5 reasons to offer a student loan repayment benefit in 2019

Are you looking for ways to help add more value to your talent through your 2019 benefits packages? Continue reading to learn why you should offer student loan repayment as one of your employee benefits.


With human resources managers across the country working to finalize their 2019 benefits packages this month, many are asking themselves: How can we add more value for our talent and help the company grow? For many employers, the answer is helping employees manage their student loan debt.

Over the years, student loan debt has reached an astronomical sum. As of 2008, college tuition fees rose by 439% from 1982. And by the first quarter of 2018, 44 million Americans owed a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, exceeding both credit card debt and auto loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve. Not only is this an extreme amount of debt, but has also taken an enormous emotional toll, with more than half of college-educated adults (54%) surveyed by Laurel Road in 2018 feeling that they will never make enough money to reach their financial goals.

Fast forward to today, and borrowers are seeking creative ways to tackle their debt and save more. Recently, in a private ruling, the IRS granted Abbott Laboratories, a national healthcare company, the option to contribute to employee 401(k) plans based on the employee’s student loan payments. Other companies — from corporate behemoths to busy startups — have partnered with student loan refinancing companies to offer employees refinancing options that can help them save, often at no cost to the company.

With Americans quitting their jobs at the fastest rate since 2001, keeping employees happy is imperative. And part of keeping millennials happy is to provide practical benefits, not just the fun perks. Employees are looking to foster meaningful relationships with their employers — so looping in student loan repayment benefits can pay off for both the employer and the employee.

So what’s to gain? Here are some of the top reasons employers should consider incorporating student loan repayment benefits into their 2019 benefits package.

1. Recruit, retain and stand out

In a competitive talent landscape, student loan debt relief is a modern benefit that any company can offer to incentivize the younger generation to join their team. In a recent survey conducted by Laurel Road, we found that 58% of millennials would trade an additional vacation day for student loan repayment assistance, showing how valuable meaningful benefits are to this generation. This benefit can be a deciding factor for talent, and a way for employers to attract top-performing talent by offering to support their financial futures.

2. It’s flexible and free

As an employer, you have options to create a student loan program that works for your team’s needs and the company’s bottom line. A lot of this comes from choosing the right lending or refinancing partner that can provide savings to employees. Lenders can offer companies the option to contribute or not and work to tailor the program to the specific needs and interests of the company’s workforce — with some options coming in at no cost to the employer.

3. Eliminate the student loan vs. retirement conflict

Employees with student debt often feel deeply conflicted about whether or not to save for retirement first or pay off their student loan debt. A recent study from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that college graduates with student debt accumulate 50% less retirement wealth in their 401(k) by age 30 than those without. Employees shouldn’t have to choose between contributing to retirement and paying off their student loan debt, as both are necessary to financial health. The student loan relief benefit allows employees to make a dent in both, reducing financial stress.

4. Help employees save

One of the reasons why the student loan benefit is attractive for employees is the significant savings it can lead to. If refinancing is an option, employees have the potential to save thousands of dollars over the life of their loan through a lower loan interest rate and lower monthly payments.

In the long run, the cumulative savings can add up to several thousand dollars or more. Employers should keep in mind that the savings amount will change depending on the financing company you choose to work with. Many can offer employer customers exclusive rates, which leads to even greater savings.

5. Boost morale and productivity

According to another benefits company, 31% of employees surveyed say their money concerns affect their work. Meanwhile, 74% of people feel stress daily about their student loan debt and spend time at work thinking about it, impacting their overall productivity in the workplace. So in addition to the hard savings employees are earning through these programs, they are also rewarded with the soft benefits of reduced stress and anxiety at work.

With student loan debt reaching record highs in recent years, employers have recognized that there’s a crucial need to provide employees with options to help them pay down their student loan debt. And when options like refinancing come at no cost to them, this benefit will likely become more popular. In the future, we can expect more employers to pave the way for student loan repayment programs. Will you be one of the trailblazers?

