Accounts

Fridays (with Benefits) - Is talking benefits really THAT bad for employees?

We're right on the verge of open enrollment season, and as much as we may love helping working professionals out with their benefits, we're increasingly learning that talking benefits ranks pretty low for enjoyable activities for most people. We're talking really low.

One in Three U.S. Employees Would Rather Talk About Their Weight Than Their Employer-Offered Benefits - MetLife, Business Wire

According to a new survey sponsored by MetLife that analyzed the actions and prevailing thinking of working professionals around open enrollment, despite how important these decisions are for workers' health and finances, there is little excitement to be had around this time of year. In fact, nearly half dread the open enrollment process as much as asking their boss for a raise, and an astounding 33% would rather talk about their weight than their employee benefits.

Some other metrics that came out of the survey should be enough to keep human resources reps up at night. One in five workers only spend a few minutes on their benefits offerings before making a decision for the year, while respondents said that activities that were preferred slightly higher than the open enrollment process including renewing a passport or driver's license. But any way you slice it, it's not a good report for employee enthusiasm around benefits decisions.

How to improve employee morale this open enrollment

At FSAstore.com, open enrollment is one of our favorite times of the year so we have no idea how to relate to these responses, but this isn't our first benefits rodeo. It can take some extra effort on the employer's/HR department's part to really get people on board. Here are a few suggestions from SHRM:

Don't spring it on them!

Advanced communication is key for helping employees get into the swing of things for open enrollment. And no, that doesn't mean boring boardroom meetings. Give workers supplements that they can review on their own time that allows them to compare plans and options so they can find the appropriate level of coverage for themselves and their dependents.

Focus on people

Whether your workforce trends toward younger workers with less experience in benefits election or well-established workers who may be more set in their ways, a "one-size-fits-all" communication strategy doesn't work for anyone. Make HR available early and often during the open enrollment process so workers can talk over their benefits options and have an informed opinion when it's time to choose a plan.

Cost savings

What can really get employees excited for open enrollment is finding out how much money they can save over the course of the year. Specifically, calculators for FSA or HSA users are extremely helpful in giving employees a view into how much their contributions will affect their yearly tax savings and estimating how much they'll spend on health care expenses in the coming year. If you know there's a chance you can save hundreds with a different plan, that's a better way to look at open enrollment.

Eligible essentials

PainCakes Wrap Stickable Cold Pack

Stickable PAINCAKES® hover just above the epidermis surrounding the injured area with cooling waves of relief.

dpl® Oral Care Light Therapy System

For the treatment of muscle and joint aches, painful gums, sprains, back pain and the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Real Money: Why I regret not researching my health care options more

As a self-proclaimed money nerd, I sure made a big financial mishap - not researching my health care options more carefully. By essentially hiding under a rock when it came to health insurance, I lost hundreds of dollars in the process. Worse, it could have cost me much more if my family and I had to visit the doctor more often last year. I don't even want to imagine what it'd be like if we had much higher medical expenses.

Using "overwhelmed" as an excuse

To be frank, I didn't really need to worry about health care options in the U.S. until about two years ago. As a Canadian living overseas, either the government took care of my basic needs or my employer overseas did. When my husband and I made the decision to move to the U.S. I felt overwhelmed at starting a new life in another country, transitioning into full-time self-employment and learning how to be a parent to a young child.

While each individual situation itself would have been stressful enough, the combination of all three sent my stress levels through the roof. Instead of listing out my priorities and figuring out what I needed to do (and in which order), I just picked the first health plan that looked decent.

I lost quite a bit of money

What I didn't realize was there were many opportunities to save on health care costs. Not only that, but on taxes as well. If I had know about the benefits of an HSA or FSA, I would have taken some time to budget more carefully and contributed to those accounts.

Lowering my taxable income would have been awesome, since I was spending money left and right moving to a new country. From rental deposits, to new furniture, to childcare options, it would have been great if I could have saved some money to pay for my health care expenses in the process.

