By SIMON CONSTABLE
First, the bad news: For most workers, fat salary hikes won't happen this year. The economy's still too weak.
Now, the good news: You can get other financial goodies from your employer, if you know how.
Most people are unaware that corporations are riddled with seams of gold. Here's a guide to finding the buried treasure. The specifics will be different for each company, but this should get you close enough to mine some dollars.
1 Your 401(k) plan.
To the extent you can afford to do so, put enough money in your 401(k) retirement plan to collect the entire company match.
A lot of data suggest people don't do that, says Mark Schmit, vice president of research at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va. "If you don't take advantage of it, you are leaving money on the table."
It can be like getting an extra 3% or 4% raise, on top of any annual salary increase.
2 Flex-spend money.
Flexible-spending accounts are another oft-forgotten source of money. FSAs allow you to put aside part of your salary before taxes for spending on eligible medical expenses.
You basically get a government subsidy for your medical spending because you are buying with pretax dollars. So for many people their medical bills effectively cost 30% less.
"One of the fears of [FSAs] is the use-it-or-lose-it rule," says Lenny Sanicola, practice leader at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork, an organization of employee-benefits experts. That means if you set aside $3,000 but don't spend it all by year-end, you forfeit the unspent cash.
But that never need happen. You should have a good idea of what medical expenses you'll have, be it new eyeglasses or medicines you regularly use.
So carefully make a forecast and only put that dollar amount in the FSA.
3 Tuition help.
Education subsidies are a fabulous source of funds for something you can take with you when you leave the company. Over half of all companies provide some form of educational assistance for undergraduate or graduate studies, according to a 2011 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
There tend to be certain restrictions. Typically, studies must be at accredited institutions, may need to be work-related and you often only get reimbursed if you earn a minimum grade, according to Mr. Sanicola. The first $5,250 of reimbursement funds per year isn't taxable.
And don't forget: Your company may also award scholarship money for your kids to go to college.
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