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In the midst of COVID-19, knowing your employee health and insurance benefits is more crucial than ever

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According to new Voya Employee Benefits research, to help protect their families during these uncertain times more than 70% of American workers plan to spend more time reviewing their workplace benefits ahead of open enrollment this fall, and more than half (53%) plan on making changes.

Given these insights, consider updating your “to-do” list this fall to include taking a close look at your workplace benefits. Here’s a few suggestions to help you rethink and re-evaluate potentially untapped benefits offered by your employer so you’re ready when open enrollment begins:

1. Don’t procrastinate: Industry research shows employees spend just 17 minutes electing their benefits, while Netflix users spend an average of 18 minutes deciding what to watch. Certainly, trying to make sense of all your benefit options during open enrollment is like “cramming for a final exam” — it’s a lot of information and can be overwhelming. As a result, many employees simply default to last year’s benefits options. However, in the midst of a global pandemic, this is not the year to hit the “default button” during open enrollment. Instead:

• Check with your employer now to find out how open enrollment materials will be shared this year and how you can get more information once open enrollment begins.

• With many companies operating with few employees in offices, some may provide virtual enrollment benefits fairs and more digital support (e.g. webinars, on-demand videos, Zoom calls, etc.).

• If your employer hasn’t provided details yet, get a jump start by checking your company’s benefits materials from last year to get up to speed on what options might be available in 2021.

2. Learn about supplemental, or voluntary, workplace benefits: Typically, when employees prepare for open enrollment, they spend most of their time focused on core workplace benefits: medical; dental and vision. While important, Voya’s own customer data shows that more than 4-in-10 retirement-plan participants (44%) have protection or insurance gaps in their coverage.

Accordingly, this could put you in a challenging financial situation if you get hit with an unexpected medical expense. For example, the average cost of one day in the hospital in the U.S. is around $2,400, with the average patient staying more than four days. Voluntary benefits, or supplemental health benefits, offered through your employer can provide additional protection — and typically at a cost lower than what most people may expect. For example:

• Hospital indemnity insurance, which pays a daily benefit when you have a covered stay in a hospital, also can be used for childcare, groceries or help around the house.

• Critical illness insurance pays a benefit to help get your life back on track after a stroke, heart attack or other covered illness.

• Accident insurance, which covers an accidental injury such as a broken bone, concussion or deep cut, generally costs less than an 8-pack of sparkling water per week. The benefit payment can be used on anything you need — such as paying a utility bill or filling your car with gas.

3. HSAs can help pay for unplanned medical costs: A health savings account (HSA) is a medical savings account that is available to employees when they are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). HSAs are funded by pre-tax dollars that are deposited into your account by you or your employer, usually through a payroll deduction.

Unlike flexible spending accounts (FSAs), HSAs are not “use-it-or-lose-it” accounts and your balance carries over each year. Also, unlike your health insurance plan and your FSA, which are generally tied to your employment, your HSA is portable — meaning you own the account. Therefore, if you get laid off or furloughed from your job as result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can continue to use your HSA funds to help pay for qualified medical costs. And when you enroll in an HSA, some employers will provide some funding to your account as well.

Plus, HSAs offer triple tax advantages:

•  Contributions are pre-tax and reduce your taxable income;

•  Your HSA funds grow tax-free; and

•  When used to pay for eligible medical expenses, HSA withdrawals are tax-free.

Therefore, if your employer offers a HDHP, don’t overlook the benefits of contributing to an HSA — especially as these savings vehicles continue to grow in popularity. According to a new report by Devenir Research, as of June 30, 2020, the number of new HSA accounts increased 12% to a total of 29 million HSA accounts in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the need to be prepared for unexpected medical costs, and HSAs can be a valuable workplace benefit to help protect your family. If you don’t use the funds this year, or even next, your HSA account can be a resource for funding medical expenses in retirement.

4. Follow through will be key this enrollment period: If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for the unexpected. While it’s encouraging to see more working Americans taking positive steps during open enrollment this fall, follow through will be key. While top of mind for Americans, if given the choice to review their workplace benefits versus spend time on a home improvement project or review their internet cable options, new Voya research shows almost half (49%) said they would rather focus on the latter. And it’s understandable — especially as more Americans are working from home — to want to focus on home improvements versus workplace benefits.

That said, the survey also finds that becoming more financially secure is the top priority for almost half of American workers (49%) as life eventually shifts back to normal — cited more frequently than spending additional time with family and friends (41%), leading a healthier lifestyle (40%) and traveling somewhere new (25%). Accordingly, a good place to start to help achieve your financial wellness goals is to take a closer look at the benefits offered by your employer. It may not be the most exciting item to prioritize, but it is of utmost importance.

