Higher salary or better benefits?

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Greeting, long time reader on this forum, registered today and looking to get more involved.

Had an interesting debate with a friend at work yesterday. Would you chose a job with better benefits or higher salary? I understand it's a very subjective question and depends on a lot of factors like age, health, debt, dependents etc. But, consider a 28-30 year old who is got out of grad school 3-4 years ago, doesn't have any debt and is offered two jobs -
1. He/she can save around 3K every month but doesn't get any benefits - no 401, no paid vacations, insurance etc
2. He/she can save not more than 1200-1500 every month and gets 401, paid vacations and other usual benefits.

What would you chose?

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What is the match on the 401k?

Benefits can be purchased and their cost is easy to calculate. Beyond that, I would say that it depends on the timeframe s/he would expect to stay at the job. A single healthy person is not as likely to use their benefits as much as someone with a family, a health condition, mortgage, childcare expenses, etc. If the person can see themselves having any/some of those things within the timeframe they expect to stay at the job, then the benefits start to look more attractive.

So, we're talking about 20k after-taxes (or 30k salary) bump, in exchange for no matching 401k (worth 5k-10k / year), lack of vacations (worth, say, 2 weeks of pay, maybe ~2-4k), and insurance (probably costs at least 500/month to replace, or 6k/year). Sounds like they come out roughly equivalent monetarily, but really depends exactly how good the benefits are in #2.

401k - how good's the matching, up to what percent of salary? Health insurance - 500/month might only get you a high-deductible plan, so if the company's policy covers a lot more w/o a deductible, that's a big plus. Vacation time is neither here nor there as long as you can take unpaid time off (and make more otherwise), so that's not really an issue I'd consider.

If it's bare-bones benefits vs no benefits + 30k, I might go with the latter. But if it's decently good benefits vs no benefits, I'll take the benefits.

I've found the better the benefits, the better the place to work.

I did a quick search on ehealthinsurance.com and found that for young single adults, there are many plans available for 150/month. So, in the end, it will come down to the 401k he/she is getting. But over an extra 1.5K cash/month, would you go for the 401K?

jgooner22 said:   I did a quick search on ehealthinsurance.com and found that for young single adults, there are many plans available for 150/month. So, in the end, it will come down to the 401k he/she is getting. But over an extra 1.5K cash/month, would you go for the 401K?

Most individual plans are high deductible - especially the ones in the $150 price range. So yes, you might only pay $2K a year in premiums, but if you have an issue you will likely be out another $5K.

Of course a healthy 20-30 year old will most likely not have to meet those deductibles, but I think it is fair to average in at least half the cost.

So you have to figure somewhere between 4-5K yearly for insurance.

Otherwise I agree with the above that cost is easy to calculate.

The OP states the difference in savings is about $1500 a month. That's a difference of 18K a year.

Let's assume at the 401K job you are saving $1500 a month and put 1/3 of that into your 401K. That's 6K a year. If you get at best say a 50% match...that's another 3K a year.

So, is 18K more worth spending/losing:
~4-5K in health benefits
~3K in 401K match
~3K in paid vacation
?

I would say that money to money the 18K is going to net you out at least 7-8K more a year even after your losses.

The questions are:
1) Will you save to an IRA if no 401K is available to you? Or in other words - actually save that extra money instead of spend it (oh suddenly I want/need a new car!).
2) What is vacation policy? Can you still take unpaid up to what is reasonable to you in terms of life balance?

I turned down another job a few months ago that was going to be 20-25K more than I am making now because their premiums for their health were sky high, their lack of 401K, and vacation limits really only made it marginally better to go. So yes, this is really subjective and apples to apples on the money/benefits shouldn't be the only thing taken into account.

jgooner22 said:   I did a quick search on ehealthinsurance.com and found that for young single adults, there are many plans available for 150/month. So, in the end, it will come down to the 401k he/she is getting. But over an extra 1.5K cash/month, would you go for the 401K?

All plans are not equivalent. But yeah, my ~500 quote was from looking in a high CoL place. Didn't know it was such a big difference

To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

zgori said:   Benefits can be purchased and their cost is easy to calculate.+1

Not subjective at all.

jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).

ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).


