How Employees Can Maximize Benefits During Inflation

Employer benefits may help you save and invest more during periods of high inflation.

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Employee benefits are one of the most attractive things about a prospective job and can determine whether you take an opportunity or leave it. When you do decide to take the job, do you maximize the benefits?

If not, you may be leaving money on the table. And in this time of high inflation, you need all the cash you can get to offset rising prices.

In the spirit of focusing on what you can control, let's talk about employee benefits and how you may be able to use them to your advantage during these uncertain times.

Know your benefits

Before you can maximize your employee benefits, you have to know what they are, says Samantha Gorelick, a certified financial planner at Brunch and Budget, a financial consulting firm based in New York City.

“A lot of people don't actually know how much their employer will match, or what their employer even offers in terms of 401(k)s, contributions to (a health savings account) or (a flexible spendings account), or even short-term, long-term disability,” she says.

Gorelick says knowing what you have access to can affect your financial situation.

FYI, this also happens to be open enrollment season for some companies, so it’s a great time to understand your benefits better. Open enrollment provides a limited window for you to opt into the benefits you may not be receiving, evaluate your plan and its costs, and opt out of benefits you may no longer need. It usually takes place between October and January, depending on your company.

Think about health savings accounts

Assessing your health care options isn’t always the most glamorous task, but it can have financial perks.

For instance, if you realize you haven’t used many health care services in the past year and you’re relatively healthy, contributing to a health care FSA or HSA may be more cost-effective than paying a high monthly premium.

HSAs and FSAs mimic bank accounts that allow you to pay for your health care expenses out of pocket. Sometimes, your employer will contribute to those accounts, too. To contribute to an HSA, you must have a high-deductible health care plan.

Both accounts can present opportunities employees can take advantage of, especially regarding tax benefits, says John Campbell, a senior vice president and senior wealth strategist at U.S. Bank.

“When you look at their HSA or FSA accounts, that is an opportunity for them to set money aside on a pre-tax basis that they can tap into to cover qualified or eligible medical expenses and deductibles that might be there,” he says.

With HSAs, the money you contribute grows tax-free, and qualified health care withdrawals are tax-free, too.

Note that FSAs and HSAs are different in that with the former, you have to spend the money in the account by the end of the year. However, with HSAs, you can roll any money you don’t spend to the following year. You can also invest with your HSA, as you would with a brokerage account, Campbell says.

“So it's not just getting a money market kind of a rate, but they may even be able to take some of those funds and have some of it allocated towards mutual fund-type investments inside of the account itself,” he says.

Campbell says HSAs are a savings and investing vehicle people can use to keep pace with rising health care costs in the future.

If you decide to use HSAs or FSAs, keep in mind that they have different contribution limits. FSA limits are $2,850 for individuals and $5,700 for families in 2022 and can be used with many health plans. Individuals with a high-deductible health plan can contribute up to $3,650 to HSAs; if you have a family high-deductible health plan, you can contribute $7,300.

Tap into education stipends

There’s no telling what could happen with the job market if inflation keeps rising. One way to boost your resume, so you’re in a good position regardless of which way the job market swings, is to use education benefits such as tuition reimbursements or learning stipends.

Consider using that benefit to take a course or get a qualification that develops your skills and increases your earning potential.

“If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, this could help you by freeing up money you might have spent out of pocket for tuition, allowing you to save or invest that money,” says Campbell.

Negotiate a pay raise or employee stocks

Consider negotiating for a pay raise or employee stocks to improve your financial situation.

As the end of the year approaches, think about assessing your performance throughout the year and building a case to renegotiate your salary. If you have salary reviews coming up, even better.

“A pay raise can help you offset some of the increases in cost of living due to inflation and maintain your purchasing power and your ability to save,'' says Campbell.

Evaluate retirement account contributions

Everyone’s risk tolerance is different when investing, especially when the market is taking a nosedive.

If you can stomach it, consider upping your contributions to retirement accounts beyond your employee match if you get one, says Gorelick.

If you’ve maxed out your 401(k) limits, after-tax 401(k) contributions may be another investment strategy if your employer offers it. You can contribute up to $61,000 post-tax dollars into your 401(k) in 2022, giving you more tax-deferred growth on your investments.

On the other hand, you may be too financially stressed to raise your contributions, and that’s understandable. Other options, in that case, are to replenish your cash reserves or scale back on your retirement account contributions.

“We are in periods of inflation, which means most people may opt to keep more money in their pocket instead of putting it away into an investment account,” says Gorelick.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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