With open enrollment season upon us, it's time to update your benefits at work, and chances are there are programs you either aren't participating in or aren't taking full advantage of. By taking a few simple steps, you may save yourself some dough -- and everyone could use more money, right?
Read on to see whether these steps could benefit you.
1. Set up an FSA
Your employer may offer a health FSA, or flexible spending arrangement. Everyone has some out-of-pocket medical expenses, and by funding your yearly expenses through an FSA, you'll cut your income taxes.
Funds you contribute to your FSA are pre-tax deductions, meaning that your taxable income will be lowered by your contributions. A good way to figure out how much to contribute is to add up your out-of-pocket costs from 2014, excluding any one-time expenses like an unplanned medical procedure or glasses (assuming you don't replace your specs every year).
Once you have that baseline amount, add in any expected new out-of-pocket costs for 2015. Make sure they are covered. For example, over-the-counter medicines typically aren't reimbursable, but contact solution and cleaners are, as contact wearers require them. The federal maximum is $2,500 per year, and you can carry over up to $500 per year. However, your employer may have lower limits. Most importantly, don't contribute more than you'll spend, because you lose what you don't use beyond the $500 carryover.
What's it worth to you? If you can benefit from contributing the full $2,500 each year, the reduction in taxable income is worth more than $300 to the median U.S. household, and depending on your situation, it could be worth more or less. The other benefit? The amount you elect each year is taken from payroll deduction, but the full amount is available the first day of the plan year. This can be handy if you have a lot of expenses early in the year, like new eyewear or braces for a kid.
2. Make sure you're getting the most from your 401(k)
While most employers allow you to enroll in a 401(k) and make adjustments to it at any time, some employers only allow such changes once a year. Regardless, your company's open enrollment period is a good time to have a look at your retirement savings and adjust your plan as necessary, perhaps rebalancing your holdings or upping your contribution.
Make sure you're contributing at least as much as your employer will match -- that's free money. Also remember that your contributions are made pre-tax, which cuts your income tax bill. You can contribute up to $18,000 in 2015 -- plus an extra $6,000 in catch-up contributions if you're over 50. Between the tax savings and the matching contributions, you could reduce your tax bill by thousands of dollars and make up for lost time if retirement is right around the corner.
Have a second or part-time job? You might be eligible for a 401(k) there as well, and there's no law against contributing to retirement accounts at both employers. If matching funds are offered by both, don't pass them up.
Even if you can't afford to contribute the maximum amount, or even enough to get all of your employer's match, contribute something, even if it's only 1% or 2% of your salary. The tax savings alone will mean your take-home pay is reduced by less than the amount you have deducted, and that money will make a big difference when you need it in retirement. You'll be surprised at how little you notice those small, pre-tax payroll deductions.
Lastly, don't let fear of losing or changing your job prevent you from contributing to a 401(k). You may not get to keep all of the matching funds, depending on your employer's vesting qualifications, but every penny you contribute belongs to you. If you leave the company, just roll those funds over into an IRA.
Self-employed? Open a self-employed 401(k) with an online broker and get the same contribution limits and tax-saving benefits.
People don't plan to fail...
They fail to plan. It's an old saying, but it's as true today as it ever was. Simple things like getting employee matches and reducing your taxes by taking advantage of FSAs and 401(k)s are easily made part of a long-term plan. Not only could you potentially save thousands of dollars in taxes every year, but those retirement funds will compound and grow tax-free until you spend them in retirement, further increasing your returns.
Your employer may offer even more ways to save, but these two are readily available for millions of people.
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