Andrew Frend is senior vice-president of strategy and product at Voya Employee Benefits.

More: You have ample savings. So why are you scared of running out of money?

Plus: When it comes to Social Security, these strategies can pay off for married couples



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I have a First World problem: I earn $500K, and have $1 million in assets. Should I buy a $30K bracelet during a global pandemic?

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I have a mundane First World problem that may or may not warrant your attention. But I read your column, and thought you could help me. It’s something that has been troubling me for some time. Should I buy a $30,000 piece of jewelry?

I have a $500,000 stable annual income, no debt, my kids have their private college tuition and retirement fully funded, and I have an additional $1 million in investable assets in various bank and brokerage accounts. My husband and I are in our late 40s, early 50s.

We have always lived a financially disciplined lifestyle. We avoid impulse buys, while spending liberally on things we truly enjoy and care about, including annual multi-week vacations for the family, organic food, home upgrades for our hobbies, and supporting our favorite charities.


‘The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon.’

I personally adore quality designer jewelry, and get a little thrill every time I look at them on my wrist and finger. I have never spent $30,000 on one piece of jewelry, and I feel some guilt spending that much money on something primarily for myself, not the family.

This particular piece, a bracelet, has been on my radar since 2019, and I found myself coming back to it time and again. I spent hours following online discussion threads, researching its resale value (in case my daughter doesn’t want it) and insurance against loss, etc.

The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon; in fact, it boasts the highest resale value in the last couple of years, according to top luxury resale and consignment sites.

However, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger: spending almost 3% of our investable assets on a piece of jewelry just feels very excessive to me. I tell myself to reconsider in a few years when we get to a higher net worth to make the purchase easier to justify and stomach.

My husband said I should buy it sooner, and enjoy it for a few more years. I realize the jewelry aspect makes this a highly personal-preference question. I guess a more generic question could be, does a $30,000 discretionary spend sound reasonable in our financial situation?

A Bracelet Lover

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Bracelet Lover,

Before the world and its mother comes down on you like a ton of bricks for asking this question during a pandemic — and before said world and its mother comes down on me for answering your question — I will say that I find your letter curious. Not “$30,000 bracelet” curious. But curious, nonetheless.

The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything: It could be a Tesla Model 3 or a used GT-R. It could be a Fabergé egg, aluminum siding, or even a $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

It’s extravagant in the way a motor vehicle or kitchen reno is extravagant. Did you know the average cost of a light vehicle in the United States is over $40,000? You can’t drive a $30,000 bracelet, but you can wear one and drive a $10,000 car to get you from A to B. Who’s more mundane now?


‘The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything.’

I get it. There is a thrill in buying something so outrageously out of your price range. How will that make you feel? What kind of connection will you have to this object? Will other people notice it? Will you tell them how much it cost? Would owning it confirm any privately-held ambitions you have for yourself?

You are not just buying a $30,000 bracelet. You are, perhaps, buying your way out of an old way of seeing yourself. That may or may not last. Or maybe you truly believe that it will bring you joy as a family heirloom, and you can resell it at the same or a higher value, if a prospective buyer or the real world come knocking.

Will wearing such an item give you more confidence to sail past the snootiest members of your tennis club or the maître d’ at the most popular Michelin restaurant in town? Please know that I’m not speaking about you here. I’m talking about anyone who splashes out, during a pandemic or not.

About the pandemic. Researching this purchase may lift your spirits, and actually help you escape the mundane. It may or may not be a coincidence that you choose now to do something so bold and new. It’s a $30,000 sop to coronavirus. A million-dollar spit in the ocean during a truly difficult year.


For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much.

For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much. The diamond industry, for better or for worse, is based on that conceit. You need a rock on your finger to show the world that it’s true love.

For others, it’s about showing the world that you can’t mess with them and, like Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, will show the world there are no little people, only big handbags — like this woman who sued a country club in New Jersey after a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

Would I spend $30,000 on a piece of jewelry if I were in your position? Probably not. Should you? That’s not for me to say. That’s for you to find out. The great Suze Orman would probably give you a “yay” or “nay” on the matter, but I’m not Suze Orman. That’s not my gig, nor is it my style.

I’ll tell you what is my style: A pair of chocolate brown Donna Karan trousers that I bought for a friend’s wedding in New York 20 years ago. I had traveled here from Dublin. A friend took me to Saks Fifth Avenue. I was fresh out of college, and thought, “How expensive could they be?”


