Manisha's Money Saving Tips

6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Open Enrollment

By Manisha Thakor | Septeptember 20, 2011

It's that time of year again, open enrollment period. This is the annual window where you can sign up for, or adjust, your participation in a variety of employee benefits that range from traditional health insurance to one of my favorites—flexible spending accounts ("FSAs").

Alas, a recent Harris Interactive/Aflac study showed that 77 percent of people admitted that they made mistakes when signing up for their benefits packages in past years, with 42 percent saying those mistakes cost them money.

What kind of mistakes are we talking about?

One of the most common errors actually was forgetting to sign up for FSAs.

Given today's economic environment, you no doubt want to save as much money as you can. That makes FSAs, in particular, a benefit that you really want to take the time to understand. Why? FSAs enable you to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care costs. Depending upon your tax-bracket, an FSA can save you up to 40% on items you already pay for out-of-pocket (such as co-pays for doctor visits or prescription drugs).

Health care FSAs aren’t the only pre-tax benefit that you can sign up for. There are others, including benefits that cover dependent care and commuter expenses. If you work for an employer who offers one or more of these valuable benefits, make sure you don’t miss out on your opportunity to enroll and save. Even if you’ve participated in the past, you still have to re-enroll in these benefits each year.

Whether it's thinking about traditional insurance or pre-tax benefits, the most common sentiments I hear from folks about their employee benefits are that they feel overwhelmed and confused. So here is a list of 6 resources that you can use during this year's open enrollment season to make the most of the benefits available to you through your workplace.

  • WageWorks – Confused about the pre-tax benefits offered by your employer? Benefits provider WageWorks (a company that I have proudly teamed up with on a consumer awareness campaign) has calculators for every type of pre-tax benefit that your employer might offer (e.g., healthcare FSAs, dependent care FSAs, commuter benefits, and Health Savings Accounts) that will help you to estimate your eligible expenses and expected tax-savings.
  • Consumer Reports Health Website – Confused about health insurance? This website offers a wide range of information on this topic, including a comparison of different insurance offerings by state, as well as in-depth articles on how to choose a plan and what changes you should expect in the era of health reform.
  • Plan for Your Health – Want more help with health insurance? Aetna and the Financial Planning Association have teamed up on this site to offer some excellent tools to reference while you make your open enrollment choices, including a glossary of benefits terms (aka, dummy guide) and calculators for health and baby-related expenses.
  • Simplee.com – Feel like your medical costs are spiraling out of control? If you’re willing to provide Simplee with access to your medical records, it can help you make sense of your medical bills and figure out where you can save more money.
  • Metlife’s Employee Benefits Simplifier Tool - Overwhelmed by the range of other benefits offered by your employer? This site asks you to answer a few questions about your family and income, and then provides you with an overview of which benefits you will likely want to sign up for during open enrollment. Using the tool only takes about 5 minutes and it will help you consider everything from disability insurance to 401(k) contributions and more.

Of course, the best resource during open enrollment is always your Human Resources department. They will have all the information that is specific to your particular benefit offerings. So don't hesitate to ask them any questions.

Lastly, remember to keep all of the relevant information you receive (brochures, emails, etc.) in a special location so that you can easily refer to it when making selections for you and your family during this year's open enrollment season.

Do you have any favorite resources that help you plan for your open enrollment choices each year? If so, please tweet them to me at @ManishaThakor with the hashtag #enrollmenttools.

Real Stories. Real Users.

Abby

From Florida

“My FSA is a life saver! Last year I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor and luckily I was able to have the necessary surgeries to remove it immediately since my FSA covered all of the out-of-pocket costs for my deductible and medicines.”

Annual Savings: $816

Read more about how real people use their pre-tax benefits.