Accidental Death & Dismemberment Insurance 

Accidental Death & Dismemberment Insurance

Accidental Death & Dismemberment Insurance (AD&D) provides additional life insurance if you die in an accident. It also pays you a percentage of the face amount of the policy if you lose or lose use of a body part, such as an arm, a leg or an eye.  Many employers offer this coverage. Some charge for it while others do not.

Business travel accident insurance is a form of AD&D, but only provides coverage if you are traveling for business when the accident occurs.  Some policies also provide coverage if the accident occurs on the employer’s premises. Most employers do not charge for this coverage, but some may.  

How to Decide Whether to Buy AD&D

I generally did not buy AD&D, though obviously didn’t opt out of them if my employer covered the cost. I had a desk job for my whole career, so could have gone back to work with at least some amount of disability.  

If you have a career that is more physical, you’ll want to think about what injuries would make you permanently unable to pursue your current profession. You’ll want evaluate the amount of benefit that would be provided in case of loss or loss of use of a body part.  If your employer’s policy covers accidents in the workplace, you’ll also want to consider whether your workplace is dangerous, such as a manufacturing facility or an oil well, and, in the US, any recoveries you might receive from workers’ compensation insurance. As always, you’ll want to evaluate the potential benefits of this coverage in your specific situation relative to the cost of the insurance and whether it fits in your budget.

Group Life Insurance

Group Life Insurance

Many employers offer group life insurance on one or all of the employee, spouse and children.

Coverage

The type of life insurance offered by employers is called term life insurance. It will pay the stated benefit if the covered person dies during the policy period.

My employers generally provided life insurance on the employee with a benefit amount equal to one year’s salary at no charge.  I was able to purchase more insurance on my life and smaller amounts on my spouse and children.

Exclusions

Group life insurance won’t provide the stated benefit if the cause of death is excluded from coverage. The most common exclusions with which I’m familiar are suicide and murder by the beneficiary.

If these nuances are important to your decision, you’ll want to ask your human resources representative what exclusions exist under your employer’s coverage. Much more importantly, if you are concerned about your mental health or your physical safety, please seek help! There are free crisis lines that will help with either issue or contact your local hospital for mental health concerns or police for safety issues.

How to Decide About Yourself

Whether to buy life insurance is often a tough decision, as we all like to think we will still be alive at the end of the year. We especially don’t want to think about what will happen if we or a loved one dies.  

With respect to your coverage level, you’ll want to think about whether you have any dependents and, if so, whether they’ll be able to sustain their current lifestyle without your income and personal expenses. If you have no dependents and very little debt, you might not need more life insurance than one times your salary.  On the other hand, if you have children, have some or a lot of debt or are barely covering your expenses, you might want to buy more life insurance to make sure there is money to pay down your debts or support your children if you die.

You’ll also want to consider the cost of the life insurance and whether it fits in your budget. For more information on budgeting, see my introductory post and nine-part series with step-by-step details to create a budget, starting with this post.  If buying life insurance means that you don’t have enough money to cover the basics, you might need to take the riskier approach and not purchase life insurance or not purchase as much.

How to Decide About Your Spouse

The considerations for insuring your spouse are similar to buying insurance for yourself.  You’ll also want to consider whether your spouse’s employer provides any life insurance and compare the face amounts offered and premiums between the two plans.

How to Decide About Your Children

The amounts of insurance available for the death of children are usually relatively low, in the range of $5,000 to $20,000.  I view the primary purpose of buying life insurance on children as covering funeral and related expenses. If you are able to afford a funeral and everyone who “should” attend can afford to do so, you are less likely to need life insurance on your children.  However, funerals and travel can be quite expensive, so life insurance on your children could cover some or all of those expenses. As always, you’ll want to evaluate whether the cost of life insurance on your children fits in your budget.

