It’s Time to Take a Good Look at Your 2020 Benefits

December 3, 2019, 5:15 PM UTC
Photo by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Year-end deadlines are looming, the annual holiday madness is getting underway, and your to-do list is growing like a weed. Who has time to think about next year’s health insurance?

Here’s a bold suggestion: Take a look at it anyway. “Americans often miss the mark by sticking with their current plan without double-checking their assumptions,” observes Kelley Long, CPA/PFS, who works with the American Institute of CPAs’ (AICPA) consumer-education committee. She notes that “many factors can change, both in a benefits plan and in your personal life from one year to the next. By ‘setting and forgetting’ your plan, you risk getting stuck in one that not only isn’t right for you, but ends up costing you more.”

You may already be wondering about this, according to an AICPA study. Most employees (88%) are confident they understood all the benefits offered when they took their current job, and almost as many (86%) say they’re confident they’ve kept up-to-date with any changes since then. Yet fewer than one in three (28%) are “very confident” they’re getting the most bang for their benefits buck.

It couldn’t hurt to find out. Open enrollment ends on December 15 and, once 2020 starts, you won’t be allowed to make any changes in your health plan. Need help comparing your options? The HR department at your company can help, of course, but you could also check out the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy web site, a public service free to anyone with questions about their finances —employer-sponsored benefits included.

Of course, health insurance matters a lot. The AICPA survey found, for instance, that 75% of U.S. workers would choose a job with benefits (including paid vacations and 401(k) matching) over an identical position that paid 30% more but offered no benefits.

But, spurred on by new technology and a strong economy, most of us seem to have adopted a definition of “benefits” that’s much broader than it used to be. It includes, among other things, the choice to telecommute (at least some of the time) — and especially skills training and career development coaching.

Consider that more than a third (37%) of job seekers in PwC’s new Future of Recruiting Survey say they’d be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the chance to learn new skills. A new report from staffing company Robert Half backs that up. Almost half (43%) of U.S. job candidates have walked away from at least one job offer because the prospective employer was unwilling to negotiate on these or other non-traditional benefits.

As December 31 gets closer, and companies are firming up plans and budgets for next year, it might be a the moment to try negotiating with your manager about, for instance, training you’d like to pursue in 2020, or the chance to work from home now and then (or even all the time). Come up with a strong case for how your request will benefit your team or the company, not just yourself. Then catch your boss in a holiday frame of mind, and you just might get a “yes.”

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