One of the great things about having a full-time job, besides that paycheck, is the employee benefits. However, coming out of the military you may not be familiar with civilian benefits.

So here’s a summary of the most common benefits offered, and how to make the most of them.

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Paid Time Off, You Usually Have to Use it or Lose it

Paid time off (PTO) is always earned based on how long you’ve been with your company. It usually falls into one of the following scenarios:

Vacation Days Plus Sick Days

Some companies keep vacation and sick days separated. For example, you may be allocated five sick days a year and 10 vacation days. This still amounts to three work weeks off, but is more reliant on the honor system, in that you won’t use sick days when you’re not sick. Do not hesitate to use every vacation day offered to you. That’s what they are there for. However, do not use a sick day to go to the beach, especially in the age when your cousin’s girlfriend’s sister can tag you there on Facebook, and then you’re totally busted.

Everything Together

The amount of paid time off days can also be lumped together. So, for example, if you get 18 days a year of PTO, that includes your two-week vacation to Vegas and the additional eight sick days you need to recover from your trip. But the bottom line is that you get 18 days off a year for either vacation or illness. They are not separate.

Sometimes, companies will either let you roll over unused PTO days into the next year, or they will just pay you for them at the end of the year. However, this is not as common as it used to be. It’s not that they want to rob you of the extra cash, it’s because they truly want their employees to take the time off they deserve. Happy, healthy and well-rested employees benefit everyone. Please do not go to work sick for that one extra day in your paycheck. Stay home and watch TV instead. You’ll thank me later.

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Contribute to Your 401K, It is Free Money

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan. This is a great way to build your retirement fund, pre-tax, and even have your employer contribute! Employers will deduct a certain percentage of your paycheck (that you choose) before taxes (which means you pay fewer income taxes) and will usually match your contribution up to a certain percent.

“401(k) and other retirement plans are often misunderstood, especially by the younger population,” says Melissa Fisk, an HR administrator. “If an employer offers a 5 percent match, for example, the ideal situation would be for the employee to contribute at least 5 percent to receive the full benefit. Unfortunately, retirement savings isn’t seen as a priority for many young people (perhaps because they have student loans, high medical bills due to the increased cost of health insurance, etc.), but it would help them (and probably the “system”) if they contributed more now to ensure a better situation for when they retire.”

Think of it this way: Assuming your employer matches 100 percent up to 5 percent, it would be like me telling you that for every $100 you spend, up to $500, I will give you an extra $5 to spend. Would you still only spend $100, even though I could potentially give you $20 more? Contribute as much as you can afford, so you can get the most out of your employer’s match. As a real-life example, when I started contributing to my 401(k), I chose to contribute 5 percent and my take-home pay only went down about $50 a check. That’s the beauty of the pre-tax contribution and why it is so important to contribute as much as you can now, so you’re good to go later.

Health Insurance Benefits

While every employer will have different kinds of health insurance options, you often will find yourself with the basics at the very least: medical, dental and vision. You will choose the health care option that is best for you and your family and will have money deducted from your paycheck to cover your portion of the cost. Your company might pay 85 percent, for example, of the yearly deductible (the minimum amount you have to pay out of pocket before the insurance company covers expenses), and then you pay the rest. The out-of-pocket cost for you will really depend on what plan you choose and whether you are an individual or paying to cover your family. If you pick a higher deductible ($800 a year, for example) you will have less money deducted from each paycheck because you are shouldering more of the burden up front.

There are other benefits to health insurance that go beyond the basics: it will usually cover mental health providers, gym discounts and even money back for staying healthy! Take advantage of everything you can when it comes to your health and preventative care!

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Tuition Reimbursement

Lots of companies will encourage their employees to further their education, especially as it relates to doing their job better. You can usually get reimbursed for a certain percentage of the tuition you spend towards a relevant degree – provided you make the grade. The higher grade you get (and I know you will get an “A”) the more money you get back – for example, 90 percent. A “B” grade could get you back 80 percent and a “C” 70 percent. Anything below that, well, you’re on your own.

Employee Assistance Programs

EAP’s are designed to ensure you are happy and maintaining a work/life balance. It is a confidential service that allows you to discuss personal issues with someone within your company who will usually refer you to a counselor or similar service outside of the organization.








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