Employee Stock Ownership: ESOPs and ESPPs

Stock-Options

I have seen three types of employer offerings related to employee stock ownership. I talked about the first in this post – allowing employees to purchase company stock in their defined contribution plans.  The second is and ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The third, an ESPP or Employee Stock Purchase Plan let you buy company stock, often at a discount.

Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

The first is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) which an employer can set up as a component of its defined contribution plan.  (For more information about defined contribution plans, see my post on that topic.) Under an ESOP, an employer contributes company stock to an employee’s defined contribution account.  The employee cannot sell the stock until he or she resigns or retires from the company, though there are exceptions.

If you want to diversify your company stock holdings, you’ll need to talk to your human resources representative to understand your options, if any.  ESOP contributions are usually subject to vesting (increased ownership by the employee as his or her tenure with the company increases). When the employee retires or resigns, he or she will either receive a lump sum or periodic payments, depending on the terms of the plan.

Employee Stock Purchase Plan

The second is an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP).  An ESPP allows employees to purchase company stock through payroll deductions.  Many employers offer their company stock at a price lower than is available if purchased on a stock exchange.  The ability to purchase the stock at a discount can be a real benefit, as long as the stock price doesn’t go any lower than your purchase price before you sell it.  

ESPPs have varying rules as to how long you have to hold the stock before you can sell it. Also, the tax treatment may be different based on how long you hold the stock.  As I discussed in last week’s post about owning company stock in my 401(k), I preferred to not have much of my investments in my employer’s stock. Therefore, I generally purchased stock through the ESPP, but sold it as soon as was allowed to lock in the benefit of the discounted purchase price.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance replaces a portion of your wages if you are sick or injured.  In the US, where workers’ compensation insurance covers workplace illnesses and injuries, disability usually covers only non-occupational illnesses and injuries.

Types of Disability Insurance

Many employers offer wage replacement in a number of components.

Sick Time or Paid Time-Off

Many employers provide sick time or paid time off benefits that pay you 100% of your wages when you are sick. There is often a limit on how many days of sick time you can take. More recently, vacation dates are included in the limit and the total is called “Paid Time-Off.”

Short-Term Disability Insurance

After a stated waiting period called an elimination period, short-term disability insurance will replace some or all of your wages.  I have seen short-term disability plans that pay between two-thirds and 100% of wages (excluding bonus) for between 13 and 26 weeks. I have never had an employer charge me for short-term disability insurance, but imagine some employers might do so.  Some governments outside the US, including Canada, offer programs similar to short-term disability. If your employer requires that you pay some or all of the premium for a short-term disability program, I suggest you research the benefits provided under any government program in your decision-making process.

Basic Long-Term Disability Insurance

After you have exhausted your short-term disability benefits, you may be eligible for long-term disability benefits if offered by your employer.  The basic long-term disability plans I have seen have paid between 50% of salary to two-thirds of the sum of salary and target bonus. Some long-term disability plans provide benefits for only a limited number of years while others will provide benefits until your normal retirement age.  In all cases, benefits stop, of course, if you recover and are able to return to work. I’ve had employers fully fund basic long-term disability and others that required that I share a portion of its cost. If you pay some or all of the premium for long-term disability insurance, the corresponding portion of any benefits you receive are not subject to income taxes.

Supplemental Long-Term Disability Insurance

Some employers give you the option to increase the percentage of your income that is replaced by long-term disability at your expense.

How to Decide

The decision whether to purchase any optional coverage depends on two key aspects of your financial situation. Are you able to support yourself and your family if you are ill or injured for a long time? Does the cost of the disability insurance fits in your budget?

At one (pretty unlikely) extreme, you don’t need to buy additional coverage because you have enough savings for retirement, any children’s education and even more or you could maintain your current lifestyle on your savings or your spouse’s income.  At the other extreme, you might find it difficult to afford disability insurance. In that case, you probably are also in the greatest need of it as one missed paycheck could be devastating financially. As such, the decision to purchase disability insurance is a balance between your need for the coverage in case you can’t work, your likelihood of having an accident or becoming serious ill and your ability to pay the premium.

