Many employees dread open enrollment at work, otherwise known as that period when you'll need to select your benefits for the upcoming calendar year. The reason? Choosing benefits can be stressful, which explains why a large percentage of workers tend to retain their existing benefits, even when better choices exist.
But new data from Prudential reveals some encouraging news in this regard: A good 65% of employees elected new benefits this year rather than sticking with what they already had. This indicates that workers are putting more thought into open enrollment. If you're not sure whether to change up your benefits during open enrollment, ask yourself these important questions to see if a switch makes sense.
1. Is my health insurance plan meeting my needs?
Tempting as it may be to keep the same health plan you're used to, doing so could mean spending more money than necessary. For example, if you're paying for a high-premium plan to keep your deductibles low, but you rarely get sick and don't have a known medical condition, then it could pay to switch to a plan that costs you less money off the bat via lower premiums, but comes with a higher deductible.
Or, the flip side may be true. If high deductibles have been hurting you financially, paying a higher premium could lower them substantially.
But don't just look at premiums and deductibles; see what coverage your different plan choices offer. The ability to go out of network or see specialists without a referral from your primary care physician could make it much easier to take care of your health in the coming year, so explore your options before settling for the plan you're already on (unless you happen to love it).
2. Do I need the supplemental benefits I'm currently paying for -- or new benefits I don't already have?
Maybe you're paying for a legal plan through your employer this year because you knew you were buying a house and would need an attorney to help with your closing. Or maybe you bought pet insurance in an attempt to defray the cost of caring for your newly adopted dog. Benefits like these can be helpful when circumstances warrant them, but before you renew them automatically, make sure you still need them. For example, if you don't expect to need legal assistance next year, why pay the fee for attorney access? And if you found that your pet insurance hasn't really been worth the fee, why retain it?
Or, you may be in the opposite situation. Maybe you didn't have a pet during last year's open enrollment, but you've since adopted a cat and want help covering the cost of its care. Or maybe you realized the time has come to stop putting off a will, and so having a legal plan for the coming year will help. The key, either way, is to think things through so you don't pay for benefits you don't need, or don't miss out on the ones you do need.
3. Am I using tax-advantaged accounts wisely?
Chances are, your employer offers a number of tax-advantaged tools that can help you set aside money for important purposes while shielding some of your income from the IRS. For example, if your company sponsors a 401(k) plan for retirement, participating will help you not only build a nest egg, but pay less tax in the coming year (provided you save in a traditional 401(k), not a Roth).
The same holds true if your company offers a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). With the former, you can contribute money to cover the cost of near-term medical expenses, keeping in mind that you must deplete your balance by the end of your plan year or risk forfeiting the remainder. With the latter, you can contribute funds for healthcare costs that don't expire. In fact, you can invest whatever money you're not using immediately for added growth. HSA eligibility hinges on having a high-deductible health insurance plan, so that's something to consider when you weigh your health coverage options, too.
Keep in mind that if you already have one of these accounts, you may want to change the amount of money you put in to account for your personal spending needs, as well as changes to each account's annual contribution limit. For example, if you put $2,000 into your 2019 FSA but are struggling to spend down that balance, it's a sign that you should think about contributing less for 2020.
It could very well be the case that the benefits you have at present are the benefits you should keep for the upcoming year. But don't go that route out of laziness. Instead, take the time to weigh your options during open enrollment at work so you wind up electing the right benefits for 2020.