By In Financial Independence, General Benefits Knowledge

The Russian Proverb for Employee Benefits: Trust, but Verify

On my personal Twitter profile, I describe myself as a “progressive pragmatist and vice-versa.” What that means is that I tend to look at things optimistically but with a healthy dose of realism. I want things to go well. I want everyone (myself included) to be prosperous and feel important. But I know, from my own upbringing and experiences of family and friends, that positive thinking alone won’t overcome bad odds.

Why am I thinking so philosophically on a Thursday afternoon? Well, I’m sitting in Reagan National Airport — fun fact: “trust, but verify” was a favorite saying of his in relation, ironically, to the Russians, who originated the saying — after attending an event focused on employee benefits. I’ve been to a lot of these types of events and the mood at the more research-focused ones is generally somewhere between unbridled optimism and abject despair.

“The economy is great right now, unemployment is at an all-time low and benefits have never been more important!” 🥳

“Yeah but employees are paying more and have no idea how to use their benefits.” 😩

The thing is, both perspectives are a little bit right. That’s where you come in.

Take care of yourself.

There are easily hundreds of thousands of employers in the United States that offer you health and/or retirement benefits. A lot of these companies sincerely care about your needs and want to provide you with the best benefits that they can within reason. Some offer you great benefits because all of their competitors do as well. And a lot are just checking the box for what’s required of them. If you work for one of the good ones, then great. If you don’t then you need to watch out for yourself.

That’s not to say that anyone is going to try to hoodwink you out of what you’re entitled to have but rather that companies are overwhelmed, poorly advised, or too stubborn to really understand what’s best for you. More often than not, the only person that can determine what kind of personalized service you need is you.

Here are just three examples I heard today to provide this point of self-preservation:

  • People aged 25-64 are currently on pace to have $3.8 trillion less than what they need to retire comfortably by the standard retirement age of 65. And that’s assuming that Social Security benefits aren’t cut in the next few decades.
  • About 5 percent of all funds in health savings accounts (HSAs) have been invested.
  • Fewer than one-third of Americans are using, or even aware of, free preventive care that comes with the vast majority of U.S. health plans since the passage of the ACA.

The problem most often cited by each respective expert that shared one of those statistics is this infamous industry term for holding someone’s attention: engagement.

In a nutshell, employers either don’t have the time or don’t understand how to get you to care. So, you have to care on your own. You have to ask questions when your annual benefits enrollment rolls around. You have to read your benefits details. You need to make sure that you know exactly how much your employer will contribute to your retirement account and/or your HSA. You need to be in charge of your own destiny, regardless of how actively your employer participates in it.

Of course, I’ve hammered home these same points several times before…and I’ll keep doing it because that’s what we progressive pragmatics do — wish for the best for everyone but always have a plan to confront the worst.

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