First the bad news: salary budgets remain tight at many companies. Your annual raises may be modest at best. Some firms are under salary freezes. Now the good news: even under these conditions there are strategies you can use to receive more money from your employer. These are summarized below.
Your 401(k) Plan
Put enough money in your firm’s 401(k) plan so you maximize the matching funds your employer contributes. A lot of people don’t do this according to Mark Schmidt, vice president of research at the Society for Human Resource Management. If you don’t collect the entire company match, you’re “leaving money on the table” according to Schmidt.
Some firms offer employees subsidies covering college or short course tuition and books. These subsidies may also be available for certifications, licensure and professional development courses. These courses usually have to be job related or useful in your future career development. You will probably need your manager’s approval to obtain a refund for these expenses as well as maintaining a passing grade.
There may be other restrictions. For example, studies must be at accredited institutions and you may only be reimbursed if you earn a minimum grade as defined by your company. The first $5,250 of reimbursement funds (per federal standards) per year is not taxable. You company my not offer the full federally allotted amount, so inquire with HR on your company’s benefit policy. In addition, your company may also award scholarships for your children going to college.
Medical Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA’s)
Many employers offer employees flexible-spending accounts (FSAs). These allow you to set aside part of your salary before taxes for spending on eligible medical expenses. If you should have a good idea of what medical expenses you’ll have in the coming year you can put that dollar amount in your FSA. This allows you to save money on your income taxes while having money set aside for planned medical expenses.
Health and Life Insurance Programs
Obtaining your health, disability and life insurance from your employer is usually cheaper than obtaining insurance from other sources. The disadvantage of this insurance is that it isn’t portable. This usually doesn’t matter if you leave your employer for a job at another. However, it could matter very much if you become unemployed. In particular, look into the U.S. Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Under COBRA employees who lose their jobs can continue to receive health benefits by their employer’s group health plan for an extended period, usually 18 months. However, the former employee must pay the full cost of the insurance. The advantage is that you and your family do not go without health insurance between jobs.
Employer Wellness’ Programs
Many employers want their workers to be fit. They subsidize gym memberships, smoking cessation programs and other health programs. Reimbursement is generally taxable; however, you could have lower medical expenses by taking positive steps to improve your physical and mental health.
Job Exit Strategy
If you lose your job, you may be able to receive some additional funds from your employer. Try to negotiate a severance payment that provides additional benefits beyond your firm’s standard severance package. For example, when I changed jobs I had several invention disclosures approved for filing as patent applications. I was paid a consulting fee to work with my former employer’s patent attorneys to prepare these patent applications.
Be sure you are paid for the vacation time you have accrued but have not yet used. Determine if you have any money left in your medical flexible spending account. If so, spend the funds appropriately. For example, you might go to an optician and get an extra pair of prescription eyeglasses or refills on prescriptions.
Don’t feel embarrassed about asking for these funds. Since the last recession began, the average time it takes to find another job is becoming longer and longer. So any additional funds you obtain from your employer could prove to be very useful and keeping you on the right track to finding your next opportunity.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1400 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.