SOURCE: Schaefer, A. (28 September 2018) "5 reasons to offer a student loan repayment benefit in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/5-reasons-to-offer-a-student-loan-repayment-benefit-in-2019?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001

5 ways benefits educators can ease the open enrollment process

Are you prepared for open enrollment? HR professionals are responsible for effectively communicating plan options and changes to employees so they make informed decisions regarding their coverage and healthcare. Continue reading to learn more.


Open enrollment season is on its way, which means that HR’s already full plate just got a bit fuller. In addition to developing competitive health plans that attract and retain top talent – talent of all ages and with varying needs – HR pros are also responsible for effectively communicating plan options to employees to ensure that individuals make informed, cost-conscious decisions about their coverage and care.

See also: Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

As the healthcare landscape becomes more complex, so do employee questions around their health care benefits. Many healthcare consumers today don’t feel comfortable navigating the health care system – which is why most roll over the same plan year after year. While HR teams want to manage the influx of employee questions around their benefits options, they struggle to provide the necessary guidance given their current bandwidth. Covering health plans in a large townhall meeting won’t provide the personalized information that employees need to make educated decisions. To deliver a more personal, empowering experience, organizations can look to benefits educators to supplement strapped HR teams.

Benefits educators can help individuals better understand the plan options available to them and select the package that offers the coverage they need at the price that best fits their budget. To ensure that benefits educators are aligned with the organization’s strategy, HR teams should arrange for educators well in advance of open enrollment so they are equipped to best explain the employer’s benefits plan options. Once up to speed, benefits educators can hold one-on-one conversations with employees to:

1. Define healthcare terms that employees don’t understand. With low healthcare literacy rampant across the U.S., disturbingly few employees are comfortable defining basic health terms such as “deductible,” “copay” or “coinsurance.” benefits educators cannot only explain these important terms but also help employees understand their significance in their coverage selection process.

2. Compare different plans to suit each employee’s needs. Benefits educators will work to understand the specific needs of each employee they meet. By taking the time to sit and get to know each employee, the benefits educator can recommend options that provide the coverage that best meets the needs of the employee and his or her family.

See also: Avoid these 12 Common Open Enrollment Mistakes

Third-party, independent benefits educators can be particularly valuable for employees who do not feel comfortable posing personal questions to their coworkers. By meeting one-on-one with an outsider who understands both benefits in general and company options in particular, employees are often more inclined to raise specific health or personal details that should guide their benefits selection. In fact, 45 percent of employees say they would prefer to speak to a benefits expert when choosing their coverage.

3. Equip employees with the information they need to choose their coverage. Left to their own devices, 83 percent of employees spend less than an hour reviewing their plan options before open enrollment – a lack of preparation that does not bode well for educated benefits selection. benefits educators can focus on the details that matter – saving the employee time and effort.

4. Explain voluntary benefits. Despite the increasing popularity of voluntary benefits, many employees are still confused about what they are, how they work and why they might be helpful. In reality, certain voluntary benefits can help control health costs and bridge the gap between medical coverage and out-of-pocket costs – added expenses that concern 61 percent of employees. In today’s multigenerational workforce – where employees have very different priorities when it comes to their health and financial wellness – benefits educators can dispel some of the mystery and suggest options that might meet individual needs.

5. Empower employees to make the most of their benefits year-round. Benefits educators can lay the groundwork for more educated health care consumers by directing employees to resources where they can find more information about their coverage and how their plans work after the open enrollment ends.

See also: 5 tips to make this the best open enrollment ever

More informed employees not only make smarter choices about their coverage and care but also better appreciate their employers – which has the potential to help with retention and business productivity. Ultimately, organizations see a win-win-win: happier employees who save on care, happier HR teams who save on time and happier executives, who see a significant return on their health care investments.

SOURCE: Murdock, G (21 September 2018) "5 ways benefits educators can ease the open enrollment process" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/09/21/5-ways-benefits-educators-can-ease-the-open-enroll/


Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

Does open enrollment make your HR department tremble with fear? Open enrollment season is right around the corner and can make the most experienced HR professionals shudder. Read on to learn how your HR department can breeze through open enrollment this year.