Plus if the actual comparison is working as a contractor versus working for the government then you're looking at government benefits. Government benefits are usually the most generous. Feds get up to 5 weeks vacation, pension ,etc.

Another benefit of a higher salary is that raises are generally a percentage of salary, so they might be higher. Also, when you switch jobs, they tend to ask for prior salary as well.

ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).

That's a fair point, but in his case, that hasn't happened in the last 5 years or so. So, I guess it depends on the field you're in. I would think personal development would be the key to get the next contract.

full time jobs are more secure than consultant.
Company can fire consultant anytime, but can't fire full time without a reasonable excuse.

if he/she got dual income, definity go with consultant. since the other can covers the medical insurance.

sen2282 said:   full time jobs are more secure than consultant.
Company can fire consultant anytime, but can't fire full time without a reasonable excuse.

if he/she got dual income, definity go with consultant. since the other can covers the medical insurance.


Most states are at will employment states, your employer can fire you for any reason OTHER than illegal reasons (i.e. race, religion, gender, refusing to do something illegal).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will_employment

harruin said:   I've found the better the benefits, the better the place to work.

A lot of Asian small business will buy their employees lunch a day or two out of the week. Free food might seem like a good benefit but it is really a carrot on a stick.

at at difference of 3k, without question I would go for the benefits.

you can look at it 2 ways

(somewhat) Objectively
beyond the pure market equivalent of getting the standalone benefit replacement, if you look at it from the standpoint of the employer, you'd factor in their contribution to the benefits (i.e. 401k match if any, their portion of unemployment insurance, health insurance, etc.). that's anywhere from 25- 44% of total compensation

now you can put a number on the holistic value of the job overall.
you don't specify whether the savings rate quoted is simply net of taxes or of non-discretionary spending. for simplicity's sake, i'll assume it's the former and they're grossing $50k / year. this leads to:

1) $50k
2) $62.5k - $72k

you're simply picking the thing that is valued at a higher dollar amount

Subjectively
When a firm hires a consultant/contractor vs an employee (which I assume is the difference between 1 and 2), another way to look at it is that it's the difference between a single transaction of goods for money vs an investment in something whose value you expect to grow over time. A consultant provides services that are not core to the business, for something that is probably transient in nature, and a decision to cease at the end of the contract can be made relatively painlessly. Vice versa for an employee.

While I agree with stanolshefski on the fact that most states have at-will employment, the ramifications are typically not the same for the employers when they make the termination decision. Even though the employer may not be legally culpable for termination between 1 or 2, that has no bearing on how likely you are to bring a lawsuit against them. From my experience, terminated consultants are less likely to bring wrongful termination suits than employees, which in turn creates a deterrence influencing employer decisions as to who to lay off first (typically, for the same function, it'll be the consultant that goes first).

Lastly, an investment (i.e. employee) naturally is viewed with a longer horizon than a transaction (i.e. consultant).

To put it all together, taking into account the value, risk, and longevity of the 2 options and with the somewhat limited contextual information you provided, option 1) would only make sense to me if I expected my time with the firm to be extremely short (like 6 months or less).

Take the money. It is easier to leverage that against the next job down the road which will hopefull have all the benefits.

Something to consider. Twenty five years ago I chose benefits over $100 in weekly wages. About a year later I had an accident in the course of my work and received a permanent partial injury which resulted in a lifetime of weekly worker compensation payments. The payments are one half of my average weekly salary at the time of the accident. Those benefits ended up costing me $50 a week for the rest of my life in addition to a decrease in the amount in my social security payments. If it had been a total disability it would have cost me $100 a week for life.

fermatallegro said:   Something to consider. Twenty five years ago I chose benefits over $100 in weekly wages. About a year later I had an accident in the course of my work and received a permanent partial injury which resulted in a lifetime of weekly worker compensation payments. The payments are one half of my average weekly salary at the time of the accident. Those benefits ended up costing me $50 a week for the rest of my life in addition to a decrease in the amount in my social security payments. If it had been a total disability it would have cost me $100 a week for life.

I'm confused?! On the one hand you are saying that you get weekly payouts because you were protected by your benefits - that's good right? So why are you then stating the benefits "cost" you $50 a week?
Either you are getting payouts (e.g you make money) or you are paying out (e.g. it costs you).
Which one?

