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Benefits 101 for Millennials: What You Need to Know

Published: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 @ 1:24 PM

By Megan Terzian

Learn more about Megan on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Are you a new graduate who just landed your first “real” job? Congratulations! Chances are you’re excited and focused on learning everything you can to get off to a great start. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t forget as you begin this new chapter: your workplace benefits.

If you’ve never had to deal with benefits before, the unfamiliar terminology and dizzying number of options might tempt you to just close your eyes and check boxes — but that’s not the best way to choose.

Here’s some basic information about benefits your employer is likely to offer, as well as a few that are less common but still valuable.

Benefits you’ll typically see

Retirement: Most employers offer an individual retirement plan, such as a 401(k). There’s typically a brief waiting period after you’re hired and before you can begin contributing, but once the option is available, you can divert some of your paycheck toward retirement savings pretax.

Many companies even match a portion of your contributions. The match can either be capped at a percentage of your salary — usually between 2% to 5% — or a dollar amount. That’s free money — and a pretty sweet deal!

In most cases, your company’s contributions vest — or become yours — after you’ve worked there for a certain number of years. The money you contribute is always yours, even if you leave before the vesting period ends.

Health/medical: If your company employs more than 50 people, it’s required by law to offer health insurance. Carefully review your employer’s plan options and understand the costs. Look especially for each plan’s co-premium, which is the amount that would be taken out of your check each month to pay for coverage, and your copays, the amount you’d pay out of pocket for health services.

Flexible spending accounts: At many employers, you can divert some of your paycheck into a tax-advantaged account called a flexible spending account. There are two main types: Health FSAs help pay for expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance, and dependent care FSAs help pay the costs of child care for kids under the age of 13. FSA contributions are capped at $2,550 per person for 2016. You lose unspent contributions when the plan year is over unless your employer offers a retention option.

Health savings accounts: If your employer-sponsored health plan has a high deductible, you’re eligible for a health savings account. HSAs are like FSAs in that they allow users to save money tax-free against medical expenses, but the 2016 HSA contribution limit is $3,350 for an individual. And unlike FSA funds, money in an HSA doesn’t expire when the plan year ends.

Vacation and sick time: Some companies offer paid time off, which is a pool of sick days, vacation days and personal days that you can use as you need. Others offer a traditional leave plan with separate vacation and sick days. In this case, your vacation hours are yours to keep: They accrue from year to year up to a cap, and you’ll be reimbursed for the vacation you haven’t taken when you leave the company.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 also entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Commuter benefits: These benefits let you deduct money from your paycheck before taxes to defray your monthly commuting expenses, such as transit or parking costs. If travel is an integral part of your role, your mileage or public transit costs should be partially or totally reimbursed by your company — and if so, it should cover the premium for travel accident insurance.

Benefits you might see

Dental and vision: These benefits aren’t covered by standard health insurance, and few dental and vision plans pay for everything — but they still help with the costs of routine preventive care, such as yearly exams and dental cleanings. Your employer might pay the entire premium or a portion.

Life insurance: Some employers provide term life insurance benefits, which pay out if you die while working at the company — usually to your family members. Your employer can offer up to $50,000 in coverage on a tax-exempt basis, at no cost to you.

Disability: According to the Council for Disability Awareness, more than 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-old workers will become disabled at some point in their lives. For that reason, you definitely don’t want to be without a disability policy. They come in two forms: Short-term disability provides benefits for up to six months; long-term disability covers you past that point. If you’re disabled, you’ll typically receive 60% to 66% of your salary — but every policy is different, so read the details carefully. And remember that if you’ve accrued enough work credits, you’ll qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance as well.

Employee assistance programs: These subsidized training and counseling programs can come in handy for employees struggling with issues that could impact their job performance, health or well-being. You might sign up if you’re worried about money management, concerned about work-related stress, or mourning a loss, among other circumstances.

Professional development: If you’re interested in continuing education coursework that applies directly to your role, your company might pay all or part of the cost. It might also pay for you to attend related conferences and seminars.

Volunteer hours: It’s fairly common for bigger companies to give employees a certain amount of hours or days each year to volunteer. Some even have the office volunteer together.

