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Open Enrollment: 7 Things to Review About Your Benefits

If you are employed by a company or organization that provides benefits, you may be coming up on an open enrollment period. This is typically a few weeks or a few months that your employer uses as a window for you to make changes to your benefits. It is often during the fall so that you can make changes that are made effective in the next calendar year. Many people make their decisions (or “elections”) on their employer-provided benefits upon hire. (For related reading, see: How to Protect Your Assets From Litigation.)

It's important to go back and review those elections throughout the years as your financial situation evolves. Open enrollment may allow you to make changes in your elections to a number of benefits, including:

  • Medical or Health Insurance
  • Dental Insurance
  • Vision Insurance
  • Life Insurance, both group policies and voluntary or supplemental policies
  • Short and Long-term Disability
  • Retirement Plan contributions

It is important to review these elections because you may be locked into these benefits until the next open enrollment period. There are a few exceptions that allow you to make changes if they happen. These include:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Birth
  • Adoption
  • Death

Below are seven important things that you should review as you enter your employer’s open enrollment period:

  1. Review your beneficiary designations. Open enrollment is a great time to look up and/or make changes to your beneficiary designations. People rarely realize that your beneficiary designations trump a will when your assets are distributed after you pass away. Do not forget to update them as your family dynamic changes.
  2. Should you sign up for a legal plan? At many larger employers, a legal plan is offered as a benefit. These legal plans may cover basic issues like a simple will, trusts, and possibly divorce planning. Estate planning is often neglected for far too long. If you have children, it is important to know that minors cannot inherit assets. You need to have your estate planning in order to avoid a probate judge deciding how your assets are doled out in the case of an unexpected death.
  3. Examine your withholdings. Did you get a refund last year or did you owe money? Did you have a new child this year? Did you get married or divorced this year? Asking these questions will allow you to determine the right amount of withholdings from your paycheck so you don’t get too large a refund or owe too much money come tax time. Many people fill their withholding forms out once, and then never change them again.
  4. Understand your life insurance need. Have your family dynamics changed? Open enrollment is a good time to take a close look at how much protection you have in the event of an unexpected death. Are you under or over-insured? A life insurance “Needs Analysis” with your advisor can help you understand how much you need.
  5. Get rid of accidental death and dismemberment insurance. You need a certain amount of life insurance...period. It doesn’t matter if your death was “accidental” or not. A sound financial plan should include a Life Insurance Needs Analysis and help you avoid unnecessary costs.
  6. 401(k) or Roth 401(k) contributions? Tax analysis and managing tax brackets are another component of a sound financial plan. Your contributions have a big impact on your taxable income as well as your future tax situation while taking distributions. You may decide on a combination of the two.
  7. Has your health insurance changed? Look into whether the construction of your health insurance plan has changed. Many have changed in accordance to the Affordable Care Act. If you use a Health Savings Account because you typically don't meet your deductible, then make sure you set aside cash to max out the pre-tax opportunities.

If you don’t understand any of the above items, seek out a trusted professional.  These are major decisions that affect not only you, but your family as well. It’s time to take a long hard look at these items and to set yourself up for success moving forward. (For related reading, see: How to Grow Your Retirement Plan to $1 Million.)