How to get the most from your other benefits

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By Amanda Gengler, Money Magazine writer

Health coverage isn't all that's at stake this month.

Flexible spending account Today 30% of companies offer an FSA but only a third of eligible employees sign up, reports HR consulting firm Mercer.

Big mistake. You can deposit pretax money - typically $2,500 to $5,000 for health-care FSAs, $5,000 for dependent-care accounts - to pay for out-of-pocket expenses in these areas. If you're in the 28% tax bracket, contributing $3,000 saves you more than $1,070 in federal and other taxes.

You lose any money you don't use by Dec. 31 (or March 15, depending on the plan). So look back at what you spent in 2008 to determine your contribution. (Note: You probably won't qualify for a regular health-care FSA if you have a health savings account.)

Transportation reimbursement account Sign up for this too if you pay to commute. For 2008 you could set aside up to $115 a month pretax for mass transit and $220 for parking.

Life insurance Many employers pay for coverage equal to one to two times your salary. But you probably need more. You can often buy additional insurance through your job at a lower rate than you can get on your own.

But if you can't take the policy with you when you leave the company, you're better off buying on the outside. The exception: Shop at work if health problems make you high risk.

Disability insurance This policy will pay out if you get hurt or sick and cannot work. Your company may offer some coverage for free. But you'll usually pay tax on any benefit you get from that policy, so the coverage may not be enough.

Often you're able to purchase more, up to 70% of your income, through the group plan. Go for it - this is usually a better deal than an individual policy.

Long-term-care insurance If you want a policy, shop around with a few brokers before accepting the plan at work. You may find cheaper, better coverage on your own.

Also, an individual policy may provide more benefits, such as inflation protection - a necessity, says Bonnie Burns of California Health Advocates.

401(k) Though you have access to your retirement plan during the year, use this time, when you're focused on benefits, to see if you're contributing as much as you can and to rebalance your portfolio if necessary.

What should you reveal about your health?

This year more than 80% of large companies will ask employees to fill out a health-risk questionnaire covering stuff like weight, cholesterol and family history, says benefits consultant Watson Wyatt. Generally the forms are used to determine what wellness programs might help you.

Your participation may affect what you'll pay for insurance. You can sometimes qualify for a discount on premiums or a cash reward just for completing the form. But a handful of firms punish workers who reveal that they have risk factors - smoking, for example - with higher premiums.

If your company requires the questionnaire, fill it out. You may find yourself with limited choices or even no insurance if you don't.

If it's optional, ask who will see it and how it'll be used. If it's collected by a third party or your insurer (which knows a lot about you anyway), your privacy will likely be protected, says benefits attorney Andy Anderson.

Fill it out. If your employer collects it, weigh the risks: If the premium break isn't big and you have costly health issues you don't want your company to know about, you may want to keep mum. To top of page

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