workers comp can help. The insurance company will provide a comparable salary, and despite some nuances, it can grant you some peace of mind while you get back on your feet.
There are four types of life insurance, and all are awkward to describe—we’ll try to lay it on easy. If you have life insurance, and croak, your dependents will receive a boatload of cash. That’s why there are a lot of movies about life insurance scams—who could forget Wild Things? If you aren’t married and aren’t looking after anyone in your family, etc., this may be an insurance you consider skipping if you’re asked to pay for it. If it’s free, dig in.
Many companies provide their employees with Blackberries and cell phone plans. A shiny new Blackberry can feel like a sign that you've "made it," but once emails from your boss start coming through at midnight it's more like a leash. Furthermore, the company will have access to all your call logs, messages, minute usage. Ask others in the office to get a sense of how strict your company about using the phone for personal use. If you need more privacy, consider accepting the company plan then getting your own celly with a scaled plan (no need for those daytime minutes).
Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
This account is an enigma to most people. Ultimately, it allows you to receive a portion of your salary tax-free. The catch? You can only use that tax-free cash on certain expenditures. There are two main allowed categories: medical expenses and dependent care. Medical expenses include any bills that aren’t paid by insurance companies. Dependent care could cover things that I hope none of us worry about, like day care for the kids. Most grads haven't even heard of FSAs, but hey—it may make sense for you.
Depending upon the city you live in, you can use your salary pre-tax to purchase tokens/cards for the local transit system. You definitely have to ask around about this one, but the few hundred bucks a year it will save you will more than make up for the headache.
For all those people who don’t like needles, at least you can now get pricked for free. Depending upon your company, free flu shots might be offered. In addition, free shrinks might also be available, as well as a host of other free health care (like massages to reduce stress!). It’s certainly worth checking out before you shell out some cash from your pocket on services you could have gotten on the house.
Memberships and Discounts
Larger companies in particular may have worked out deals with local stores and services. For example, the local gym fee might be half off. Or a membership to ZipCar might be free. It can’t hurt to at the very least find out where your employer can help you save a buck or two.
There's no such thing as a "free lunch," because even if you're getting surf and turf on the Man it means he's probably expecting you to actually work hard in return. Still, you might as well take advantage of everything you can get. The only caveat with reimbursements is that sometimes they take a while to be processed by someone in the office, so don't go wild on your credit card if you don't think you'll get the money back in time to pay it off. If you do get the money back in time, however, you've just accrued points without actually spending any money of your own. Cash back!