Dependent Care FSAs

Dependent-Care-Flexible-Spending-Accounts

Dependent care flexible spending account (FSAs) allow you to set aside a portion of your paycheck without paying any taxes on the money. You must use the money to cover out-of-pocket expenses related to care of dependent children or parents that allow you to go to work.  You do not pay Social Security or Federal income taxes on money put into or withdrawn from a dependent care FSA. In many states, you also do not have to pay state income taxes.

There are restrictions on the types of expenses you can pay from your account. You can generally pay for child daycare (both traditional daycare and nannies), elder care, before-and-after school programs and sick childcare services, among others.  If you plan to use the money for other services, you’ll want to confirm that they are acceptable. This publication from the IRS web site provides lots of details about who can qualify and the types of expenses that are acceptable.

You lose any money money you contribute to a dependent care FSA if you don’t spend it in the same year.  For most people, the 2018 maximum contribution was $2,500 if you were single and $5,000 if you are married. If your dependent care expenses are highly likely to exceed that limit, the tax savings make it reasonable to contribute the maximum.  If your expenses are likely to be less, you’ll need to take care in selecting the amount of your contributions.

Extended Health Care Insurance (Canada)

Extended-Health-Care-Insurance-Canada

In Canada, many of the basics of healthcare are provided through the government health plan.  However, many important expenses are not covered, including prescription drugs, medical devices (e.g., crutches, wheelchairs and orthotics), various practitioners (e.g., chiropractors, physiotherapists and psychologists) along with many other types of medical expenses.  Extended health care insurance covers a portion of these costs, with the portion and specific costs covered varying from plan to plan. Other features of some plans include dental and vision coverage, the portion of ambulance services not covered by provincial insurance and semi-private hospital rooms.  The insurance includes many of the same coverage terms used in US health insurance. If you are considering the purchase of extended health care insurance, I suggest that you read my Health Insurance post, excluding the sections on HealthCare Flexible Savings and Health Savings Accounts.

Dental Insurance

Dental-Insurance

Dental insurance pays for preventative dental services (usually two to four cleanings per year), a portion of other dental expenses (fillings, crown, root canals, for example) and sometimes orthodontia. The amounts of these expenses covered depends on the deductible and coinsurance.

Every dental insurance plan I’ve had offered by employers has had a very low maximum, such as $1,500 or $2,500.  This coverage differs from most other insurance products. Most other insurance products protect against things you can’t afford to lose, such as the injuries caused by a car accident or a tornado that destroys your home.

Dental Insurance Cost Comparison

Because dental insurance has such low limits, it doesn’t provide much protection against large dental bills. As such, the decision to purchase it is primarily a comparison of your premium with your covered expenses. Each year, I estimated my family’s dental expenses by type.  That is, I considered how many family members get regular cleanings, what the visits would cost and how many of my children had braces.  For this part of my analysis, I ignored all other dental expenses, such as fillings or root canals.

My dental plans always had the same coverage in and out of network, so the cost analysis was straightforward.  Before doing any sort of cost-benefit analysis, you’ll want to make sure you understand how in- and out-of-network dental expenses are treated, determine whether your dentist is in the network and reflect the impact on your covered expenses.  I applied the deductible and coinsurance to the expenses and compared the amount I estimated I would recover from the insurer with the premium. Networks, coinsurance and deductibles are all covered in my post on health insurance.

Discounts negotiated by the dental insurer with providers are another component of savings.  Similar to health insurance, the cost of dental services provided by in-network providers when you have dental insurance can be significantly less than the cost if you don’t have insurance.  This savings is difficult to quantify initially, but you can estimate it once you have used the same provider under a single dental insurer for a year or two. You can then include those savings in your analysis as a cost covered by the insurer.

