Financial Topics & Tips
Common Mistakes During Open Enrollment
Fall is a time for change, but there’s one thing people often leave untouched: their workplace benefits packages. November is the beginning of the open enrollment period for many workplace benefit plans, making it the ideal time to review your insurance information and other benefits. Watch out for these common pitfalls when enrolling in workplace benefits.
1.) The passive opt-in
When starting a new job, the myriad decisions are overwhelming. Consequently, health insurance decisions often get minimal attention. For many people, though, those choices remain in place for much of their careers.
Sticking with the default option may be detrimental for two reasons:
- First, your life situation has likely changed. As you age, you need more comprehensive health coverage. You may also need more extensive dependent coverage or have more disposable income to contribute to an HSA or FSA.
- Second, most companies renegotiate their insurance rates annually. Your employer may have negotiated lower premiums or better coverage. You’ll only discover these options by discussing your coverage for the next benefits year with your HR representative.
2.) Forgetting spousal benefits
Being covered by both your own and your spouse’s plans can be a serious financial hazard. First, you may be overpaying for insurance. Adding a spouse to a workplace policy is usually cheaper than having two separate policies. Study both policies and determine which one is more advantageous.
Even worse, being doubly insured frequently leaves you in the middle of a fight between insurance companies. Both will insist the other pay first, leaving you mountains of paperwork for coordination of benefits. If you and your spouse are on different enrollment periods, most companies provide a preview of the planned benefits offerings outside open enrollment, so you and your partner can review the available options.
3.) Ignoring HSA/FSA options
Enrolling in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can sting, as unspent dollars leave your paycheck. Don’t let that deter you.
HSAs and FSAs are similar in function with important differences. Both allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars for expenses related to health care. The principal difference between them is that FSAs roll over their entire remaining balance to the next year, while FSAs only roll over up to a certain pre-established limit.
Enrolling in one of these accounts requires estimating your health care costs for the next year. Assume you’ll spend the same amount you did last year. For a planned medical expense, such as a surgery, you can get an estimate to guide your contributions.
Funding an HSA or an FSA is free money off your taxes. You’ll have to pay for health care costs; by designating money for it early, you avoid paying taxes on that money. It’s crucial to revisit your benefits options once a year. Save your insurance paperwork and attend the informational policy meetings. Be an active participant in your benefits decisions.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask your company’s benefits specialist or human resources department before the enrollment deadline and before submitting your forms.