BenH said:   fermatallegro said:   Something to consider. Twenty five years ago I chose benefits over $100 in weekly wages. About a year later I had an accident in the course of my work and received a permanent partial injury which resulted in a lifetime of weekly worker compensation payments. The payments are one half of my average weekly salary at the time of the accident. Those benefits ended up costing me $50 a week for the rest of my life in addition to a decrease in the amount in my social security payments. If it had been a total disability it would have cost me $100 a week for life.

I'm confused?! On the one hand you are saying that you get weekly payouts because you were protected by your benefits - that's good right? So why are you then stating the benefits "cost" you $50 a week?
Either you are getting payouts (e.g you make money) or you are paying out (e.g. it costs you).
Which one?


I think he got a workers comp benefit which was legally mandated. So the payment was not part of his benefits.

And his workers comp only paid him based on 50% of his pay which was lower because he took the job with benefits and lower pay.

So in his obscure case it apparently worked against him.

jerosen said:   
I think he got a workers comp benefit which was legally mandated. So the payment was not part of his benefits.

And his workers comp only paid him based on 50% of his pay which was lower because he took the job with benefits and lower pay.

So in his obscure case it apparently worked against him.


Might make sense - however that is apples to oranges in relation to the OP. And while $1200 extra a year over a lifetime isn't chump change - he is *still* collecting benefits.

While I don't know what a "permanent partial injury" is - there are quite a few people that would gladly trade a tip of a pinky or something similar for $20-30K+ a year for life.

Be careful. You want to make sure that contractor job is W-2 based instead of 1099MISC. You pay full FICA tax out of pocket if you get 1099MISC. With W-2 you only pay half. And many companies don't withhold income tax for 1099MISC. If you're looking at this from monthly net cash perspective, you could be in for huge surprise come tax season.

Is this W2 vs 1099? If so W2 with benefits is probably better. If both are W2s and you are young healthy and no immediate plans for kids then risk of no benefits might be worth taking for a few years.

Benefits provide security and promote long term employees, additionally you get more bang for the buck with Benefits, as a good portion of the cost can be written off as tax deductible for the Employer.

Take the job without benefits and marry a government employee.

BenH said:   jerosen said:   
I think he got a workers comp benefit which was legally mandated. So the payment was not part of his benefits.

And his workers comp only paid him based on 50% of his pay which was lower because he took the job with benefits and lower pay.

So in his obscure case it apparently worked against him.


Might make sense - however that is apples to oranges in relation to the OP. And while $1200 extra a year over a lifetime isn't chump change - he is *still* collecting benefits.

While I don't know what a "permanent partial injury" is - there are quite a few people that would gladly trade a tip of a pinky or something similar for $20-30K+ a year for life.


Its probably a back injury. But it could be limb loss or something else like hearing loss.

Certainly more than a pinky tip. 50% partial permanent injury would be more like loss of a leg or arm.

jgooner22 said:   ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).

That's a fair point, but in his case, that hasn't happened in the last 5 years or so. So, I guess it depends on the field you're in. I would think personal development would be the key to get the next contract.


If you friend is in federal government contracting I would not extrapolate the last 5 or even 15 years forward (given that he is 30 he probably doesn't remember when times were tight for contractors). I can (just) remember when government contracting jobs were actually hard to get your hands on back in the early and mid-1990s in the DC area. I considered myself lucky when I landed one in 1996 and contracting was just heating up then and went into overdrive after 2001. I suspect a correction is coming. Wife still works for a Beltway bandit and when I worked for the same company (I left in 2003) they used to boast how they never had lay offs (they were a multi-decade old company at that time), no more. If your friend is technical and/or has a high clearance (both is killer) I am sure he will do fine but I suspect there will be a bit of a thinning of the herd in government contracting going forward.

It all depends on how much you are willing to risk. Do remember when buying your own individual health insurance, if you have a high cost incident (illness, accident, etc) your rates will go through the roof at your next renewal. If you have group benefits through your reasonable sized employer, you will see no change in costs.

Job without benefits sounds like a contractor type job. If so, job security should also be a factor. If job with lower salary but with benefits comes with a better job security. I would go for that IMHO.