Three words have the power to make the most experienced HR professional shudder: open enrollment season.

Open enrollment season is a challenge, no matter how well the HR department prepares. Costs for medical and pharmacy benefits continue to rise, which means there are adjusted employee contributions to present to an audience who’s unlikely to understand the reasoning behind cost increases. There may be new benefits offerings that require employees to pay close attention during the decision-making process. There are open enrollment education campaigns and communications meetings to plan and launch.

Employers with multiple generations of workers must accommodate a wide range of health and welfare benefit needs. New laws (like the federal tax law) plus evolving regulations around benefits add more to HR’s already full plate. (No wonder you don’t have time for lunch.)

But, there’s good news. First, open enrollment is made easier if you plan throughout the year for it. Second, these four tips can help HR professionals make open enrollment much easier.

Review trends and projections ASAP. Focus on the renewal rate long before the renewal date. If your employee benefits renew at the beginning of the year, you may not have received your rate yet. But frankly, by now you should have a very good idea where the rate is projected to land. Reviewing claims and trend data alongside benchmarking and industry analyses throughout the year can help you and your broker project, within a few percentage points, how your renewal rate will increase or decrease.

Your benefits broker should be analyzing your program data on an ongoing basis to estimate the renewal rate and avoid a nasty surprise. The broker should also challenge the first carrier rate offered — there’s almost always room for negotiation. Doing pre-renewal work throughout the year can help you prepare for plan changes and position you to make the best decisions for the organization and employees. It will also help facilitate a smoother open enrollment season.

Keep new benefit options simple. After reviewing benefits and trends, you may find that adding a pre-tax benefit, such as a health savings account, flexible spending account or a health reimbursement account, can help the organization save money while giving employees a way to better plan their healthcare and finances. However, with their alphabet soup acronyms, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs are confusing. Even if you did a whole campaign on the topic for the last open enrollment season, it makes sense to repeat it.

The same goes for voluntary benefits: keep them simple. There is a dearth of voluntary benefits available for a multi-generational workforce. While adding voluntary benefit sounds appealing —especially if your core benefits are changing — which products are right for your organization? Survey your employees to get their feedback; they’ll appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion. Once you tally the feedback, resist the urge to offer a slew of voluntary products. Keeping it simple means adding the one (or a few) that are most desired by your workforce.

Voluntary benefits require significant education and engagement — especially products that are newer to the market. (Student loan debt assistance is a good example.) When it comes to a successful voluntary benefits program, timing is everything. If you plan to add student loan debt repayment, pet insurance, long-term care, or any other new voluntary product, the open enrollment season is not the recommended time to do it. Running a voluntary education and communications campaign and open enrollment off cycle will allow employees to focus on their main menu of options during the open enrollment season, then decide later what they want to add for “dessert.”

Educate. Rinse and repeat. You offer employee benefits to help recruit and retain the best talent. But if your employees don’t understand the core and voluntary benefits you offer, you’re unlikely to increase engagement or retention — and you might even see costs rise.

The health and welfare benefits landscape is changing drastically, which means the onus is on the employer and the HR department to educate the workforce on how the plan is changing (if at all). This means putting decision-support tools, such as calculators, in employees’ hands to help them estimate how much insurance they will need to make the best decision. You could run a whole campaign around that topic.

In addition, try using new methods of communication such as social media messages, text messaging, small-group meetings, your company’s intranet, and one-on-one sessions to help employees avoid mistakes at decision time.

Create a 21st-century experience. Manual benefits enrollment and tracking is so 1999. Moving away from paper-based enrollment will save trees — and possibly your sanity — during the open enrollment season and throughout the year. Benefits administration technology allows employees to ponder their options and enroll at their leisure. A decision-support platform enables better enrollment tracking and eliminates typos and mistakes that can pose major issues for the plan participant and the HR team.

Benefits administration technology provides checks and balances that streamline important tactical functions. Mistakes can put you in a world of hurt when it comes to benefit laws and regulations, such as missing those all-important annual HIPAA and COBRA notifications. You can avoid potential government penalties, fines and employee lawsuits with automatic notifications by the benefits administration platform. Technology can also help you identify ineligible dependents, provide employee data to a COBRA provider if employment ends, interface with your payroll platform — the list is almost endless.

