This is the time of year when you begin to see and hear lots of advertisements for insurance and benefits companies. They want you to keep them in mind when you register for various employment benefits during what is known as the annual “open enrollment” period.
In most cases, it’s the only time of year when university employees may make changes to their elected fringe benefit options -- with a few exceptions for uncommon events such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death. During open enrollment, you can choose to add or drop coverage (for example, you may have passed on life insurance when you were hired, but later decide that you want that benefit). Typically, you can also change your coverage. If, for example, your employer offers a choice between an HMO and a PPO health insurance plan, you might decide to switch from one to the other during open enrollment.
Some benefits that might be available during open enrollment include:
- Medical or health coverage. You may have the option of adding health insurance coverage, changing from one plan to another, or opening a flexible spending account (FSA), which lets you defer money from your paycheck, pre-tax, to use throughout the year to pay medical bills.
- Dental insurance. You may be able to add coverage, drop coverage, or switch from one type of plan to another.
- Vision insurance. This typically helps pay for glasses, contacts and regular eye examinations. As with other types of insurance, you may be able to add or drop coverage.
- Life insurance. You can opt in or out at open enrollment; you may also have the option of paying for more coverage.
- Short-term and long-term disability coverage. This insurance pays you all or part of your usual wages if you're unable to work for a period of time because of injury or illness.
Open enrollment is most often scheduled in the fall each year, and plan enrollment decisions take effect in the following calendar year.
Open enrollment is also a good time to examine other financial issues related to work, like tax withholding. If you always receive a large refund, or you always owe the IRS money in April, your withholding is not correct. Examine your withholding to ensure you're not annually giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan until April, or that you won’t always have to cobble together enough cash to pay your income tax bill. Learn how to determine your W-4 exemptions for tax withholding.
It’s also a very good time to review the beneficiaries listed on your retirement plan and insurance policies. These documents take priority over a will, for example, and it is not uncommon for people to list one beneficiary years and years ago, and then forget to make changes when life circumstances might dictate when one is necessary.
Reviewing your retirement package with an independent adviser or tax adviser is also a good idea, to ensure your contribution level is adequate to meet your retirement goals.
Filbrandt & Company offers this benefits analysis service. Call 800-431-9740 to speak with one of our specialists.