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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.

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Toddler toys, decorative pillows, and water bottles among the latest product recalls 

Published: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 2:41 PM

Toddler toys, decorative pillows, and water bottles among the latest product recalls

Children’s xylophones, water bottles sold at Costco, and 21 styles of decorative pillows are among the latest recalls announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The Petit Collage musical jumbo wooden xylophones made by Wild & Wolf are under recall because the ball on the end of the stick can detach and pose a choking hazard. 

There is one report of the ball separating and another report of a loose ball, but no injuries.

They were sold at Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and other retailers.

Don’t let your child use the toy and contact Wild & Wolf at 855-215-5879 to receive a free replacement beater stick. 

Reduce Hydro Pro Water bottles are being recalled over lead paint. 

They were sold in two packs with a dog and lamb design printed on the outside.

No one has been hurt, but the pink paint on the outside of the bear bottles contain levels of toxic lead that exceed federal standards.

Don’t use the recalled bottles and contact Base Brands at 833-600-2887 or return them to place of purchase for a full refund or replacement bottle. 

Decorative pillows by Primark are being recalled because they may catch on fire. 

No one has been hurt, but don’t use the cushions which come in 21 shapes, sizes and colors, click here for full product codes and descriptions. 

Contact Primark at 855-215-5829 or return the pillows to the store for a full refund. 

One million Square D safety switches are under recall because the could shock or electrocute users, although no injuries have been reported.

The power may stay on when in the “OFF” position on several catalog numbers of the general duty switches made by Schneider Electric. 

Contact Schneider Electric at 877-672-1953 or click here to find out how to inspect the switch, receive free service support, and a replacement switch. 

Pressure washer surface cleaners by Briggs and Stratton are being recalled because  the spray bar can fly off and cause an injury. 

One person reported needing sutures on a cut to the knee after being struck by the bar.    There are four other reports of the bars detaching from the central hub. 

3000 PSI Briggs and Stratton and Crafsman branded surface cleaners are involved in the recall.

Stop using the cleaners and Contact Briggs and Stratton at 877-370-7505 to receive a free replacement. 

RELATED: Recent Recalls from CPSC 

Jo-Ann Stores are recalling string light sets which can break and cut you.

Two people have  been cut by the decorative glass jars in the Jo-Ann’s Makers Holiday 10-count LED string lights. 

Don’t use the lights and contact Jo-Ann stores at 888-739-4120 for a full refund. 

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Polaris is recalling Ranger XP recreational off-highway vehicles and Phoenix 200 all-terrain vehicles due to injury and crash concerns.

Multiple model numbers of the 2016 and 2017 Ranger XP ROVs have seat belt brackets that can separate from the frame. No injuries have been reported.

All model year 2014 through 2017 Phoenix ATVs are being recalled because of nine reports of a damaged throttle limiter, with one minor injury.

Stop using the ROVs and ATVs and contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 for a free repair.

For more on these and other recalls visit CPSC.gov.

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Local students learn how to combat scams, fraud

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 1:08 PM

Students in the Miami Valley are learning to recognize fraud and scams, and finding out how they can protect themselves from these potential money pitfalls.

Several schools in our area teach a free consumer life skills and financial literacy curriculum called FoolProof. 

The goal of the web-based, interactive coursework is to teach a healthy dose of skepticism in a scam-filled world.

Related: "Shimming” is the latest threat to shoppers

Kettering, Xenia, Franklin, Stebbins, Greenville and Lebanon high schools offer FoolProof classes.

News Center 7 consumer reporter Rachel Murray will find out more about what the students learn and what they can teach us about avoiding scams and fraud. 

Watch tonight on WHIO-TV at 5pm.

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Audit-proofing your taxes 

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 @ 11:29 AM

Audit-proofing your taxes

First, the good news.  The IRS is auditing fewer taxpayers.  

In fact, audits are at an all-time low. You can’t completely audit-proof your tax returns, but there are ways to make your chance of an IRS investigation less likely. 
Failing to report taxable income and cryptocurrency income, are among Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine’s list of audit red flags.

Math errors, sizeable donations, home office deductions and deductions of unreimbursed business expenses, for example, commuting costs and clothing, are also going to raise eyebrows at the IRS.

RELATED: IRS ID theft prevention steps appear to be working

One of the biggest red flags is income.

The more money you make the more likely you’ll be scrutinized by the IRS, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.  

If you make $200,00 or more, there is a one in 80 chance of an audit, and if you make more than $1 million your odds are one in 25, according to Clark Howard’s website, Clark.com.

News Center 7 consumer reporter Rachel Murray will have insight from a local tax preparer about ways to audit-proof your tax return tonight on WHIO-TV at 5.

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‘Shimming’ has emerged as the latest threat to shoppers

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

Shimming has emerged as the latest threat to shoppers

There’s a growing threat to your credit and debit card information, and you might not be aware of it.

It’s called “shimming.” 

New Recalls: power banks, PAW PATROL hats and more

 Scammers insert paper-thin devices into credit card chip readers that can copy your data. 

The information can’t be used to make a chip card clone, but it can be used to create a traditional mag-stripe card, which could be used to fraudulently make purchases or withdraw cash, according to Creditcards.com.

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