You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000?

I rolled up to the cash desk after they were adjusted three ways from Sunday, and the clerk told me they were $450. I handed over my fresh-out-college credit card and watched in horror as the cashier rung up the equivalent of one month’s rent. I was Jason, and those threads were my golden fleece.

I loved those dress pants. They moved like slow motion. I cared for them like priceless silk and, one day, I dropped them into a dry cleaners in Dublin. I noticed some lights were out that day, but I paid no heed. It was 2008. The dry cleaners went bankrupt, and padlocked its doors. I never saw those Donna Karan trousers again.

What has all that got to do with your $30,000 bracelet? Three things. 1. This piece of jewelry has something to teach you, and you don’t have to buy it to learn what that is. 2. This is a trouser- and judgment-free zone. 3. Our monetary dilemmas are rarely about what we think they’re about.

You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000? Something different, but equally novel that perhaps could also have an impact? You don’t even have to spend the money on you.

Buy or don’t buy it. Remember this: However it makes you feel, you can feel that way without it. Whatever properties, provenance or millesimal fineness this piece of jewelry holds, your own qualities as a human being outweigh it. Whatever obsession it sparks in you, you can out-spark it.

The Moneyist: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

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The Moneyist: ‘The thought of her keeping these ill-gotten funds just chaps my behind’: My granddaughter, 7, lives with me — yet her mother received her stimulus





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My son, 18, says I should hand over the $1,400 adult-dependent stimulus. He claims it belongs to him. Who’s right?

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Dear Quentin,

We’re having a debate in our house regarding the latest stimulus payment. I claim head of household and have two 18-year-old adult dependents that I claim on my taxes. I received a $1,400 stimulus for each of us. My 18-year-old son claims that I must give him this money stating that it is meant to be given to the adult dependent.

I say it’s not meant for him, as I claim him as a dependent on my taxes because I pay more than half of his household expenses (actually all of his expenses) and this money will be used to offset the expense of raising him. If you have any information you can share to shed some light on the debate at hand, I’d much appreciate it.

I keep searching the internet for some proof that I must give him this money but keep coming up empty-handed.

Fingers crossed

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear FC,

If the money was meant for your son’s use, it would have been sent to your son. The clue is in the wire transfer. He is a dependent and, as such, the money is meant to be used for his care. They are emergency funds to be used for food, clothing, utilities, and anything else that adds to the cost of running a household and, yes, stimulating the economy.

Let’s assume your son is correct in his belief that the money is for his use, and could (or should) be used for his own expenditures — from meals out with friends to new sneakers. In that case, he should be of independent means and pay for everything else: rent, food, transportation. I have a feeling that $1,400 would be used up pretty, pretty, pretty fast.

If you have a balance on your credit card for family purchases, what reason would your son have for you not using part of the total economic stimulus payment to pay that balance off? This is an opportunity to lay bare the economics of running a household, so your son can have a bird’s eye view on how to manage a budget, and the costs of each family member.


‘The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kids think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping.’


— The Moneyist

The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kinds think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping, but that it actually makes its way from the supermarket bags to the cupboards without any human intervention whatsoever. It takes time to earn the money, shop and to put those groceries away.

As an adult dependent over the age of 16, your son did not qualify for the first two stimulus checks. Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, however, parents may claim their adult children as dependents. The amount is based on your income (payments fall for individuals earning $75,000 a year and up and couples making $160,000 a year or more).

The $1,4000 is not based on your son’s circumstances and, as such, the money should be used at your discretion. If you can afford it, however, I suggest talking through your son’s priorities and working with him on how he could spend all or part of the $1,400. It may be that you can help your son feel empowered to spend it on his own upkeep.

But — and this is a big “but” — if he wants you to buy necessities while he uses the money for his own enjoyment, that’s called “pocket money” not an economic impact payment, and that’s something he is given as a child or needs to earn himself. If you decide upon a potential compromise, the final answer will be determined by your son’s own financial priorities.

The Moneyist: I’m a farmer in my late 30s, live a frugal lifestyle, and my son has a disability. Should I pay extra on my mortgage — or save for retirement?

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These money and investing tips can help you decide whether to ‘sell in May and go away’

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

Sell in May and go away? Not so fast. These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can help you position your portfolio as the U.S. stock market enters its typically weaker six-month stretch — although that certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. So while it makes sense to seek out market sectors that are stronger in the summer months, it doesn’t change the fact that time in the market, and not market-timing, has been the most reliable creator of wealth.



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