The bottom line: Employees won’t enroll in what they don’t understand — which could lead them to choose a benefits plan that is more expensive, or with fewer options, than what they need. Being prepared for open enrollment season, keeping plans simple, focusing on employee education and communications (and the employee experience) can help mitigate issues for plan participants and HR.

Putting all of your ducks in a row throughout the year will ease headaches during the open enrollment season. You might even be able to take a lunch break.

SOURCE: Newman, H (30 August 2018) "Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-human-resources-can-breeze-through-open-enrollment?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Taking your time during enrollment pays off

Open enrollment season is fast approaching. Before you cringe at the thought of choosing benefits, give thought to the process. Open enrollment is like eating at a buffet restaurant; you get to pick and choose from various items until you’re satisfied.

Like picking unhealthy foods that leave you feeling unfulfilled, taking little time to analyze what you need during open enrollment season can expose you to unintended risk. If you’re contemplating what benefit options to select this year, here’s how taking your time pays off in the long run.

Know Your Benefit Options

Depending on your employer, you likely have many benefit options to select. Unum, for example, offers eight different options with additional variations in many of those options. Many know about health or dental coverage but may not know why they may need Accident, Critical Illness or Hospital Indemnity insurance. If you don’t know why you may need certain coverage, ask your Human Resources department for assistance.

Additionally, don’t let the options overwhelm you to the point of inaction or lack of thought. Instead, be thoughtful in your choices. “Take your time. There’s a lot of information to review and factors to consider as you make benefits decisions. If you rush through it, you may miss some important coverage, or end up over-insured,” says MC Guenther, Director, Employee and Corporate Communications.

Employers typically allow several weeks for Open Enrollment season, so make sure to take your time and become informed on your choices.

The Benefit of Picking the Right Benefits

Picking the best fit for your benefit needs doesn’t simply come down to cost. Yes, cost is important, but there are other advantages to selecting the right benefit, such as:

• Staying in good overall health. Health insurance obviously has an impact on this but so does dental insurance, and to a lesser extent vision insurance.

• You have the appropriate coverage in time of need. Disability insurance, for example, is something you never hope to use but is very beneficial when you need it.

• You save money. You may find by comparing two benefit options that one plan offers savings not found in the other, while also providing the same coverage.

Ultimately, taking your time and doing your due diligence will help you be better informed of the options and pick the best benefits package for you and your family.

Know How Your Benefits Work

As mentioned previously, knowing how a chosen benefit works is key to proper coverage. However, many don’t have a full understanding of how their plan works. In fact, the International Foundation of Employee Benefits reports that only 19 percent of organizations believe their employees have a high-level understanding of their benefits. If you don’t have a full understanding of how a benefit works, ask your Human Resources area – they are there to help you.

Let’s take a look at one example in how a lump sum benefit works. You can find lump sum benefits in things like Accident, Critical Illness or Hospital Indemnity coverage options.

The lump sum benefit provides the entire coverage in one payment. Guenther explains how this works, “If you are diagnosed with a covered illness and have a $20,000 critical illness policy, for instance, you’ll receive all $20,000 at once. This lets you decide when and how to spend the money with no strings attached.”

This differs from a fixed sum option found in some benefits that only offer payment to cover the actual expense. There are other differences in benefit options, of course, so it pays to understand the differences to pick the best benefits package for your family.

Overlooked Benefit Options

Most individuals know the importance of taking advantage of health, dental or life insurance benefits. Those only scratch the surface of available benefits. You also have other things to keep in mind like disability, vision or wellness programs – and it doesn’t end there.

“Some benefit vendors may offer some free value-added services to their benefits. These could include an employee assistance program, free financial planning and education tools, or emergency travel assistance,” says Guenther, adding that a wide array of options may be available for little to no cost.