I've never had my base salary cut though I have had my benefits reduced, several times.

Many applications ask you about salary history. I've never seen one that asked what kind of benefits you received.

Having said that, I would like to work somewhere like Google where I get free food, massages, and haircuts.

i would for sure take the job that offers me benefits. it's not all bout the money

ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).


This is false to an extent. First, contractors already have a contract that is signed by the government--if the government decides to break it, the cost will be even more than what is paid to keep them. Secondly, furlough only affects government employees since they are not "contract based". This is the whole point of the sequestratoin--to cust costs where they haven't been paid yet. So, costs like employee tuition, training, TDYs, etc are the first to go. Then, "non critical" programs (that could be anything). I'm not saying contractors can't be cut--they can, but the current economic condition is very different than how it usually is in terms of contractor issues. Surprisingly, and aside from the issues mentioned above, this is a very good time to be a contractor. Here's the thing about being a contractor--you always have to work on yourself more than you do on your job. In other words, you are constantly keeping your skills intact because you know that your contract eventually comes to and end. Keep yourself marketable and you will be fine. I'm a contractor and know several contractors--we've never had issues finding new jobs--and 90% of the time they pay more than the previous gig due to experience gained. I was a government employee and lost my job due to reduction in force a few years ago. Benefits are so much better for contractors, imho.

go for the job that 'sounds' better. i'd pick a job that i'd have more passion for, one that would teach me more, and open more doors in the future. pay/benefits are important, but you quickly realize they're secondary to job happiness. you find out quickly how much life can suck when you go to a job that you hate, or one that bores you.

your first few years out of school have a strong impact on what the rest of your life will look like, what you pigeonhole yourself into, and what others allow you to choose later on.

if you're single and young, frack the money/benefits, find a job that will make you happy and let you grow.

skunker said:   ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).


This is false to an extent. First, contractors already have a contract that is signed by the government--if the government decides to break it, the cost will be even more than what is paid to keep them. Secondly, furlough only affects government employees since they are not "contract based". This is the whole point of the sequestratoin--to cust costs where they haven't been paid yet. So, costs like employee tuition, training, TDYs, etc are the first to go. Then, "non critical" programs (that could be anything). I'm not saying contractors can't be cut--they can, but the current economic condition is very different than how it usually is in terms of contractor issues. Surprisingly, and aside from the issues mentioned above, this is a very good time to be a contractor. Here's the thing about being a contractor--you always have to work on yourself more than you do on your job. In other words, you are constantly keeping your skills intact because you know that your contract eventually comes to and end. Keep yourself marketable and you will be fine. I'm a contractor and know several contractors--we've never had issues finding new jobs--and 90% of the time they pay more than the previous gig due to experience gained. I was a government employee and lost my job due to reduction in force a few years ago. Benefits are so much better for contractors, imho.
Actually, at my DoD location, the contractors are more scared than the fed employees are because they know the contract can be cut (I'm referring to support contractors vs the "we want two new sats and afew dozen airplanes please" type contracts). They all have a built it "government needs" clause that allow Uncle Sugar to modify as needed.

Wait, I'm confused. You got hurt on the job and you have to pay? Or are you saying that because you took the lower paying job, you are "missing out" on the extra money you would have gotten if you had taken the higher paying job? That's ludicrous! What if you had taken the higher paying job with no benefits, had an accident on the way to work instead of at work, and been completely unable to work with no disability insurance? Which of those two options would be worse?

Edit - Apparently I wasn't the only one confused. Just for the record, my dad lost 85% use of his right elbow, at work, documented. He spent almost 10 years in court while unable to lift more than 5 lbs, and he got them to spring for a 2 year community college degree. No lifetime benefits, no monthly anythings. So while I understand you aren't happy with your situation, please remember it could always be worse.

fermatallegro said:   Something to consider. Twenty five years ago I chose benefits over $100 in weekly wages. About a year later I had an accident in the course of my work and received a permanent partial injury which resulted in a lifetime of weekly worker compensation payments. The payments are one half of my average weekly salary at the time of the accident. Those benefits ended up costing me $50 a week for the rest of my life in addition to a decrease in the amount in my social security payments. If it had been a total disability it would have cost me $100 a week for life.

