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When you're struggling financially, you may feel completely alone and desperate. If you have a job, don't suffer in silence or turn to predatory loans; know that your employer could offer benefits that can help you get through a tight spot.
While not all employers offer benefits beyond the basics like health insurance and retirement accounts, here are some of the perks you may encounter and how to get them.
Common Workplace Benefits to Explore
Wondering how your employer might be able to help you get through a rough patch? Here are some of the workplace benefits that are offered, especially by larger employers:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): It's common for larger employers to offer EAPs, which are a collection of free, voluntary resources for employees. Companies often utilize third-party vendors that can be contacted via phone or online, offering advice, counseling and referrals. EAPs can usually assist with mental health or substance abuse issues, financial struggles, child care concerns, relationship issues, grief, legal assistance, medical questions and more. Depending on the program, you may receive direct help or counseling, or you may be connected with another resource.
- Employee hardship funds: Certain employers maintain an employee hardship fund that doles out a limited number of needs-based grants. These don't require repayment, and they're often limited to individuals struggling due to a specific hardship, such as a health crisis, natural disaster or death in the family—or even a broken-down car.
- Salary advances: Some employers are willing to help employees who are struggling by providing a salary advance, also known as a paycheck advance, which you repay later. After you receive your advance, your employer may deduct the amount from your next paycheck or split it among several pay periods; they may even give you the choice of which you'd prefer. Not all employers offer salary advances, and there may be restrictions, but this can be a helpful alternative to loans or credit cards if you have a short-term need for cash.
- Tuition or student loan assistance: To attract and retain employees, some employers help their workers pay off their student debt and/or pay for tuition for additional education. If you're unable to make ends meet due to student loan debt, this could be a hugely impactful benefit.
- Transportation subsidy: Depending on the location, some employers give employees extra pay to cover getting to the office, such as public transportation or parking. If your employer hasn't advertised this perk, but you spend a lot of money on public transport or parking, ask your employer if any needs-based or partial subsidies are available.
- Financial wellness benefits: As an increasing number of employees report financial stress, more employers are introducing benefits that encourage financial wellness and reduce pressure. This can include financial education workshops, financial coaching, tools to manage money, partnerships with businesses that help with finances and more. If your employer doesn't currently offer this, you could ask that it be added as a benefit.
- Other subsidies: While not universal, some employers offer other perks either free or partially subsidized for employees to help cover costs. This can include childcare, certain health needs, continuing education, gym memberships and more.
How to Request Benefits
Ready to find out if your company offers any benefits that could help you if you are struggling financially? Here's how to get started.
1. Do Your Research
First, find out your company's policies by reviewing the employee handbook or internal wiki. Read which benefits are available, along with requirements, such as if hardship is required (like a death in the family or bankruptcy). Some benefits, such as counseling, might be available to anyone requesting it, without going through HR. Other benefits, such as salary advances, might require a hardship to qualify and necessitate working with your HR department.
2. Talk to HR
The next step is likely to meet with a human resources representative. It's important to be honest and share what you're going through. You can let them know that you're requesting specific benefits, or ask what benefits they have that might match your situation. Then you'll need to ask for qualifications, and any additional steps you need to take to obtain that benefit.
3. Write and Submit a Formal Request
Certain benefits can be accessed on your own, but some have a more formal request process. In those cases, you will need to write and submit a formal request to your HR department. It should outline your situation, the benefit you're requesting and any other details required.
Other Ways to Ease the Financial Pressure
If your workplace doesn't offer these benefits, or they aren't enough, there are a few other ways to tighten up your finances.
Temporarily Reduce 401(k) Contributions
If you contribute a portion of your salary to a workplace retirement account like a 401(k) account, good on you! But when your finances are extremely tight, setting any percent of your income toward retirement will eat into your paycheck.
While it's always smart to save as much for retirement as possible, it's fine to temporarily pause or reduce your contribution amount to free up income needed to cover big expenses or debt. Just don't forget to up it again later.
Consider Switching Health Insurance
You might assume you should use your company's health insurance plan, and your spouse uses theirs. But plans can have vastly different costs.
If you're married, find out how much your spouse's insurance costs for dependents, and if you have kids, for children. It could turn out that you'll save significantly by dropping your employer's health insurance and using your spouse's instead, or switching your kids to the other plan. If you need to stay with your company's insurance, another idea is to find out if there's a more affordable plan you can switch to in the next open enrollment period.
Reduce Your Debt
If high levels of debt are part of your current headache, one of the best moves you can make is tackle your debt. Research different debt repayment strategies and pick one that appeals to you. Cut back on any unnecessary expenses and chip away at your debt when you can. You could meet with a financial planner or credit counselor to get guidance on reducing debt.
Don't Let Your Credit Take a Hit
When you're struggling financially, you may find yourself making late payments, missing payments or carrying high debt balances. These behaviors can hurt your credit, so as you work with your employer and elsewhere to find some relief, don't neglect your credit. If you're concerned that this rough patch has hurt your credit, check your credit score for free on Experian to assess the damage. You'll also get advice on steps you can take to improve your credit and ensure it bounces back as your financial situation improves.