One of the many perks of becoming a permanent employee is getting access to a host of workplace benefits. But don't get too excited -- you may have to work a certain minimum period of time before becoming eligible to enjoy those benefits. Here are a few that tend to come with a waiting period, and what to do about it.
1. Health insurance
Health benefits are a major plus for permanent workers, since often, your employer will subsidize a large chunk of your insurance premium, making it more affordable for you on a whole. But don't assume you'll be eligible for health insurance right away when you start a new job. Often, you'll need to wait a minimum of 30 days, or as long as 90 days, before getting coverage under your employer's group plan, so don't let yourself get stuck without insurance.
Thankfully, you have a few options for securing coverage during that transition. First, you can see about continuing your old coverage under COBRA, which allows you to retain your previous plan provided you're willing to pay its premiums costs in full. The downside of COBRA is that it can be prohibitively expensive, but if you're looking at, say, a 60-day coverage gap, and you know you have solid coverage under your old plan, it might pay to bear that cost until you can move over to a new health plan.
Another option is to buy your own plan on the open marketplace. The advantage of going this route is that you might pay a lot less per month than with COBRA. The downside, on the other hand, is that you might experience a dip in coverage -- and if you encounter a major health issue during that period, you could end up spending more out of pocket.
Finally, you might talk to your employer about paying your way into its plan and getting access to coverage right away. Though your company's policy might state that employees don't get subsidized insurance immediately, if you're willing to pay those premiums in full, you may be allowed to start on that group health plan sooner.
2. Vacation time
Paid time off is one of those benefits permanent employees look forward to the most. But if you're new to a job, you might have to accrue time off based on hours worked, as opposed to being eligible for paid vacation or sick time right away. Now the most obvious solution here is to avoid being out of the office until you're eligible to get paid for it. But what if you come down with the flu, or have an out-of-town wedding you must travel for during that transition period?
First, know that you probably have the option to take that time off without pay. Is that ideal? Certainly not. But if you can swing it financially, it's probably the easiest solution. If that doesn't work, you can see about making up those days by working weekends instead. Some companies are more flexible than others, so it pays to discuss your personal situation with your manager and see what you can work out.
3. 401(k) participation
Some companies allow you to sign up for their 401(k) plans right away. Others, however, might make you wait a year to participate. And then there are those that allow you to contribute immediately, but wait to become eligible for employee matching dollars.
Your solution here will depend on the specifics of your employer's policy. If you're barred from making plan contributions for a given period of time (say, a year), you can always save for retirement in an IRA instead. The downside is that you'll be limited to a lower annual maximum contribution -- $5,500 if you're under 50, and $6,500 if you're 50 or older, compared to $18,500 and $24,500, respectively, for a 401(k). Still, saving some money in a tax-advantaged fashion is better than saving none.
As far as matching goes, if your employer states that you don't get a match right away, there's not much you can do about it. But make sure that's really the case. Some companies put their employees on a vesting schedule where they receive a 401(k) match immediately, but must remain employed for a specific period of time to get full access to that money. If that's the case, then be sure to contribute enough of your own earnings to snag that match as soon as you can. Otherwise, you'll be giving up free money.
Waiting isn't always easy, especially when it comes to workplace benefits. If you're starting at a new company, make sure you understand what benefits you won't have access to immediately. This way, you can plan around them and start that job off on the right foot.
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