Don’t overlook these ways to maximize your salary and benefits.

7 minute read

Financial stress holds many Americans back from achieving career goals and, in turn, life goals. But there are often overlooked ways employers may help.

After a probationary period at work, a lot of U.S. workers forget what benefits their HR director mentioned during the onboarding process. Interestingly, most American workers want some kind of financial help from work when asked.

A recent report called “Future of Money” found 77 percent of respondents feel it’s “important when employers offer money management services.”

Find out below 10 ways you can optimize your salary and benefits from work to better reach your financial goals.

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1. Split your paycheck so saving money becomes automatic

Most jobs pay through Direct Deposit now and you can send the money wherever you want. This means you can split the money between two accounts, which can be really beneficial for saving.

Ask your HR department to send a portion of each paycheck to your savings account through Direct Deposit. Determine how much you want to save each month (ideally, 5-10% of your income), then separate your Direct Deposit. It’s free to do and it prevents savings from becoming an afterthought you always miss.

Find out: 20 Smart Personal Budgeting Tips

2. Know how your company’s 401(k) program works

Know how your company’s 401(k) program works

Some companies automatically enroll employees at the end of their probation period; others require you to sign up. Some companies match a certain amount of contributions, such as 50 cents for every dollar you contribute up to 7% of what you make. But others don’t offer this “free money for retirement.”

This means it’s up to you to know how your company’s 401(k) plan works. Understand how enrollment works and if they offer incentives like matching. Take advantage of this tool and use it as early as you have access to it. Your retired self will thank you.

Find out: 7 Pros and Cons of Investing in a 401(k) Retirement Plan at Work

3. Check into flex spending or savings accounts

Check into flex spending or savings accounts

These can include savings accounts for out-of-pocket health care costs, child care costs and work transportation. Which flex accounts your company offers will vary, but most companies offer at least one.

The benefit of these accounts is that the money you put in is tax-free. They take the funds out of your paycheck before taxes. Then you can use them tax-free throughout the year. Just be aware of how the accounts work. Many are “use it or lose it.” In other words, you must use all the funds that you put in before the end of the year. If so, calculate carefully to avoid wasting money or scrambling at the end of the year to use it.

Find out: Flexible Spending Account – the Workplace Benefit You Need to Check Out

4. Don’t ignore insurance because you’re healthy

Don’t ignore insurance because you’re healthy

This is one of the biggest mistakes that people make that leads to severe financial distress. You don’t get health insurance because you’re healthy. You don’t bother with company term life insurance or disability insurance because you’re in your 20s or 30s.

But accidents happen and your health can change quickly. So, the right time to get insurance is when you’re healthy. Always take advantage of company insurance – it’s usually the most affordable and hassle-free option anyway.

Also, consider life and accidental death and disability insurance. If something happens to you, your family may not be able to afford the loss of your paycheck. Insurance payouts help ease that burden. Ideally, any life insurance you purchase should cover one and a half times your annual salary.

Find out: What Young People Don’t About Money is Hurting Them

5. See if they offer a financial wellness program

See if they offer a financial wellness program

Many companies now offer free financial wellness programs as part of their benefits packages. It’s basically a free resource that can teach you how to budget, save money, manage debt, plan for retirement and maximize your credit score. These are all fundamental skills and free resources should always be used to your advantage.

If your company offers one of these programs, see if it includes free financial coaching. You can basically get access to a certified financial planner that can help you take the right steps in life.

Find out: Most U.S. Workers Want Financial Wellness Programs

6. Take advantage of HR spam from good/free stuff

Don’t just ignore those spammy-seeming emails that your HR or administration staff sends out. They often include free offers and good discounts that you can actually use. Companies are constantly contacting HR departments to set up these deals and market to employees like you. Your HR team likely vets the offers as legit and useful before they forward them on. So, you can have some confidence that the offers are worth your time.

You can also get access to useful financial tools you may not get anywhere else. You might get credit union membership with your employment, which could offer better accounts and great financing rates. Otherwise, your company’s bank could have specialized accounts and promotional rates for company employees.

Find out: A Post-Pandemic Debt Relief Guide for Office Workers

7. Consider decreasing your tax withholding

Consider decreasing your tax withholding

Most people love getting a tax refund, but it’s actually a sign that you’re not managing your money correctly. A tax refund is not the government paying you or rewarding your hard work for the year. It’s them returning money that you overpaid in income taxes throughout the year. They basically keep the funds that you pay throughout the year and refund any amount you overpaid. But in the meantime, that money sat in that account, wasted and earning no interest.

If you get a huge refund every year, talk to your HR department about decreasing your tax withholding. This will mean you get more money in each paycheck, instead of a seemingly “big windfall” in the spring of each year.

Find out: 8 Major Life Events That Will Affect Your Tax Burden

8. Don’t wait for raises, ask for them!

You should ask for an annual review each year around your work anniversary. This is the right time to review everything you’ve done for the company over the past year and ask for a raise. Most companies cap raises at less than 5%. However, if they give you a promotion and put you in a job that requires double the work, a 5% raise is not enough.

Check job websites to see what the salary range for your position is. This will help you negotiate pay increases accordingly. If you’re a good employee, at a minimum, you should get a raise every few years. If you work hard and don’t regularly receive salary or wage increases, it may be time to find new employment.

Find out: How to Manage Your Finances After You Get a Raise

9. Pad your savings to cover paychecks in case of unemployment

Pad your savings to cover paychecks in case of unemployment

Most experts recommend that you should have 3-5 months worth of paychecks in emergency savings. So, if you make $2,000 per month, you should have $6,000 to $10,000 in savings. The money can also be saved in cash equivalents like Money Market Accounts or CDs – any account that can easily be converted into cash if you need it.

The idea behind this is that you can lose your job for 3-5 months and live comfortably while you look for new employment. This will help you avoid amassing credit card debt during a period of unemployment. A quick note: During a recession, you should increase this amount to six months to one year. This will help you avoid debt during extended periods of unemployment caused by a weak job market.

Find out: 4 Ways to Build Emergency Savings in 2022

10. Set a salary goal for getting job offers

Set a salary goal for getting job offers

If you keep your resume posted on job sites or you just have a really nice professional social network through LinkedIn or other social platforms, you may regularly receive job offers. Don’t just ignore offers because you like where you work. There’s probably some salary amount that could tempt you into leaving, so you need to figure out what that is.

If you’re satisfied with your employment, set the amount high. Ask for 15%-20% more than the annual salary you make now. That would make it worth it to leave, even though you could be taking a risk of leaving somewhere you’re happy. For so much more money, it may be worth the risk. Again, always check salary ranges in your area to make sure you’re not asking for something that’s completely unreasonable.

Find out: 6 Steps to Help You Budget with Variable Income

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About the Author

Joe Pye

Joe Pye

Joe Pye started writing about debt and personal finance five years ago while attending Florida Atlantic University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the student-run newspaper, the University Press. Before graduating with a bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism, Pye placed as a finalist for the Mark of Excellence award by the Society of Professional Journalists Region 3 for feature writing and in-depth reporting. In 2021, Pye earned First Place in the Green Eyeshade awards for "Best Blog" for his side-project BrowardBeer.com. Since taking a full-time position as associate editor at Debt.com in 2018, Pye has become a certified debt management professional who's applied what he's learned to his personal life by paying down more than $22,000 worth of combined credit card, student loan, auto and tax debt in less than two years.

Published by Debt.com, LLC