Supplemental insurance: Your employer might offer group rates on other voluntary insurance benefits, though it probably won’t kick in for the premiums. These policies might include auto insurance, homeowners insurance, supplemental insurance for dependents or limited forms of life insurance, such as accidental death and dismemberment. In some cases, AD&D is included in group life insurance.

Benefits you can hope to see

Student loan repayment: Some employers help employees pay off student loan debt. Maximum benefits vary by company.

Fitness club allowance: To encourage employees to stay healthy — and hopefully reduce health insurance costs and sick leave requests — some employers provide allowances or reimbursement for gym memberships.

Pet insurance: This benefit helps you take care of your four-legged best friend. Just like your health insurance, however, it’s important that you understand what the insurance covers and what you’ll owe each month and each visit.

Unlimited paid time off: You read it right: unlimited! This is a big benefits trend right now. Some companies let their employees take paid time off whenever they want for as long as they want. People reportedly take the same amount of time off, regardless of limit, but still value the trust that this benefit exemplifies. After all, your employer is putting its faith in your self-management and self-awareness when it lets you control the time you spend away from your desk.

Review your options

There are a lot of benefit options an employer may offer you, so set aside time when you start to consider the choices. And be prepared to review your selections during your office’s yearly open enrollment period. As your life progresses, your benefit needs might change.

Benefits exist to enhance your life. Understanding your choices will help you take advantage of your total employee package.

Megan Terzian is an associate financial planner with Mosaic Financial Partners.

Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 12:32 PM

Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

 

The Hudson comforters by UGG under recall were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and may contain mold which could pose a risk of infection or respiratory issues in people with a mold allergy or compromised immune system. 

The comforters come in four colors: garnet, navy, grey and oatmeal. They were sold between August 2017 and October 2017. 

No injuries have been reported. 

If you have one don't use it and return it to the store for a full refund. Call Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 for more information. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Multipro Baby Cradle N Swing bassinet sold on Amazon.com poses a fall and entrapment hazard for babies. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the bassinets fail to meet mandatory federal safety standards. 

It is recommended that you take the bassinet apart and throw it away. No injuries have been reported. 

Amazon has contacted purchasers and issued full refund gift cards. 

If you have one of these products and did not yet receive a refund contact Amazon at 888-280-4331. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Two Coldwater Creek snow globe models pose a fire hazard. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports light refraction through the globes may melt or singe things placed near them. 

Once incident of damage has been reported. 

The Reindeer snow globe has the model number XC7484. 

The Vintage charm snow globe contains a silver snowman and has the model number 3WGL120. 

They were sold in Coldwater Creek stores and online. 

Stop using the snow globes and contact Coldwater Creek at 888-678 5576 to return the product for a full refund. 

 

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fujifilm is recalling some digital camera power adapters because they could shock you. 

The adapter plug can break or crack exposing live electrical contacts, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The AC-5VF power adaptors were sold with six Fujifilm digital camera models in stores and online. 

Don't use the adapter and contact Fujifilm at 833-613-1200 for a free replacement. 

No injuries have been reported. 

Top tips for selling your old stuff on eBay (and actually making cash)

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:52 PM

Here are some tips from experts Only sell valuable stuff Understand the fees Avoid the scams Optimize your title Take great photos Don't try to profit from shipping charges

Too much clutter, too little money, too many gifts you didn't like... an eBay auction is one of the simplest solutions to all three issues.

If your trash might be someone else's treasure, an eBay business is simple to start and accessible to just about anyone. "It has low start-up costs and it can be started out of your home," noted the New Life Auctions blog, written by sellers who have been active since 2000. "You can work at your own pace and on your own time."

»RELATED: 5 side hustles you can do from the comfort of your home

Within that flexible framework, though, are certain strategies for making far more money and clearing out a lot more junk as an eBay seller.

 

»Here are 10 tips from NLA and other experts: 

Only sell valuable stuff

Yes, you're trying to profit by selling stuff you don't want, but you want to make sure there are some potential buyers who will disagree with you. Start by perusing eBay's own list of what's selling well.

