Avoid these first job benefits mistakes (and do this instead)

first job benefits tips

There can be a lot going on at your first job. When you start, it is a whirlwind of learning, new faces, foreign terms, and of course, a bunch of benefits.

When it comes to benefits, avoid these three common mistakes:

  • Mistake 1: Not cracking the benefits book until the night before you have to choose your benefits.
  • Mistake 2: Not talking to HR or a trusted source about the options once you have looked at them.
  • Mistake 3: Choosing something because you need insurance and not for any other reason.

In the early weeks at your first job when you have to decide on benefits, here’s what to do instead.

Three weeks before

Glance at the benefits info. Skim it and do a once-over to see what’s available. Come back to it a day or two later to see which options apply to you. (And which ones don’t).

Narrow down your options.

From there, narrow it down to the top options. This might involve scheduling a call or face-to-face meeting for 10 minutes with your HR Director.

Phone a friend.

You can also phone a friend. This includes talking to friends who have enrolled in benefits or putting a question out on your social media channels. “I’m looking over my benefits for my job. Any advice on how to pick the best options? #notaskingforafriend”

Two weeks before

While you may have the best of intentions, if you’ve had your benefits packet for a week and still haven’t looked at it, that’s okay. In addition to looking over the information from your employer, it’s also acceptable to Google benefits terms.

Google it.

To get started, pick one topic or area of coverage to research. Think about what you’ve come to expect coverage will include: For dental, do you expect to have one cleaning a year? Two cleanings? Do you plan to go once every 6 months? Once a year? For vision, do you need contacts and glasses? How many times a year do you visit the eye doctor?

When you have answered these basic questions, find the plan that most closely aligns with what you expect.

Beyond insurance

Apart from insurance, you’ll want to explore what other benefits might be available. That can include benefits that lower your taxes and non-health benefits (like flexible hours or leadership training).

Benefits that lower your taxes

Some companies offer benefits that you have you pull out money from your paycheck before taxes. When you do that, it reduces your income and means you don’t have to pay as much in taxes.

When you pull the money out from your paycheck, depending on what your employer offers, the money goes into an account. You use the money in the account to pay for specific types of expenses, usually medical, dental or vision ones.

You can have one of these accounts at the same time as your regular insurance. You use it to pay for expenses that insurance doesn’t cover (known as out-of-pocket expenses).

There are certain rules around what you can and can’t purchase. Get a head start on understanding what you can buy with this list.

One week before

Make sure you really do schedule a meeting with HR. Whether you already had a chat with them or not, it’s important to sit down with them to go over the options you’re considering. They will be able to address your questions or at least point you to online resources (like calculators) that can help you make decisions.

Conquer benefits at your first job

We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. To dig deeper into your benefits, read these four facts you should know before enrolling. You can also check out this guide on understanding new benefits.