Your needs will vary from others in your organization, but it pays to take advantage of all the benefits made available to you as you never know how they may help you in a time of need. As Guenther adds, “Think of your benefits as pieces of a puzzle. Together, they form a strong safety net against the financial impacts of illness or injury.” Make sure to patiently put your puzzle together to set yourself in the best situation possible.

Open Enrollment season can be overwhelming, but with a bit of work and using the resources made available to you, it’s possible to form a great benefits package for your family.

 

You can read the original article here.

Source:
Schmoll J. (6 November 2017). "Taking your time during enrollment pays off" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2017/11/taking-your-time-during-enrollment-pays-off/?utm_sq=flhc3tx9gh&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=workwelltweets&utm_content=Benefiting+you


Data transparency, debt consolidation and ID protection lead open enrollment wish list

In the thick of open enrollment season, savvy employers and benefit advisers have eased the onslaught of information with complex benefit jargon by spreading out employee sign-up before the mad fall rush. Employee Benefit Adviser spoke with Jeffrey Faber, HUB International Midwest’s chief operating officer, to discuss how employers are urging employees to save with data transparency tools, use interactive services to learn about new benefits and to sign up for identity protection.

EBA: How is open enrollment going for you and your clients?

Faber: We’re in the middle of open enrollment season and we are trying to lock down the last-minute decisions our clients have. Predominantly our business is a renewal business.

Our large groups have made their decisions already but our smaller groups are just finding out what their renewals are from the major medical carriers. We have our hands full trying to make sense of it all. But open enrollment is the focus. This is absolutely our busiest time of year. From mid-August to Halloween, and even mid-November, it seems to be getting longer and longer every year with all the nuances our clients require.

EBA: How does this enrollment season differ from previous years? Is there confusion over the ACA’s status? Is there a greater emphasis on voluntary benefits?

Faber: On the repeal of Obamacare, a lot of those decisions have been made too late for our employers to really have to pivot and they are unaffected largely by the executive orders and the talk from Congress. Of course, there's the specter that Congress will act and make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but that impact would probably be a 2019 event instead of a 2018 event.

On the voluntary benefits side, our clients are asking for financial and holistic tools to meet the employees where they live in regard to student loans, tuition assistance and debt consolidation services. ID theft has been a big conversation point in the last three or four months and has been heightened by the Equifax breach, but it started three years ago with the Target breach. A lot of employers want to understand their role in their employee’s lives,

And for voluntary benefits, most of our customers are moving to the consumer-driven model with higher deductibles, so accident insurance, critical injury insurance, and hospitalization – those are all nice bolt-on benefits for the medical benefits they have. It almost allows the employee to self-insure their own health. And HSAs and HRAs are still popular. We see a large uptick year over year over year.

EBA: Any other trends for this year’s open enrollment?

Faber: A few years ago, we joked that overall enrollment was the HR Super Bowl. It happened once a year, it was a three hour event with a bunch of commercials and no one really talked about it a week or two later.

Our clients have asked, what can we do the other 11 months a year? We have seen an increase in requests for interactive PDFs, on-demand video, and interactive guides directing folks to microsites or apps on their phone. We introduce these in April, May or June and if the employee needs this, they don't have to go back into their memory bank and access it, they can get it online. It is that year round learning that engages the customer.

EBA: Is this because employees are bombarded with information during open enrollment?

Faber: Yes and no. There is a lot of information that is required and that is distributed this time of year and there are a lot of decision points that they have to make for themselves and the benefit of their families. We put in place decision helping tools like Jellyvision’s ALEX and some other proprietary tools, that can help employees better make decisions.

But I think it is more toward trying to be a circuit breaker in an employee's head when they are accessing healthcare. That makes them stop and check, “Is this in network, do I have to get pre-authorization? How do I check for a lower cost across the street from a benefit provider?”

These things come out of the workshops this time of year, but if you are not hitting employees where they live at the time of use, you are missing those opportunities for significant cost savings. And not on just on the employer side but the employee side especially with high-deductible plans.

EBA: Is data transparency a big push for this open enrollment season?

