Working it out

New Year’s resolutions for your employee benefits

By Sheryl Smolkin, BrighterLife.ca

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If your employer offered you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year, you wouldn’t turn it down. But you could be leaving that much money on the table if you don’t understand and fully access the workplace benefits that form a significant part of your total rewards.

New Year’s resolutions for your employee benefitsThat’s why getting to know your benefits plan better should be high on your list when you make your New Year’s resolutions. Here are 10 things you can do that will help unlock the full value of your benefits plan

1. Read the benefits summary

The first step is to review the benefits summary you received when you were hired. You may be able to access additional information online. If you and your spouse (or partner) each have a plan at work, review both plans and see where there are overlaps and gaps.

2. Co-ordinate your benefits

According to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association’s (CLHIA) Guide to the Co-ordination of Benefits, if both you and your spouse (or partner) have benefit plans, you can submit claims to one plan first and then to the other, which may pay all or part of any balance not covered by the first plan. It’s really worthwhile to co-ordinate benefits if your dentist charges $1,000 for a root canal and your employer only pays half, and considering that deductibles on smaller bills also add up quickly. (Read more: Co-ordinate your health-care plans and save.)

3. Health spending account (HSA): Use it or lose it

HSAs give you choice. Your employer allocates an annual sum to reimburse you for medical items and services not fully covered by your basic medical plan. Find how your HSA works and what it covers. Also make sure to read and act upon statements or emails advising you that your HSA balance will be forfeited if it is not used by a certain date.

4. Submit your receipts

If you have a drug card, your benefits will be adjudicated at the pharmacy when you pick up your medication. You may submit claims for reimbursement for other services such as physiotherapy online. Sometimes you will have to fax or mail in a form with your receipt. Get in the habit of submitting receipts each and every time you access a service so they do not get lost or mislaid. (Read more: Go paperless and move your money faster)

5. Monitor your maximums

Your plan may limit the amount and frequency of reimbursement for eyeglasses, orthotics and paramedical services from providers such as chiropractors and massage therapists. Be aware of these maximums and how they work (for example, some paramedical plans have combined maximums for two or more providers) to ensure you don’t receive any surprises when you submit a claim.

6. Start saving for retirement

Where a group registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or a defined contribution pension plan is offered, join it as soon as possible and contribute at least enough to receive the maximum company matching amount. With lower fees than are typically available to retail investors, no penalties for switching between investments and professional money management, group retirement plans can be a great deal. (Read more: Employer pension plans: Is it ever too early or too late to contribute?)

7. Get fit at work

Many employers offer health and wellness benefits ranging from in-house gyms to subsidized gym memberships to fitness challenges. Take the opportunity to get up off your chair and get moving on your employer’s dime.

8. Take a course

Are you planning to register for online courses or a distance degree? Check out your employer’s tuition reimbursement program. For example, your company may be prepared to pay all or part of the costs of courses related to your job.

9. Discover your employee assistance program (EAP)

Money problems, marriage breakdown, a child with learning disabilities – issues at home can make it hard to function at work. Your EAP is only a telephone call away and can offer you counselling and other valuable resources. (Read more: A solution to stress may be closer than you think)

10. Find out about maternity/parental benefits top-up

In all provinces and territories except Quebec, employment insurance pays a percentage of your salary for up to 50 weeks (15 weeks of maternity benefits followed by 35 weeks of parental benefits, which can be shared between both parents). (Quebec has its own program.) Some employers “top up” government benefit payments to bring them closer to your full salary; if you are expecting a new addition to the family, find out if your company tops up and by how much, for all or part of the leave period. (Read more: How do maternity benefits work?)

With a good understanding of what your employee benefits are and how they work, you will be better able to take advantage of the value they can provide.

More about workplace benefits:

Working well More bright ideas for managing your career and making the most of your benefits.
Protect your health More ways to protect your health and your finances.

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