Liz Weston: What are your employee benefits really worth?

Oct 31, 2022, 4:00 AM | Updated: 6:55 am
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal fi...

FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal finance website NerdWallet.com. Benefits make up more than 30% of the typical compensation package, but companies aren't always clear about how much value they add for employees. Knowing what benefits are worth can help you evaluate job offers or better negotiate your next raise. When reviewing your employer's current offerings, start by checking your pay stub for health insurance contributions. Next, evaluate your retirement plan and company match. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

(NerdWallet via AP, File)

Benefits make up more than 30% of the typical job’s compensation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics . But figuring out what your benefits are worth isn’t always easy.

You may need to do a little digging to find how much your employer contributes toward health insurance, retirement plans and other perks. Some benefits also have nonmonetary value, and people can value the same benefits in different ways.

For example, people with health conditions are likely to appreciate guaranteed access to disability or life insurance that could be hard to get or prohibitively expensive otherwise. Someone with student loans may value a program to help with education debt far more than someone without student loan debt.

Now that open enrollment season is upon us again, it’s a great time to review your employer’s current offerings. Understanding what your benefits are worth could renew your commitment to your current job — or make you realize it’s time to seek out a better deal. If you’re thinking of becoming self-employed, you can better understand how much more you’ll need to earn to replace your current benefits.

Here are some of the most common benefits, along with typical employer contribution amounts, according to Mercer , an employee benefits consultant.

HEALTH INSURANCE: $5,000 TO $20,000

Employer-provided health insurance plans range from bare bones to fairly extravagant. On average, though, employers paid 83% of the $7,739 premium last year for single coverage and 73% of the $22,221 premium for family coverage, according to KFF, a health insurance research organization.

You can find what both you and your employer paid for your health insurance last year on your 2021 W-2, says Paul Fronstin, director of health benefits research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, or EBRI. The annual figure is often reported using a “DD” code.

Your employer also may break out its contribution on your pay stub. A pay stub is a document that provides the details of your gross and after-tax pay along with various deductions. You often can access your pay stub through your company’s online payroll system; ask your human resources department for details.

Premiums are just one factor in evaluating your health care coverage, of course. Deductibles, co-pays and provider networks matter as well. Having access to different types of plans can make open enrollment more confusing, but it also can help you tailor your coverage to your situation.

RETIREMENT SAVINGS PLAN: 3% TO 10% OF SALARY

EBRI surveys have consistently found that the benefit employees value most after health insurance is access to a retirement plan, with all other benefits coming in at “a distant third,” Fronstin says.

People who have workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s are far more likely to save for retirement than those who don’t, according to AARP . These plans offer automatic paycheck deductions, and many sign people up automatically as well.

Most 401(k)s also come with company matches — free money that can help employees build wealth faster. Among the most common matches are 50% of the first 6% of salary the worker contributes, or a dollar-for-dollar match of 3% to 6% of pay.

Employers can contribute an even greater percentage of pay to traditional pension plans, which promise a specified monthly benefit amount in retirement. That’s in contrast to 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans, where the amounts you get in retirement depend on how much is contributed and how your investments perform.

Pensions are still common among government agencies, colleges and health care nonprofits, although only about 15% of private sector workers have access to such plans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

EVERYTHING ELSE: ZERO TO THOUSANDS

Employers that provide dental insurance usually pay $500 to $2,500 a year for the coverage, according to Sandra Sweeney, principal in Mercer’s career practice. Life insurance averages $100 to $300 per employee, while disability insurance usually costs $250 to $1,500.

Employers may offer access to other coverage, such as additional life insurance, long-term care insurance or pet insurance. Workers typically pay the full cost but may benefit from group rates for the policies, Fronstin says.

Help with education costs is increasingly popular, as well. About half of employers offer tuition assistance, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And of the companies surveyed by EBRI last year, 17% offered some kind of student loan debt assistance while another 31% planned to do so.

Workers can also exclude up to $5,250 of tuition assistance from their incomes on their tax returns, according to the IRS. And through 2025, the limit includes student loan repayment help, as well.

Remember that your employer provides benefits to attract, retain and reward workers. If you’re not sure what all your benefits are, or what they’re worth, your human resources department should be happy to fill you in, says Fronstin.

“Ask your employer,” Fronstin says. “It’s not a secret.”

_____________________________

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. The content is for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute investment advice. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

METHODOLOGY:

The 2021 EBRI Financial Wellbeing Employer Survey was collected through a 15-minute online survey of 250 full-time benefits decision makers conducted in June and July 2021. All respondents worked full time at companies with at least 500 employees that were at least interested in offering financial wellness programs. Respondents were required to have at least moderate influence on their company’s employee benefits program and selection of financial wellness offerings. Additionally, respondents were required to hold an executive, officer, or manager position in the areas of human resources, compensation, or finance.”

EBRI. (October, 2021). “2021 EBRI Financial Wellbeing Employer Survey: Focus on COVID-19 and Diversity Goals.” https://www.ebri.org/docs/default-source/ebri-issue-brief/ebri_ib_544_fwes2021-28oct21.pdf?sfvrsn=51443b2f_4

RELATED LINK:

NerdWallet: How to choose health insurance: Your step-by-step guide https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-choose-health-insurance

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Liz Weston: What are your employee benefits really worth?