Originally published on NewsMax
Whether this is your first experience with Open Enrollment or one of many, investing some time up front to understand your benefits options can save you money in the long run. It also helps reduce the stress that comes with putting things off.
Research shows that neglecting to carefully consider your options can actually put a dent in your wallet—42 percent of employees estimate that they waste up to $750 annually by making mistakes with insurance benefits.
These decisions are especially important given that out-of-pocket medical spending per person is set to exceed $4,300 this year, and some of your benefits can provide major financial relief for healthcare costs. By following best practices outlined here, you can choose the right benefits for you and your family during Open Enrollment.
Evaluate your options
Making a good decision is difficult without having all the facts, so you will want to know your options. Even if you liked last year’s benefits package, be aware that plan options as well as specific benefits within your current plan option may have changed. Elections may not always automatically roll over, there may be additional coverage possibilities, and contribution limits on pre-tax benefits accounts may have increased. For example, the IRS re-evaluates the contribution limits of a Health Savings Account (HSA) and a Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (Health FSA) on a yearly basis, which means the total amount of money that you can contribute may increase. Your employer will notify you about any changes to your benefits, but it is your responsibility to consider how these changes may affect you and your family personally.
Before you arrive at a decision, consider your 2016 healthcare and dependent care expenses and how your current benefits paid for those costs. Reviewing those actual numbers can help you determine the most comprehensive and cost-effective option for the next plan year. In addition, will you be getting dental implants or Lasik eye surgery this year? Does a dependent in your household need daycare? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it could make financial sense to sign up for a Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Dependent Care FSA. While not all healthcare or dependent care needs can be predicted, try to think about the big picture when possible.
Paying attention to benefits changes, personal circumstances and enrollment conditions are important first steps you don’t want to overlook!
Keep your spouse and dependents in mind
If you’re married, involve your spouse when making benefits decisions. If each of you have separate benefits from your employers, it might make more financial sense to add one of you as a dependent to your spouse’s plan. Both Healthcare FSAs and HSAs allow you to use the pre-tax funds you set aside to pay for eligible healthcare expenses for your spouse, as well as other qualifying dependents. If your company has better benefits offerings than your spouse’s (and there’s no limitation on adding your spouse to your plan), your spouse may want to consider dropping their employer’s elections altogether.
In addition, pay attention to benefits that cater to other dependents like children or qualifying relatives. A Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA) is an often overlooked benefit that can cover a wide variety of child and elder daycare services. If you have children, you can use a DCFSA to pay for eligible expenses like after-school programs, summer day camp, or nursery school̶ easing the burden of child care costs that can otherwise add up to between $10,000 and $20,000 a year.
Keep your dependents’ needs at the forefront of your decision-making. You may discover new benefits you qualify for that could help the entire family.
Review your retirement savings
While you’re setting aside time during Open Enrollment to evaluate your financial situation, put some thought into how much you should be saving for retirement. HealthView Services estimates the total cost of healthcare in retirement years to be approximately $377,412, for a couple retiring today, and that amount continues to rise. It is never too soon to start thinking about your retirement healthcare nest egg.
Your benefits have a role to play when it comes to retirement savings. In addition to your traditional 401(k), your employer may offer a Health Savings Account (HSA) in combination with an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan. An HSA is a great savings tool—not only because it allows you to use tax-free money for eligible healthcare expenses, but also because any leftover funds at the end of the year stay in your account, accruing interest and growing as the years go by. Plus, an HSA also stays with you wherever you go. Even if you change jobs, switch to a different HSA-qualified health plan, or retire, your HSA dollars are yours to keep.
Whether it’s signing up for an HSA, asking your employer about other retirement tools, or simply checking in on your retirement status, bolstering your retirement plan now will help you protect your health and financial well-being in your golden years.
While these important financial decisions may feel daunting, there are plenty of resources available for making Open Enrollment easier. Your primary resource will be your employer, specifically your HR representative or benefits administrator. As the Open Enrollment season kicks off, keep an eye out for informational resources, such as emails, flyers, videos, savings calculators, webinars and other enrollment events.
Taking the time to engage in these resources will set you up for success. Research even shows that the more time employees spend thinking about their benefits options, the more likely they’re going to make a change. As you dive in, don’t be afraid to ask for help to figure out what benefits best suit you. If you know that a group session won’t answer all your questions, schedule a one-on-one session with your HR representative to review your options. If you prefer communicating online, send an email or browse the resources posted on your employer’s intranet or social media channels (if available).
The final and most critical step: Know your open enrollment deadline! Once your employer shares the date, jot it down on your calendar. Reference the best practices outlined above, and you can approach this deadline with confidence, knowing that you’re prepared to make the right benefits decisions for the coming plan year.