Take time to do your homework: Make sure you thoroughly research which benefits are right for you. The benefits you select for the coming year can have a significant impact on you and your family’s finances, so be sure to spend enough time researching and selecting your benefits. You should plan to spend as much time—if not more—as you would when you research other products and services such as a new computer or a flat-screen TV.
Read the proverbial "big envelope" and use online tools: Employees who have the information at their disposal to make an informed decision are almost three times more likely to feel confident about their benefits selections. Therefore, it’s important for you to read open enrollment materials from cover to cover. You don’t want to be the person who doesn’t read the fine print only to realize your oversight when you get the bill for that specialist visit. Many companies also encourage workers to read about their benefits offerings online, and some even offer Web-based calculators and tools.
Plan to make some changes each year: Open enrollment is an opportunity to re-evaluate your options and make changes. Very few people have the same benefits needs year after year. Make sure you consider changes or coverage increases, particularly if you’ve experienced a recent life event, such as getting married, having a baby or purchasing a home.
Don’t assume that a bumpy economy means you’ll have fewer benefits choices: Over the past few years, employers have expanded the breadth of their benefits offerings significantly—especially when it comes to voluntary benefits, which are paid for by the employee, typically at a significant cost savings due to group rates. To meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce (and help retain top talent), many employers add new voluntary offerings each year—and the premiums for many can be paid through payroll deduction. Aging parents? Think about long-term care insurance. Sole breadwinner? Consider disability insurance. Buying a home? Access a legal-services plan. Have a dog? Ponder pet insurance. New apartment? Look into renters insurance.
A pay raise changes things: If you are fortunate enough to get a salary increase in this challenging economic environment, consider increasing your 401(k) contributions and disability insurance coverage.
Take advantage of pretax accounts: If your employer offers a flexible spending account for health care expenses or a 401(k) company match, consider this free money. Even if finances are tight, don’t forget your future—would you rather give up your morning latte and manicures, or work into your 80s because you don’t have the savings to retire?
Ask, ask, ask: If you aren’t satisfied with your benefits or the enrollment process, let your employer know. Ask for the guidance and advice you need. Inquire about the possibility of meeting face to face with your HR department. Employers have an interest in making you happy—86 percent of employers view benefits as an important retention tool.