This time of year many people celebrate major life milestones, like graduations, new jobs and weddings. If you are celebrating one of these milestones, congratulations! After you’ve swept up the confetti, however, you will also need to make some important financial decisions. At the Employee Benefits Security Administration, we want you to be prepared, so here are four tips for managing major milestones:
When you start a new job, your employer will give you information about health and retirement benefits. These are valuable benefits, so resist the temptation to toss those booklets into a cabinet. Read these booklets carefully. Find out who you need to talk to and ask questions. Whether it’s health insurance or a 401(k) plan, EBSA has information to help you understand and take advantage of your benefits.
2. Getting married? Get involved in the benefits decisions that affect you both.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, you may be able to add yourself, a new spouse and children to your employer’s or spouse’s plan. Compare the health benefits, cost and options under both plans, and then decide which one works best for you.
If you want your spouse to receive your benefits after your death, make sure you add him or her as your beneficiary on your 401(k) plan. Keep in mind that depending on where you work, you may be able to add your same-sex spouse to your health and retirement plans – so make sure to check and see what your plan says.
3. Changing jobs? Mind your benefits!
Be prepared for changes to your benefits. Before switching jobs, ask about the health plan offered by the potential employer, and compare it to your current plan. Get information on all options and compare before deciding which coverage to elect.
Under COBRA you may be able to purchase health coverage through your former employer’s plan for a limited time while you look for a new job. This, as well as some of the other “qualifying events” described here, may also allow you to buy an individual plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace – regardless of whether it’s currently open season. Through the Marketplace, you may qualify for tax credits that can lower your monthly premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs, depending on your household size and income, so be sure to visit healthcare.gov for more information.
Also, if you had a 401(k) or other retirement plan at your old job, you’ll have some choices. For example, you can leave your retirement savings in the same account or you may be able to roll it over into your new employer’s 401(k). Don’t spend it. Keeping it invested ensures that you’ll stay on track for your retirement. And you will also avoid a tax penalty for taking it out early.
4. Having children? Make sure your family is covered.
Birth and adoption may trigger a special enrollment period during which you, your spouse and your children can enroll in your employer’s plan. Be aware that you must request enrollment within 30 days after a marriage, birth, adoption or placement for adoption. Under the Affordable Care Act, your plan may be required to provide preventive care services like well-child visits and immunizations without your having a copayment or co-insurance or meeting your deductible. Check with your plan to see if this applies to you.
And keep saving for retirement. While you have many new expenses to raise your children, it’s key to take care of yourself as well. Remember, there are no student loans for retirement!
Phyllis C. Borzi is the assistant secretary of labor for employee benefit security.