If I had set aside money in an HSA, I could have lowered my taxable income, and paid less taxes. Those savings could have gone towards other things like stuffing my emergency fund and assorted moving expenses.

What's more, it wasn't until I moved again that I realized I could have opened a dependent care FSA. As someone who uses drop off daycare facilities and enrolled her son into part-time preschool, I could have opened that account (assuming my last health insurance plan allowed it), saved money on child care fees and lowered my taxable income.

While there is no point in shaming myself and living in total regret, I can take this as a lesson learned. Sure, I was stressed, but my health needs are equally as important. For the future, I'm going to do some careful research, way before open enrollment so I'm well prepared and informed of what I'm getting into when it comes to health care options.

This also includes taking stock of how I used my plan this year, what my long-term goals are with my funds (e.g. is it just for health care expenses or will it to help me with retirement purposes?) and what I can do to ensure that I am making the best choice for me, given my current life situation.

FSA-eligible must-haves

Supergoop! Splish Splash Kit

An FSAstore.com/HSAstore.com exclusive! All the SPF you need for living your best and brightest life.

Owlet Smart Sock 2 Baby Monitor

The Owlet Smart Sock gently wraps around your baby's foot to track and trend their heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep using clinically-proven pulse oximetry.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Fridays (with Benefits) - Summer is actually a perfect time for benefits planning

It's hard to believe, but we're about a week away from September. Back-to-school is in full swing, and Labor Day barbecue menus are already being planned. And that means open enrollment discussions are going to happen sooner rather than later.

But, as we learned in this guest post in HR Technologist, it's possible these conversations should have already started. It seems that late summer -- July, August and September -- is the best time of year to start prepping employees for benefits selection. Let's see what's up.

HR Shopping: Why Summer is Benefits Season - Rachel Lyubovitzky, EverythingBenefits (posted on HR Technologist)

According to EverythingBenefits' platform data, summer is the busiest time of year for benefits providers and exchanges, with 70-75% of businesses entering the process at this time. The question is, "why?"

Because there's much bigger decisions to make, and more benefits options to choose from than ever before. We've come a long way from "medical/dental/vision" coverage being enough to lure and retain quality workers. So HR pros have to be extra diligent in educating, explaining and enrolling employees in the right packages.

Here are some of the things the author feels are most-pressing in the eyes of HR professionals:

Modern benefit types

When we say "modern" we're not just expecting an app or online portal. Instead, millennial and Gen-Z employees are looking for more tangible things to improve their quality of life. Things like college loan reimbursement, elder care and even PET insurance are all desirable… and now they're on the benefits buffet at open enrollment.

Regulatory changes

HR professionals are busy enough without having to deal with the onslaught of new and changing health care policies. And before they can help workers navigate the often turbulent benefits waters, they need to make sure benefits packages are compliant, both for the present and the future.

By starting this preparation earlier in the year, HR pros are able to stay on top of these changes, while factoring in the needs and desires of their companies' workforces.

The article goes on to explain how artificial intelligence (AI) can play a role in facilitating the role of HR administrator, so they spend less time learning benefits offerings, and more time addressing the human needs and concerns. That IS a big part of the job, after all.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

Flex-Ed: It's never too early to map out your open enrollment

Sitting down and looking through mounds of paperwork and websites, and reading confusing jargon isn't the most exciting thing in the world. But you shouldn't let open enrollment wait until it's too late to make a smart decision. Start by considering how your health plan affects you and your family.

We know it's only mid-August. But that doesn't change the fact that you shouldn't wait until the last minute to map out your open enrollment benefits. There are lots of benefits to do doing so -- the biggest one being your health. And you may save some money as well. Just think about when you have a medical emergency and have to take out a loan to pay down your bills. Or when you've had opportunities to enroll in FSAs in the past, and chose not to.

Don't make the same mistakes by putting these decisions off until "later." Instead, get a head start and have your ducks in a row, so when it comes time to choose a plan, you can make the best choice for your needs.

