The big benefits questions employees forget to ask

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You probably asked a bunch of benefit questions before you formally accepted your last job offer, but these perks often come with fine print. They're also subject to change and combing through an employee handbook is hard when you're going through the daily grind.

To help you get some clarity, here are big benefits questions employees forget to ask.

1. How can I maximize my 401(k)?

You probably know whether your employer offers a 401(k), but there are often other resources at your disposal when it comes to turbo-charging that retirement account. For instance, your employer might match your contributions up to a certain dollar amount. If you contribute below that percentage, you're leaving money on the table. You might also have access to financial advisers who can help you balance — or rebalance — your portfolio. Ask your human resources department about the full range of assistance they provide.

2. How much group life insurance coverage do I get?

There's a good chance you have some life insurance through your employer. (It's an increasingly popular workplace perk.) Be sure you understand your coverage limits. Most people assume employer life insurance provides all the financial protection they need. Actually, even the most generous workplace policies fall short. Plus, if you leave your job, you'll lose coverage.

Everyone's needs vary, but a first-rate life insurance policy will adequately cover the expenses your dependents will face in your absence at a premium you can afford. We can help you compare life insurance quotes to keep your family protected.

3. When can I make changes to my benefits?

Most employees host an open enrollment period once a year, during which employees can sign up for or modify their major benefits. For instance, during open enrollment, you can switch health insurance plans. Big life events, like marriage or the birth of a child, also trigger special enrollment periods.

You might assume you can only tweak benefits in those instance, but company protocol is hardly universal. Some employers allow changes to select benefits, like 401(k) contributions, more frequently or even all year. Check with your company benefits administrator about when you can change plans or elections.

4. When do my short-term disability benefits kick in?

Short-term disability insurance replaces your income if you're too sick or injured to work for a short period of time, usually between three and six months. Private short-term disability policies are pricey, so if your employer offers some as a benefit, it's a good idea to take up the offer. You'll want to know how your policy works, most specifically, the length of your elimination period – the amount of time before you will start receiving benefits — so you can get adequate long-term disability insurance. You can learn more about short-term disability vs. long-term disability insurance here.

5. What happens to my benefits if I leave?

You might not want to bring up switching or leaving a job you just started, but it's important to understand what you can and can't take with you. Some benefits end when your employment does, but many are transferable in some way, shape or form. You can keep your group health insurance plan, for instance, through COBRA, though you'll shoulder the full price of your premiums. And some employers pay out leftover vacation days. You can find more ways to take your work benefits with you here.

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