How to Decide Whether to Buy Dental Insurance

If the premium and amounts covered by the insurer were fairly close or the premium was less, I would buy the dental insurance.  If the premium was significantly more than the covered expenses, I usually took my chances that no one would need any expensive dental work.

As with all other financial decisions, the risk-reward trade-off is an individual one so you will need to decide for yourself how much extra premium you are willing to pay to have a portion of unexpected dental expenses reimbursed by the insurer.  As you do so, remember that there is likely a fairly low cap on the total coverage provided by the insurer, so you’ll want to see how much of that maximum you’ll use up with your preventative and orthodontia expenses in evaluating that risk-reward trade-off.

Acknowledgements

I again want to thank Laura Kenney for her invaluable help with this post.

Vision Insurance

Vision-Insurance

Vision insurance is generally covers the basics – eye exams related to vision correction, glasses and contact lenses – and doesn’t usually cover more serious eye conditions.  As an aside, you should be aware that some eye conditions are considered medical in nature and are covered by health insurance. If you have an eye condition, I suggest contacting your health insurer to see if it is covered as a medical condition.

Networks of Providers

Vision insurers usually create a network of providers. My experience is that there are huge differences in coverage in and out of network, so you’ll want to see whether your providers are in or out of the network. I ran into a situation in which my eye clinic was listed as being in network, but it turned out my specific eye doctor was not. As such, it might make sense to call your eye doctor’s office before selecting vision coverage to confirm whether your specific provider is in your network.

Cost Comparison

The decision whether to by vision insurance is fairly easy. You want to answer the question, “Will I recover more than the premium?” I start by making a list of my expected annual vision expenses, including how many sets of glasses and contact lenses each person in my family is likely to need. I then apply the co-pays, deductibles and/or coinsurance to see how much I will receive from the vision insurer. See my this post on Health Insurance if you aren’t sure how co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance work.

I am also aware that some health insurance plans cover a basic vision exam. You’ll want to research whether your health plan includes that benefit. If your health insurance plan has that coverage (and your provider is in your health insurer’s network which will likely be different from the vision insurer’s network), you’ll want to exclude any recoveries from the health insurer or exclude those expenses from your list before estimating recoveries from your vision insurer.

How to Decide

I compare the total amount I estimate I will recover with the premium.  If the premium is less than the recoveries, I purchase the coverage; otherwise I don’t.  Many vision insurance plans do not cover anything other than preventative services, glasses and contact lenses.  As such, the decision to purchase vision insurance is often a straightforward cost-benefit comparison and is less focused on risk and reward.  Of course, if your plan covers other eye issues, you’ll want to take those into consideration in your decision-making process.

Investment Options in Retirement Savings Plans

All investment decisions are a trade-off between risk and reward. In this post, I’ll focus on how risk and reward affect your decision among the investment options in your employer-sponsored retirement plans.

If you look at returns over very long periods of time, well diversified, riskier investments tend to produce higher returns with lower risk. For most of these investments, “a very long period of time” is somewhere between 10 and 30 years. That doesn’t mean that the riskiest investments will always outperform the less risky investments in every 10 or 20 year period, but, if you look at enough of them, they generally will on average.

When I Take More Risk

Very briefly, three characteristics I use to help decide whether I want to lean towards a more or less risky investment are:

    • With only a small amount to invest, I will tend to be purchase less risky investments than if I have a larger amount because I have less of a cushion and I want to protect it.
    • When I know I will need the money very soon, I invest in less risky investments (or possibly keep it in a savings or checking account). With longer time periods, riskier investments have more time to recover if they have a large decline. If I need the money soon, I might not have enough money for my purchase if the values declined.
    • If I have almost as much money as I need for a purchase that isn’t going to be made for a while (for example when I had enough money saved for my children’s college education), I will purchase less risky investments as I don’t need a high rate of return to meet my objectives and also want to protect my savings.

     

  • If you aren’t comfortable with the concept of risk, I suggest looking at my post on that topic.