Understand the fees

While it's easy to enter the world of eBay sellers, sales involve fees and you'd do well to balance them against earnings, according to NLA, which offers an eBay fee calculator that allows you to compare which listing formats and categories have the lowest fees, and how much each listing upgrade will deduct from your bottom line.

Avoid the scams

You might be surprised to learn that plenty of the scams that surround eBay sales affect sellers. "Many of the scams take advantage of sellers not knowing all the rules for safe trading on eBay," NLA said. "It is very important for a seller to completely understand PayPal's seller protection program." One scam involves a buyer using PayPal, waiting for the item to be delivered and then opening a dispute with PayPal if you didn't check "delivery confirmation."

If you don't use PayPal's "signature confirmation" option to sell higher-priced goods on eBay, a scammer might open a dispute with PayPal claiming the item wasn't received. "Unable to show proof of delivery, PayPal takes the funds out of the seller's account and returns it to the scammer," NLA noted. The blog outlines other potential scams and ways to avoid them, including credit card chargeback, fake money order and "you have been chosen to sell our products" scams.

Optimize your title

Your title, not the item description, drives search results. Include critical keywords, using a search of keywords for similar completed listings to guide you. Try to include the same keywords as the listings that sold for the highest price. Avoid words like "look" or "incredible" in your title, advised NLA, since no one uses those words to search. If you have a few words leftover in your title, consider adding a common misspelling of the primary keyword to catch the eye both of bad spellers and bargain hunters who search using commonly misspelled listings

Emma Drew, who blogs about money on EmmaDrew.info, said you should include terms you would use when searching for something on eBay. (Be sure to check out her "10 weird things that actually sold on eBay" post each month.)

Spell it right

Most people can't find listings with the primary keyword spelled wrong. That means fewer bidders. 

Take great photos

A picture may not be worth the proverbial thousand words on eBay, but it's pretty close. eBay itself recommends these tactics in its section on taking great pictures:

  • Use a plain, uncluttered backdrop to draw attention to your item.
  • Turn off the flash, instead using diffused lighting to prevent shadows and reflections.
  • Use a tripod to prevent softness and blur.
  • Fill the frame with the item.
  • Capture all angles, details and blemishes.
  • Show the scale.
  • Don't use props.
  • For fashion items, use a model, dress form or mannequin so buyers can see fit.
  • Shoot shoes from different angles so buyers can see the front, top, sides and bottom.

List on Thursday nights

It is common knowledge that eBay auctions ending on Sunday evening are the most profitable and popular, noted Drew, and listing for 10 days on a Thursday gives you two Sunday nights. 

Allow international buyers

"Every bid counts, even if it comes from the other side of the world," according to NLA. "Odds are they won't win the auction, so why not let them bid?" If an international buyer does win your auction, you are able to charge a separate handling fee to compensate for your time filling out the customs form. You'll also want to make it a policy to insure all international packages.

Don't try to profit from shipping charges

If your shipping rates are unreasonable, most buyers will be on to you in a flash, according to NLA. "People know that they are being ripped off and they will leave your auction and not return. Charge a reasonable handling fee." 

Resist the urge to end an auction early

If someone e-mails you with an offer that requires you to end your auction early, don't take it, NLA urged. Even the best early offers are usually just a fraction of what your item is really worth.

Related

6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:42 AM

Be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time home buyers often make Not getting a professional inspection Not putting a pause button on purchases Not keeping up with correspondence Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home Not working with a buyer's agent Not looking into loan assistance programs

Buying a home can be a daunting task − whether it is your first or fifth time heading to the closing table. 

For most of us, it will be the largest investment of our lives. However, there are factors predicted for the upcoming year that will make purchasing a home even more stressful. 

»RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loan

According to Redfin's 2018 projections, inventory will remain low, especially for smaller starter-homes. Additionally, thirty-year mortgage rates are expected to rise between 4.3 and 4.5 percent. Changes to the capital gains tax may also persuade many current homeowners not to sell, putting even more strain on the inventory list. However, there are still deals to be found and your dream home may very well still be out there waiting on you. 

