These Job Perks Are Basically Free Money

Amid ramped-up competition for talent these days, employers are offering an increasing diversity of generous work perks.

It used to be that a solid stock option was the best job perk your employer offered. But as the competition for talented employees stiffens and employers struggle to fill openings, benefits such as free lunches, matching student loan payments, and free gym and wellness programs, are becoming the new normal. Here's a closer look at what's on the table these days—and what it means for your bottom line.

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Continuing education costs

For recent college grads, education perks hold massive appeal, says Lauren Anastasio, a financial planner for SoFi.

She typically sees employers offering to pay for a portion of tuition costs for employees who opt to go back to school. This usually does not apply to courses you were taking at the time of your hiring. It's one of the benefits that become available a bit later; once you've been with the company for a few months or a year. Some will even take it a step further and offer educational sabbaticals.

"Employers offer these to their longer-tenured employees to increase employee satisfaction and provide their employees with the opportunity to pursue personal passions without leaving the company to do it," Anastasio says. "This is a way to increase retention as well as allow employees to develop knowledge and experiences that they can then bring back to the workplace."

Anastasio said the companies most inclined to provide educational assistance are the ones committed to developing and retaining their people, so that spans various industries.

"Employers are often able to promote employees who have gone through additional training or allow them the opportunity to become skilled or certified in other professions employed by the company," she says.

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Student loan payment programs

Another benefit that's on the rise right now is employers helping to alleviate student loan debt for their employees. And it makes perfect sense, given that the most recent data indicates there's a staggering $1.75 trillion in U.S. student loan debt at the moment, which impacts about 46 million Americans, according to Student Loan Hero.

"Employer contribution programs have been increasing in popularity over the last few years," says Anastasio. "As student loan debt continues to be a burden, companies are looking for ways to set themselves apart and help their employees manage those debts, which can be crippling."

SoFi, for instance, is working with more than 800 employers and associations to offer these types of student loan repayment benefits to their employees and members through SoFi At Work.

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Financial wellness programs

One of the newer perks employers are offering, Anastasio says financial wellness programs benefit employees in the same way that offering a discounted gym membership would.

"It keeps employee satisfaction up and also helps the company stay competitive as an employer," she adds. "By helping reduce the stresses associated with financial woes, employers also benefit from increased happiness and productivity among their workforce."

These types of programs are usually offered by a third-party group of industry experts, you can also usually access them as part of your 401k plan administrator.

And don't underestimate the value of of financial wellness programs, which generally include access to personal financial planners, says Lori Rassas, a human resources consultant and author of the recent book It's About You Too: How to Manage Employee Resistance to Your Diversity Initiatives and Improve Workplace Culture and Profitability

"Hiring these experts can be expensive and quite often the financial institutions that manage your employer-sponsored retirement plan offer this service for plan participants. Some offer free, basic one-on-one counseling and others offer these services at a reduced cost," she says.

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Family offerings

Expecting a baby? Check company policies to see if they offer parental leave. Some companies, take Microsoft for example, will give six months off for birth mothers and 12 weeks off for other parents. Also, check if your employer offers concierge services when you have a new baby which could take care of tasks like laundry service to lunch delivery.

"Organizations are shifting their benefits offerings and perks to attract and engage a younger workforce," Anastasio says. She has also seen a growing trend in pet insurance packages and monthly subsidies, up to $30 a month to keep your dog healthy and happy, so check for those, too.

05 of 10

Flexible spending account

Flexible spending accounts or FSAs take pre-tax money from your paycheck and set it aside for use on out-of-pocket expenses like child care, health care, or your commuting costs.

"You'll decide what you want your elections to be during open enrollment and you can put up to $5,000 in that account," says personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer of NerdWallet. "If you have a 40 percent tax rate, you're saving 40 percent on those costs."

Some employees skip this offering because they're not clear on their tax benefits. But if you're willing to track your receipts for the year, Palmer said it can add up to hundreds in savings.

06 of 10

401k plan matches

This one may seem a little old school, but let's not forget how an employer-sponsored 401k plan that includes a company match saves you money later in life.

"In the long run, you'll have more for retirement, while contributing less than peers who don't have this perk," says consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch. "If your employer matches a percent of your 401k contributions, make sure you take advantage because it's like free money."

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Choosing the right insurance coverages

Whether you're selecting a health insurance plan or opting for supplemental life or disability coverage, your employer's group coverage can offer significant savings, says Anastasio.

"By choosing the right type of health insurance coverage you may save money throughout the year through reduced premiums, lower copays, or even employer-made contributions to an FSA or HSA," she explains.

Supplemental life insurance and disability coverage provided by your employer can also help you save cash by reducing the need to obtain this type of coverage elsewhere at a higher rate.

"It's not uncommon to find that additional coverage through your employer is cheaper than what you'd find on your own as an individual," says Anastasio.

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Commuter benefits

This particular employer perk may have decreased in popularity during the pandemic, but as we return to offices it's valuable to keep in mind that you may be able to save on public transportation, pooled rides, or parking costs, says Anastasio.

"Many employers offer the ability for you to enroll in commuter benefits, which allows you to pay for these related expenses on a pre-tax basis," she says, noting that companies known for having this benefit include Google, Facebook, SoFi, and JPMorgan Chase.

There are even some employers that are now providing staff with transportation to work or credit for transport, like paying for Uber fares up to a certain threshold, adds Anna Barker, personal finance expert and founder of LogicalDollar.

"It's clear that this can save you money on your actual transportation costs, like gas, but there are a ton of other savings that this can result in as well," explains Barker. "For instance, the maintenance costs on your own car will be significantly reduced and you won't have to pay for parking."

You may even be able to get rid of a car altogether if these types of perks mean your household only needs one vehicle–or none at all, continues Barker.

"Given that transportation is usually one of the top three expenses in any household, this can have a significant impact on your overall budget," she says.

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Working remotely

While remote work opportunities have largely become the norm amid COVID-19, that doesn't mean this perk is here to stay forever. At least not for all employers.

But if your workplace does provide the opportunity to continue working remotely, even for part of the workweek, this can lead to cost-saving opportunities in a number of different areas, says Rassas.

"In the ideal situation, your employer will be willing to pay at least a portion of some of your work-for-home expenses, such as high-speed Internet access, which you would ordinarily be required to pay for on your own," Rassas explains. "In addition, some employers offer their employees a subsidy to set up their home office, which you would likely be able to keep as your own."

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Gym subsidies

If you currently pay for a gym membership yourself, getting a subsidized or reduced-fee membership can be a great saving on a recurring fee. The good news is many employers are not only footing part of your gym bill these days, some are picking up the entire tab!

This is a job perk that can also save you money on health costs over the long term, says Barker of LogicalDollar.

"By being given free or subsidized gym access, you'll also be able to save on medical bills that may have arisen in the future if you weren't exercising," she explains.

Of course, in order to realize such savings here, you have to actually go to the gym. But that's on you!

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