This is basically asking whether you want to work as a consultant (no benefits) or a permanent employee (with benefits).

Consultant: Better salary, but most of them do not get 401, health insurance and paid vacations. Being a consultant is better if you are single as the jobs are contracted and you are forced to move to different places. You are less likely to max out your health insurance at early stages of your life. You will earn enough money as a consultant, that you will be fine to go on a unpaid vacation and still save money.

Permanent Employment - works better for both married and single, as long as you are content with what you earn. It is more helpful for married as it takes care of all the benefits. But, as per industry standards when a consultant is moving over to a permanent position, his salary is 22% reduced (I do not know how they came up with this 22%, but that was the percentage shared by my previous company HR when I was trying to convert a consultant to permanent position). So basically if you have earned 100K as consultant, for the same job as permanent employee, you can expect something around 80K. Most of them think it is going to be 100K + benefits and this is not how it works.

So, all comes to how you want to handle your finance. Do you want someone to take care of your benefits or you are better enough to handle it yourself (so you can save more). There are some high paying jobs for consultant and if you are in that category, then I would definitely suggest, work as consultant till you get married.

skunker said:   ciscovpn said:   jgooner22 said:   To give you guys an example - my friend lives in DC and works as a contractor for govt client. He is 30, paid 53/hour and no benefits. He has his IRA and funds it fully for the past 2-3 years. As for vacation, what he does is he calculates his annual salary based on 1900 hours (and not 2000/year which is the usual), lives accordingly and takes about 2 weeks vacation every year. His insurance plan costs him 150$/month, I am sure it has an at least $5K deductible. But 53/hours in DC with no office BS, no overtime, extra stress etc etc is pretty sweet if you ask me.

But mind you, contractors are the first to be let go or furloughed. Contracts can be cancelled at any time ( they do require funding).


This is false to an extent. First, contractors already have a contract that is signed by the government--if the government decides to break it, the cost will be even more than what is paid to keep them. Secondly, furlough only affects government employees since they are not "contract based". This is the whole point of the sequestratoin--to cust costs where they haven't been paid yet. So, costs like employee tuition, training, TDYs, etc are the first to go. Then, "non critical" programs (that could be anything). I'm not saying contractors can't be cut--they can, but the current economic condition is very different than how it usually is in terms of contractor issues. Surprisingly, and aside from the issues mentioned above, this is a very good time to be a contractor. Here's the thing about being a contractor--you always have to work on yourself more than you do on your job. In other words, you are constantly keeping your skills intact because you know that your contract eventually comes to and end. Keep yourself marketable and you will be fine. I'm a contractor and know several contractors--we've never had issues finding new jobs--and 90% of the time they pay more than the previous gig due to experience gained. I was a government employee and lost my job due to reduction in force a few years ago. Benefits are so much better for contractors, imho.


Huh?

Contractors are being cut left and right, especially in the defense sector. The government employees are picking up the slack, being asked to take extra workload, and in some cases, take extra workload and also get furloughed. I have a few friends who are cursing their luck by being deemed "essential", when they would've preferred a furlough.

There is not a worse time to be a contractor. Contracts are being killed, re-negotiated, consolidated and deferred. Lots of beltway bandits are being let go already, on the simple fear they can't afford to keep contractors and consultants on the bench and have had indications contracts are going to be vaporizing soon.

That said, DC/government contractors are a perfect example of better pay vs better benefits. I would guess at least 35-40% of the DC area workforce is over 40 years old and collecting a pension, be it military or civil service.

So many "high paying" jobs in DC have terrible benefits, because they hire these more senior ex-military/ex-government employees who receive their benefits from uncle sam for life. EG - most contractors I know were officers who have a clearance and important skill, have a pension and full healthcare for life, and go back as contractors collecting 100-200k in salary with crappy benefits.

Most of those folks can't care less about losing their job. They can always retire, take a few years off, look for a gig somewhere outside of DC where their specific skills are required, etc. The profile of an individual the OP posted about should be s--tting their pants about now, though.

Skipping 6 Messages...
I think people overstate the worrying. I can tell you how things will be for the next 30 years. They will be just like they have been for the last 30.



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