6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

Happy at workSebastiaan ter Burg/FlickrIf you tap into employee benefits, you can save a bunch of money every year.

Employee benefits can be confusing, complex, and not fun to talk about.

As a result, they're often overlooked or ignored - but if you're not taking full advantage of your benefits, you're leaving money on the table.

Many employers have a three-week long open enrollment period - generally in the fall - in which many of these benefits are available to select, so it's important to be aware of your company's enrollment window.

(This is different from the open enrollment period offered by HealthCare.gov).

"These three weeks are when employees make some of the biggest purchasing decisions of the year," says Britta Meyer, CMO at consumer-directed benefits administrator WageWorks. "But what we're finding is that people are not paying attention. People are spending more time planning vacations or holiday shopping than they are selecting benefits that are affecting themselves and their families for the entire next year."

It's worth it to put in research and talk to your human resources department to understand the scope of what's available to you.

Start by taking the time to look into these six underutilized, yet incredibly valuable, benefits that could save you thousands of dollars each year:

This article was written by Business Insider without the involvement of Merrill Lynch.

View As: One Page Slides

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

1. 401(k) match

In many cases, employers offer a 401(k) match program, in which your company will match whatever contribution you put towards your 401(k) up to a certain amount.

It's essentially free money, yet US workers are failing to take advantage of at least $24 billion in employer retirement matches each year, Reuters reports.

If you have an employer match, calculate how much you need to contribute to get the full match. If you can afford to have that amount taken out of your paycheck and still meet your financial obligations, do it.

You can set up your account so that the contributing money is sent directly to your 401(k) account, meaning you'll never even see it in your paycheck — if you don't see the money, you'll learn to live without it. (Same goes if you're contributing to your 401(k) without a match.)

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

2. Healthcare flexible spending account (FSA)

A healthcare flexible spending account is a pre-tax benefit account you can use to cover a variety of healthcare products and services, from acupuncture and physical therapy to vaccines and over-the-counter medicine (see the full list of eligible expenses).

You can put up to $2,550 of tax-free money into this account in 2015, and save about 30% on healthcare expenses with the tax break, WageWorks reports.

Note that if you leave your job, any money leftover in your FSA stays with your employer. Also, if you don't spend all of the money you contributed at the beginning of the year, you can only carry over up to $500 at the end of the year, so it's important to choose your annual contribution carefully.

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

3. Dependent care flexible spending account

If you have younger children, dependent care FSA's are worth considering. This account works very similarly to the healthcare FSA, in that you can contribute pre-tax money, but is specific for dependent care services, such as preschool, summer camp, daycare, or before and after school programs.

In some cases, you'll receive a debit card from your company to use towards services such as daycare and summer camp. If you're paying a nanny or babysitter, you can pay them with cash and then apply for reimbursement.

"It is probably the single most underutilized benefit," says Meyer. "Employers offer it quite frequently, but people are not taking advantage of it."

Similarly to healthcare FSAs, a dependent care FSA is an annual account, and the money you contribute must be used within the plan year. Some companies will offer a grace period of up to two and a half months at the end of your plan year to spend the remaining money.

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

4. Health savings account (HSA)

Another health-related benefit you may be able to tap into is the health savings account (HSA), into which you can put pre-tax money and use towards medical costs whenever you want, not just during the plan year. The contribution limits are higher than FSA's — $6,550 for a family in 2015 — and there's no limit to how much can be rolled over at the end of the year.

To qualify for a HSA, the IRS requires you to be on a high-deductible health care plan (HDHP) — a plan that offers a lower health insurance premium and a high deductible. This option is particularly advantageous for those who are generally healthy and don't have to go to the doctor's office or hospital that often, such as 20- or 30-somes without children who are looking to save for future health care expenses.

"It's one of the more popular benefits these days," Meyer says. "It allows you to contribute on a paycheck by paycheck basis, and you can keep it for as long as you want, even if you change jobs."

While you can use it to pay for qualifying healthcare expenses today, you can also use it as a complementary tool for retirement planning, as the tax-free funds will always be available for you to use.

"If you can afford it, you can contribute to it even in the early years of your career when you may not have a lot of medical expenses," Meyer explains. "You can contribute year after year and develop a 'healthcare nest egg' that grows over time and will always be there for you."

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

5. Commuter benefit account

Commuter benefits are often overlooked, but they can save you over $600 each year, WageWorks tells the Wall Street Journal.

The concept is simple: Employees can use pre-tax money from their paychecks to cover mass-transit passes — including the train, subway, bus, and ferry — and parking.

You can set aside a maximum of $130 a month for public transportation and up to $250 for parking.

6 work benefits you're overlooking that could save you thousands

6. Fitness reimbursement program

Depending on your employer, you could receive reimbursements for many common health related expenses, such as gym membership fees, fitness classes, or sports league teams.

While you're looking into fitness reimbursements, check out other expenses your company may reimburse, such as cell phone plans, moving costs, or professional development classes.

This article was written by Business Insider without the involvement of Merrill Lynch.

Add Comment()
Comments ()
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.