    Common Choices

    Commonly available investment options in employer-sponsored retirement plans are listed below. I have put them in an order that roughly corresponds to increasing risk.

    • Money market funds – Money market funds invest in what are considered short-term, liquid (easily sold) securities. They are similar to, but slightly riskier than, interest-bearing savings accounts.
    • Stable value funds – A stable value fund usually buys and sells highly-rated corporate or government bonds with short to intermediate times to maturity. The return on a stable value fund is the sum of the changes in the market value plus the coupon payments on the bonds held by the fund.   Because stable value funds tend to buy bonds with shorter times to maturity than typical bond mutual funds, they often have lower returns and be less risky.
    • Bond Mutual Funds – Bond mutual funds buy and sell bonds. The return on a bond mutual fund is the sum of the changes in the market value plus the coupon payments. Although they don’t track exactly, the market values of bonds tend to go down when interest rates go up and vice versa.
    • Large Cap Equity Mutual Funds – These funds buy and sell stocks in large companies, often defined as those with more than $10 billion of market capitalization (the total market value of all the stock it has issued).
    • Small Cap Equity Mutual Funds – These funds buy and sell stocks in smaller companies.
    • Foreign Equity Mutual Funds – These funds buy and sell stocks in foreign companies. Every foreign equity fund is allowed to define the countries in which it invests.   You’ll want to look to see in what countries your fund options invest to evaluate their level of risk.
    • Emerging Market Equity Mutual Funds – These funds buy and sell stocks in companies in countries that are considering emerging markets. Morocco, the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa are examples of currently emerging markets.

    Other Choices

    Some employers offer index funds which are variations on equity mutual funds. An index fund’s performance tracks as closely as possible to a major stock market index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Standard & Poors (S&P) 500 or the Russell 2000 are examples of indices. The first two indices have risk and return characteristics somewhat similar to large cap equity mutual funds. The Russell 200 is more closely aligned with a medium or small cap equity mutual fund.

    Increasingly, employers are offering Target Retirement Date Funds as an option. The fund manager not only selects the individual securities that will be owned by the fund, but also chooses the mix between equities and bonds.   In theory, the number of years until the target retirement dates for that fund determines the mix of investments. For example, a fund with a target retirement date range of 2021 through 2025 might be invested more heavily in bonds than a fund with a target retirement date range of 2051 through 2055. People who are close to retirement are often more interested in protecting their investments (i.e., want less risk). On the other hand, people who don’t plan to retire for many years are often more willing to take on additional risk in exchange for higher returns. You can accomplish the same mix yourself using bond funds and equity funds, but some people prefer to let the fund manager make that decision.

    Some employers allow or require you to invest in company stock in their defined contribution plans. Many of these employers consider an investment in the company’s stock as an indication of loyalty. I view it as a very risky investment option. I discuss the benefits of diversification in this post. If your investment portfolio is diversified, it means that a decline in value of any one security will not adversely impact the total value of your portfolio too severely. If you purchase your employer’s stock, you are investing in a single company rather than investing in the larger number of companies owned by a mutual fund. In a really severe situation, you could lose your job and the stock value could drop significantly, leaving you with much smaller savings and no salary. As such, you take on much less risk if you select a mutual fund than company stock.

    How I Decided

    As I made my 401(k) investment selections, I thought about what other investments I had, if any, and used the 401(k) choices to fill in the gaps. That is, I used my 401(k) investment selections to increase my diversification. When I was young, I selected two or three funds that had US exposure to each of small and large cap equities. As I had more money both in and out of my 401(k), I still selected two or three funds, but invested in at least one fund with foreign or emerging market exposure to further diversify my holdings.

    Fine Print

    As a reminder, I am not qualified to give investment advice for your individual situation. Nonetheless, I can provide insights about the types of investment options I’ve seen in employer-sponsored retirement plans. I’ll describe the characteristics of most of these investment vehicles in more detail in later posts, but want to touch on them now as many of you will be making employee benefit elections before then.