Faber: Yes, especially when you consider that standalone imaging facilities are three to eight times less expensive than an in-house hospital facility. Employees need to understand that they will pay 100% of that cost until they meet that deductible in that consumer-driven plan, so there is every effort being made to make sure the employee is checking those transparency tools.

At open enrolment time, we make every effort to employees in the room to ID the nearest urgent care and ER facility, to write those down on a note card and put it in the visor of their car. So, they know at the moment of crisis to know where those places are and make decisions ahead of time.

EBA: Accountants say that from January to April 15, they don't see their families. Is it the same for you during open enrollment?

Faber: (Laughs) I grew up in an accounting family and I can attest to that. It is all hands on deck but our goal is to help clients get their decisions out of the way in Q1 and Q2. We try to help them with decisions that don't require immediacy and don’t have to be made right away, like life and disability insurance, and voluntary and wellness benefits. You can make a lot of those decisions in April, May and June.

 

 

Source:
Albinus P. (30 October 2017). "Data transparency, debt consolidation and ID protection lead open enrollment wish list" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/data-transparency-debt-consolidation-and-id-protection-lead-open-enrollment-wish-list-says-hub-international-midwest-coo-jeffrey-faber?feed=00000152-1387-d1cc-a5fa-7fffaf8f0000

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Employers prefer paper-based approach for open enrollment

Sure, technology is great, but can it ever live up to a face-to-face sit down? Let's take a look at the facts from Employee Benefit Advisor.


Fewer than half of businesses use technology to handle annual enrollment or manage time off, Affordable Care Act reporting or benefits changes during the year, according to a recent white paper by one of the nation’s leading ancillary benefits providers.

Citing a 2017 LIMRA report entitled “Convenient and Connected: Employers and Benefits,” Colonial Life highlighted several reasons why employers are resisting the digital age. They believe their organization isn’t big enough (32%), a technology solution is too expensive (24%), they don’t have enough staff (16%), in-person meetings are more engaging, or it’s the preference of their broker or plan administrator (tied at 15%).

In fact, Colonial Life post-enrollment surveys from 2009 to 2016 show that 98% of employees understand their benefits better through 1-to-1 benefits counseling and 95% describe the personalized attention they received as valuable.

Steven Johnson, vice president in premier markets and enrollment solutions at Colonial Life, was surprised by the prevalence of “manual and outdated ways.” However, he also understands the tendency to resist change— noting, for example, how some people still maintain landlines in spite of a reliance on smartphones for calls, text, e-mail, social media and GPS directions.

“Slow adoption of technology can be especially true in the workplace,” he says. “Heavy dependence of the fax machine at many workplaces still baffles me with so much advanced technology available to perform the job better, faster and cheaper.”

For those employers looking to add capabilities to their benefits technology programs, the report noted that LIMRA found most cited cost reduction (36%) or control of benefit data (35%). Rounding out the list was reduced staff time (32%), improved benefits communications (29%) and better employee experience (27%).

Among the features most sought after for either benefits administration systems, enrollment technology or both, LIMRA said low cost led the way (87%), followed by data security (86%), ease of use for employees (85%), it’s accessible all year (80%), employees re-enrolled annually or all insurance benefits are on the same platform (77% apiece).

Colonial Life stressed the importance of providing personalized resource materials, such as web content, e-mails and one-to-one meetings, as well as ample time for employees to make wise choices for themselves and dependents. Another recommendation was that insurance carriers make available benefits counselors to help guide employees through their decisions.

Johnson urged benefit brokers and advisers to help educate their clients on affordable enrollment technology solutions that will greatly enhance the experience for their employees while also reducing administrative burdens and challenges for employers and plan administrators.

“A trusted benefits adviser can share case study examples from companies of similar size and industry to illustrate the benefits of adopting a benefits admin solution for enrollment,” he says. In addition, he suggests that employee survey feedback can be shared to help advance the argument that “the overall experience is far better for those who’ve used technology to help them make their important benefits decisions.”

 

Source:
Shutan B. (13 November 2017). "Employers prefer paper-based approach for open enrollment" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-prefer-paper-based-approach-for-open-enrollment?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000

 

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