22 Questions to Ask When Setting Up Benefits at Your New Job

We know, your new job keeps you busy enough, but make sure you get all your benefits questions answered.

Congratulations! You’ve landed a new job, one that actually gives you benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan.

But benefits are complicated. My younger brother recently called me to ask which health plan he should pick at his job. While it’s always nice to hear from him, those questions might have been better directed at his company’s human resources department. The problem is, when people are signing up for benefits, they are also learning the ins and outs of their new company, which can be complicated and time-consuming enough on its own.

To help make it easier, we’ve compiled a list of questions you should ask of your employer, yourself and your family while you’re signing up for benefits.

1. Can I See a Rate Sheet?

Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster, an employment website, said it’s a good idea to ask for a form with all of the costs that come out of each paycheck and where they go. This is good to ask for even in the interview process so you can see how much you’ll actually make once benefits and taxes come out of your salary. The rate sheets should include how much you’ll pay in premiums for each health and dental plan you can select, along with any other benefits you’ll chip in for.

2. When Do I Need to Sign Up?

Signing up for benefits involves a lot of paperwork and you don’t unlimited time to complete it. Make sure you know the due date for all those forms, Salemi said. Companies will often default you to a less generous set of benefits if you don’t sign up on time.

“It’s best to do it right away,” Salemi said, as you’ll likely be saddled with other new responsibilities.

3. Where Are My Documents?

If you’ve got a new job, you’ll need to fill out an I-9 form. The federal government uses this form to make sure you can actually work in the U.S. You’ll need track down your U.S. Passport, or a mix of other documents that could include your driver’s license, Social Security card or birth certificate.

4. Do I Actually Need Coverage?

If you’re married to someone with health insurance or young enough to stay on a parent’s plan, see whether your new company’s coverage measures up. “In a two wage-earner situation, one of the wage earners may have a superior plan and so it would make sense to choose that as the primary plan and look into a buyout of the secondary plan,” said Michael P. Griffin, an accounting and finance lecturer at the University Massachusetts Dartmouth Charlton School of Business. “A buyout option gives you a check for a portion of the cost of the health insurance plan if you opt out.”

5. How Much Health Coverage Do I Need?

As high-deductible plans proliferate, more workers are paying for healthcare with Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA). If you have such a plan, you’ll need to figure out how much to set aside in your FSA or HSA. This is especially important with an FSA because you need to spend what you set aside at the end of each year or you’ll lose it. Read up on these accounts here. To budget for your health expenses, you’ll need to compare what you spent last year against what you’ll pay for doctor’s visits, teeth cleanings, medications, glasses and anything else under your new plan, Griffin said.

6. Which Doctors Can I Visit?

If you like your doctor, you may not be able to keep seeing your doctor under a new health plan. Your health insurer’s website should have a list of doctors they work with, and you should call your doctor’s office to let them know your insurance is changing and to check if they’ll accept your new insurance.

7. Who Are My Beneficiaries?

It’s heavy to think about, but when you’re signing up for life insurance and retirement benefits, you have to decide who gets those benefits when you die. Once you pick your beneficiaries, you’ll need their Social Security numbers. Plan ahead of time to get that information in a secure way, ideally not via text or email. This is true any time you’re dealing with sensitive information so you aren’t putting yourself or others at risk for identity theft. (Think your identity has been stolen? You’ll want to keep an eye on your credit reports, as a sudden drop in your scores or accounts you don’t recognize could be signs of identity theft. You can keep tabs of yours by taking a look at your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

8. Is There a Vision Care Plan?

Eye care plans are generally much cheaper than the hundreds you’d shell out for your own eye exams and glasses, said Peter Macia, CEO of YouDecide, an employee benefits company.

9. Is There a 401K Match?

Your work retirement plan will likely be your main vehicle for saving up for retirement, so you need to know how much you’ll need to set aside from each paycheck. It’ll help your retirement planning and your personal budgeting if you know whether your company matches your contributions, how much they match and when the match kicks in.

10. How Do I Set Up My 401K?

Your benefits department can help you with this question, but you may also want to talk to a financial adviser about how much you should set aside and how you should invest, Salemi said.

11. What’s the Personal Day Policy?

Salemi said new hires should ask when they can start using personal days and how personal time is accrued. Do you get all your days at once or do they build up as you work? How do you ask for time off? Do you have to arrange for someone to cover for you or will your boss handle it?

12. How Do I Report a Change of Address?

This is especially relevant for new graduates who may have been waiting to land a job before moving out of mom and dad’s. Make sure to ask how your move will affect your benefits and taxes as well, especially if you’re crossing state lines.

13. Will I Get Help With Commuting Costs?

Commuting is one of the most costly and stressful parts of the workday (but here are 50 ways you can save on that commute). Ask if your company offers any commuter benefits to workers. This could just be a discount on a nearby parking garage or showers for bicycle commuters, but the IRS allows employers to offer transportation benefits to workers, allowing each to use up to $255 in pre-tax dollars on their commuting expenses.

14. Will I Get Help With Tuition?

Some employers may offer tuition reimbursement to employees attending classes or even full graduate programs, especially if they’re relevant to their jobs. For those seeking help with student loans, certain careers qualify for loan forgiveness.

15. When Is Annual Enrollment?

Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. Once you finish signing up for benefits, you only have to look forward to doing it every single year. Human resources should tell you when the annual enrollment period comes up, but if you don’t know, be sure to ask. “Be aware that rates may change,” Marcia said.

16. Can I Change My Selections?

Usually you can only do this once a year, but many companies allow you to update your benefits if you have a change in “status” like getting married or having a kid. Find out exactly what qualifies.

17. How Do I Get Paid?

Money: the biggest benefit of all. Find out how often you get paid and how you’ll get paid. You’ll probably need to bring a blank check along with your I-9 documents to set up direct deposit. And when you get that first paycheck, Salemi suggested taking a close look at the stub to make sure what’s being taken out matches up with what you agreed to when you signed up for benefits. Here’s a guide on how to read your paystub. 

18. How Do I Get Reimbursed for Expenses?

Some jobs, like sales, require you to travel or wine and dine clients. If you have one of those jobs, be sure to ask how you’ll be reimbursed for those expenses and when, Salemi said. Some companies will give you a corporate credit card, some will ask you to submit receipts. Make sure you know how you’re allowed to spend company money.

19. Will the Company Help Pay For…

A gym membership? Child care? Charity donations? It never hurts to ask.

“I have been working for the same organization for 30 years but it wasn’t until recently that I knew that I could receive a $100 annual reimbursement for my gym membership,” Griffin said. Check over your benefits guide, and ask about any optional benefits.

20. Who Do I Call For…

Chances are, you won’t get all your questions answered right away (or you won’t remember the answers). Find out who you can ask down the line. Salemi said the point person may be different depending on the question. A single HR rep or your supervisor may have all the answers at some companies, but bigger operations might direct certain questions to payroll or benefits or IT.

21. What Happens If I Leave?

Health benefits like medical and dental are subject to the federal COBRA law, which says you’ll pay no more than 102% of the cost of the plan for continuing coverage after you leave your job. Find out what happens to your other benefits. “Ask if the benefit coverage will stay the same and if the premium will adjust,” he said.

22. Any Other Common Questions?

If you’re not sure what else to ask, see what other people ask. Ask human resources. Ask your co-workers.

“Don’t be overwhelmed,” Salemi said. “It’s a lot of information. Everyone who joined the company has been in your shoes and knows what you’re going through.”

Image: laflor 

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