When you find it, be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time homebuyers often make:

Not getting a professional inspection

The idea of paying for a home inspection for a property that you might not even buy seems like a silly concept to some, but it can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. The median cost of a home inspection is $350-$600 for an average or larger sized house, according to HomeInspector.org. Compared to potential issues with the foundation, electrical system or plumbing, however, it's a small price to pay.

Not putting a pause button on purchases

Buying your first house can be an exciting process and many new buyers get the urge to buy furniture and other home essentials before their closing date. While it's understandable to want to get a head start, it is very important that you not do this. According to Kayla Sweeny, a mortgage loan originator with Southeast Mortgage, a very common mistake is "buying things on credit during the mortgage process. The credit report has to be updated to add the new debt. Debt-to-Income ratios have to be recalculated and the file has to be reviewed again. This could potentially kill a deal."

Not keeping up with correspondence

Sweeny also noted that many first time buyers fail to check their mail, e-mail or messages regularly. "There could be critical loan documentation that a mortgage loan originator or processor has sent the borrower. The entire process is time sensitive. A sense of urgency is a must." This also applies to correspondence from your real estate agent, appraiser and inspector.

(For the AJC)

Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home

Everyone knows that you'll likely require a mortgage to purchase a home. Unfortunately, many people fail to factor in the other costs associated with purchase - appraisals, earnest money, inspection costs, taxes, HOA dues, utilities and so on. Rafael Castellanos, president of Expert Title Insurance, told Bankrate.com, "They have an idea of what their mortgage payment is going to be, but they don't realize there's much more to it."

Not working with a buyer's agent

Some first-time buyers believe that they don't need or can't afford a buyer's agent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home purchasing contracts can be long and confusing, filled with legalese that often baffle the layman. Eddie Hudson, owner of The Smyrna Team at Keller Williams, explains that "this means you have no representation, and working with a buyer's agent is free of charge as the seller is paying the commission."

Not looking into loan assistance programs

There are lots of loan programs out there for first-time buyers, from federal down to local levels. Many people don't know to look for them, though. Veterans should absolutely look at the VA program, while everyone else should look at the HUD website to see if any loan or grant programs apply to them. Some municipalities have programs to develop certain areas. The assistance offered can range from help with down payments and closing costs to discounted properties in certain areas.

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Aldi, Kroger recalls some apples due to possible listeria contamination

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 3:50 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 21, 2017 @ 4:43 PM

Possible Listeria Contamination Forces Apple Recall at Aldi

Low-cost grocery store chain Aldi and supermarket Kroger have issued voluntary recalls of some of its apples.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, which posts voluntary recalls, Jack Brown Produce, Inc., based in Sparta, Michigan, is recalling Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious apples because of listeria concerns.

>> Read more trending news 

“In cooperation with Jack Brown Produce Inc., and out of an abundance of caution, Aldi has voluntarily recalled an assortment of apples that were available for purchase in stores starting  on December 13, 2017, due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination,” Aldi said in a news release Tuesday.

The recall came after one of Jack Brown Produce’s suppliers, Nyblad Orchards Inc., notified the businesses of the affected products.

The affected products were sold at some Aldi stores in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and North Carolina. 

“To date, no illnesses related to these products have been reported. No other Aldi products are affected by this,” the company said.

Kroger said it recalled lunchbox-size Fuji and Galas sold between Dec. 12 and Tuesday, according to USA Today.

The products affected are sold under the brand name “Apple Ridge” and are as follows: 

  • Honeycrisp apples in 2-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Gala, Fuji, and Golden Delicious apples in 3-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Fuji and Gala apples in 5-pound red-netted mesh bags; and
  • Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp apples that were tray-packed/individually sold.

Products that may be affected can be identified by the following lot numbers printed on the bag label or the bag-closure clip:

Fuji: NOI 163, 165, 167, 169, 174

Honeycrisp: NOI 159, 160, 173 Golden Delicious: NOI 168 
Gala: NOI 164, 166 on either the product labels and/or bag-closure clip

Affected customers should immediately discard the products or return them to a local store for a full refund. Customers with questions can callJack Brown Produce Inc. at 616-887-9568, Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.