Learn from past open enrollment mistakes

We're not recommending you beat yourself up. We're just saying this is a great time to assess what worked -- and what didn't -- with your past health care spending decisions. Think about how you came to decide past health plans and see what you could have done differently.

First, go back and think about why you picked a certain plan. Is it because it was the least expensive? Were tax-free spending or savings options on your list of priorities?

Once you have those answers, then think back and figure out whether you looked at all the features available and what would happen if you had to pay out of pocket. You can also think about how you're currently taking advantage of the plan. Have you been maximizing your benefits? Do you regret not opening a FSA?

Once you have this locked down, you can make a list of what you're looking for in a health plan -- the things that might fall under that "regret" umbrella. If you end up choosing the same one you currently have, then at least you have a good idea of what to expect in the coming year. If not, you'll know exactly what to look for when upgrading to a new one.

Pretend you're applying for a new health plan each year

Even if your employer allows you to passively continue your health plan selection every year, don't. Be more proactive, even if you're content with what's offered. In other words, you want to pretend you're applying for a new plan each year, for the exact reasons mentioned above.

Doing so will also give you a chance to see if there are any perks or benefits that you missed, and helps with better communication between you and the HR department. That's because you'll remember to update relevant information and ensure you're asking the right questions to reassess your choice.

Don't be afraid to be "confused"

Pretending you're confused is a mindset shift you can take in order to make sure you're clear on what it is you're getting into. The premise is simple: read the entirety of your health plan and assume you know nothing. Look at every piece of jargon and prepare a list of questions to ask the open enrollment representative.

For example, one of the best questions you can ask is ones relate to cost benefit trade-offs. Is there a way you can have a representative answer your questions about your specific situation and predict a cost calculation? What if you want to an FSA? Or does it make more sense to choose a qualified high-deductible health plan with an HSA?

No, you're not going to annoy anyone in your HR department (at least it shouldn't). After all it is your health and your wallet. Treat open enrollment as a year-long planning event and you'll reap the benefits in the year to come.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

Basics

FSA Friday - 9/7/18 - Childcare costs are on everyone's mind at open enrollment

Maybe writing about growing childcare costs isn't exactly surprising these days. But when we come across research that shows just how much these costs have grown in the last few years, it becomes a lot more headline-worthy.

As we dive deeper into open enrollment season, American families need to be prepared for these costs, so they can choose the benefit plans that best serve their needs, including potential tax-free options for child care. And our sources this week both come from local television stations in two different markets, showing just how pressing this topic has become across the nation.

USDA: Child Care Is 3rd Largest Expense For Families - Christiane Cordero, WCCO

Care.com broke down costs by the type of caregiver and found nannies cost the most, at $565 per week, followed by after-school sitters at $232 a week, day cares at $211 a week and family care centers at $195 per week.

The article recommended one cost-saving option we can get behind: A dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA). It allows families to set aside tax-free money dedicated to child care expenses.

Care.com estimates only 55% of families actually use an DCFSA, which means it might not be right for everyone. But it might also imply that more families need to learn more about them. And then they need to decide at open enrollment just how much money they'll set aside, as they can't change it once the year begins, and in many cases, will have to use-it-or-lose-it.

Childcare costs more than most mortgages or college tuition - Kelly Vaughen, WHNT

Perhaps even more alarming than the costs of daily childcare is what we learned from a report from Child Care Aware, which estimated that if you have two children in daycare, you're likely paying as much or more for their care than you are on a mortgage.

They also found in many states parents are likely to spend as much on childcare for a young child as they would to pay for a year at an in-state university. They found annual childcare costs exceed $20,000 in 22 states. Parents pay the most for childcare in Massachusetts, paying more than $34,000 annually.

While your tax-free health spending options might not account for totals that big, it's pretty easy to see how these accounts can help keep more money in your pocket, at a time when every penny counts.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.