If you’ve ever opened an employer benefits guide, you know that they’re usually full of jargon and an overwhelming number of options. This might tempt you to close your eyes and checkboxes or, even worse, ignore the information altogether. But ignoring your benefits options isn’t the best way to think about them.
For many employers, benefits can be up to 30% of the cost of an employee. In other words, if your employer is spending $100,000 on your salary, for example, they might be spending an extra $30,000 per year on your benefits. At this price point, employer benefits aren’t something you should ignore. After all, would you ignore a $30,000 car or luxury vacation if your boss was giving it to you? Of course not! You’d take it in a heartbeat.
So now that you know why employer benefits matter, here’s a 101 guide on how to understand and consider them:
When you have kids to raise and a family to feed, retirement may feel like it couldn’t be further away. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore retirement savings options offered by your employer. After all, whether they come in the form of defined benefit or defined contribution plans, retirement savings are a huge benefit you can get from your workplace.
These days, it’s common for employers to “match employee contributions" to their pension plans. This means that if you contribute 3% of your salary, your employer might match that contribution (raising your total savings to 6% of your salary). If you have an option to participate or contribute, choosing not to join a retirement savings plan or contribute can be like saying no to free money. You wouldn’t say no to a pay raise, so why would you want to turn down the option of having more money during retirement?
In most cases, your company’s contributions vest—or become yours—after you’ve worked there for a certain number of years. In comparison, the money you contribute is always yours even if you leave before the vesting period ends.
Your employer health benefits plan is a valuable asset for you and your family. These are the most common benefits included:
- Drugs - reimburses a portion of most prescription drug costs
- Vision - covers prescription eyeglasses or lenses
- Dental - covers expenses ranging from cleanings to orthodontics
- Hospital - covers hospital care costs that aren’t covered by your provincial plan
- Additional medical – covers services provided by chiropractors, physiotherapists, nutritionists, and other health care professionals
Flexible spending accounts
These days, many employers contribute to a flexible spending account. You can think of this as a top-up to the health/medical benefits you already have. As an employee, you can use the allocated funds as needed for eligible health-related expenses that aren’t covered by your provincial health plan or your employer’s regular benefits plan.
Many people have at least some life insurance coverage as part of their employer benefits plan. In most cases, group life insurance gives you coverage that’s 1x to 2x your annual salary (which is a pretty sweet deal).
If you’re single with no dependents, a sum valued at 1x to 2x times your salary is a big chunk of change. In fact, it’s more than we recommend for our users. But if you have a partner and kids or debts, it usually isn’t enough. So if you fall into this category and you’re coasting on group life insurance coverage, you should find out whether it’s sufficient.
How do you figure out if you have the coverage you need? Complete our free online life insurance checkup.
According to Stats Canada, almost 14% of Canadians aged 15+, which works out to 3.8 million people, report having a disability that limits their daily activities. And 1 in 10 people of working age (15–64 years) report having one.
For this reason, it’s important to ensure you have a disability policy. These come in two forms: short-term disability policies, which provide benefits for up to six months, and long-term disability policies, which cover you past this point. If you have a disability, you’ll typically receive 60% to 66% of your pre-tax salary. This works out to be about the same amount you’d typically make after taxes. And it’s very different from being unable to work and not having any money coming in.
You may think you won’t ever need disability insurance. But in our eyes, undervaluing disability insurance is a big problem. Most people underestimate their risk of getting disability and, therefore, don’t pay enough attention to this part of their employer benefits package.
The fix: Say yes if your employer pays the full cost of disability insurance. (What do you have to lose?) And if your employer offers it but doesn’t pay for it, seriously consider buying it.
And many more
As employers look for new ways to retain talent, the options and creativity in employer benefits plans have surged. Here are a few more benefits you might see these days (and may even be lucky enough to enjoy):
- Unlimited vacation/sick time
- Commuter benefits (for example, paid public transportation passes)
- Volunteer hours (for example, a free paid volunteer day)
- Fitness club allowance
- Continuing education or professional development allowances
Review your options
The benefits your employer offers may not seem as tangible as your salary. But the truth is that these benefits can have a significant monetary value, and they can improve your life in many ways. When it’s time to select between different benefits options, set aside time to consider your choices. When you understand your options, you’ll be in the best position to make the most of your entire benefits package.