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Workers will still spend on benefits, survey says

A new survey finds 90 percent of employees plan to keep or increase work benefits as their company's open enrollment season approaches.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A new survey finds 90 percent of employees plan to keep or increase work benefits as their company's open enrollment season approaches. It's surprising because many workers have cut back much of their personal spending.

The survey for MetLife Inc. shows more than a third of all workers say they have less money to spend this year, but just 11 percent plan on decreasing their benefits.

Many workers consider their benefits package a centerpiece of their financial security, said Ron Leopold, vice president for MetLife's U.S. business.

"They're looking to conserve and in some cases expand spending in benefits even though discretionary income is in many cases less than it was before," he said.

The telephone survey of 1,000 workers, aged 18 and older at companies with 10 employees or more, was done in late July by GfK Custom Research North America. It has a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Open enrollment season can be stressful because it requires workers to make decisions that can't be changed for another year unless the person has a major life change like a marriage, divorce or a child.

But, the survey shows about 75 percent of workers say they'll spend about the same amount of time as last year going over their benefit options during open enrollment. About 13 percent plan to spend more time this year. Of those, more than half expect to spend an additional hour or more.

Economic events and financial security were cited by 64 percent as the reasons for taking more time to pour over the options. About a third of the workers surveyed said a major life event occurred since last year, causing them to take more time to contemplate benefits. About 15 percent said they made a wrong choice last year and need to make a change.

A third of those planning to spend more time said an increase in the amount of benefits information from their employer has prompted them to more closely consider their decisions.

You can make the most of open enrollment season by following these tips:

  • Do your homework. Thoroughly research which benefits are right for you and read open enrollment materials thoroughly.
  • Plan to make some changes. Very few people have the same benefits needs year after year, but surveys by benefits consultant Hewitt Associates show that nearly 70 percent of participants default to their previous choice.
  • Don't assume that a recession means companies are cutting back on benefits. Most are maintaining benefits and some plan to expand certain voluntary benefits, which are those you pay for but at a cost savings due to group rates.
  • Take advantage of pretax accounts. If your employer offers a flexible spending account for health care, vision and dental out-of-pocket expenses, consider that pretax savings will reduce your taxable income.

MetLife, which provides employee benefits to more than 61,000 U.S. companies, said businesses could help in the open enrollment process by providing clear and understandable statements summarizing a worker's benefits in one total compensation statement. Only 43 percent of companies do so.

In addition companies could beef up tools offered to help workers make decisions, including Web-based calculators, which is the top unfulfilled employee request, MetLife said.

Workers also would like to have additional opportunities to change their benefits selections. More than a third of workers say they would be interested in modifying their benefits more often than once a year.