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Ten tips

By LAURA T. COFFEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002


How valuable is your benefits package?

Whether you're employed or contemplating a job offer, it's a good idea to consider the value of your benefits package. Many employers spend up to 40 percent of an employee's salary on noncash benefits, meaning that a person making $50,000 a year might get an additional $20,000 in benefits. The following tips can help you evaluate standard benefits and other perks.

1. Put a dollar value on your benefits. Think of the money your employer devotes to benefits as money you can avoid spending. This will help you assess the real value of certain benefits for you. For instance, a gym membership and tuition reimbursements could be meaningless if you know you'll never use them.

2. Standard benefits. Many companies offer health insurance, vision care, dental care, paid vacation and sick time, and paid holidays and personal days. Read the health plans' fine print so you can choose the best ones for you and your family.

3. Life and disability insurance. These benefits can be godsends for your family if anything ever happens to you. Find out whether your company offers them and how much you'll have to pay out of pocket for coverage.

4. Contributions to a 401(k) plan. If your company matches your contributions toward your tax-deferred retirement nest egg, seize the opportunity. Contribute enough to get the maximum match from your employer, and find out when the matching amount vests.

5. Profit sharing. At nonpublic companies that offer profit sharing, each employee gets a percentage of the business' profits based on their earnings. Be sure you're clear about the amount you're supposed to receive.

6. Stock options. These give employees the opportunity to buy company stock at below-market prices in future years, as long as they are still employed when the options mature. The price discount usually is in the 10 to 15 percent range.

7. Tuition reimbursement. This perk is especially valuable if you intend to pursue an advanced degree in the evenings or on weekends. Determine what kinds of course work are covered and how the benefit is paid.

8. Parking and commuting reimbursements. Some companies provide a van service, carpooling allowances or public transportation allocations for workers. Don't overlook the value of a free-parking perk if you work in a congested area.

9. "Soft benefits." It may be difficult to put a dollar value on benefits such as flexible work schedules, picking your own projects and telecommuting, but they can have a huge impact on job satisfaction.

10. Signing bonuses. Some tech and accounting companies offer signing bonuses to attract professionals to certain parts of the country. Employers often pay the bonuses in installments over a year or two to keep employees from leaving.

-- Sources: Collegegrad.com; iVillage; Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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