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Web Winners: Make sure you know your benefits

By Reid Kanaley, The Philadelphia Inquirer –

Benefits — from your employer, your health insurer, the government or other sources — are sometimes hard to keep track of. But knowing what benefits you are due will help you in the long run.

—Forgotten benefits? Some people think they’ve lost pension benefits, but haven’t. Some don’t know they may qualify for spousal Social Security payments after a divorce. According to this Forbes post by Erik Carter, there are all sorts of benefits for which people qualify, but of which they frequently are not aware, such as Social Security’s survivor benefits or an employer’s discount stock-purchase plan.

—Taxing fringe benefits. If your employer puts on a picnic or lets you use the office photocopier for personal items from time to time, the government doesn’t count that as income for taxing purposes, but you might be liable to pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service for the use of your employer’s vacation home or boat — or even for recurring office perks such as free meals. So says this post at Money Crashers.

—The IRS has a detailed guide, aimed at employers, to explain how fringe benefits are categorized and taxed.

—Understand Social Security. You may not be old enough to collect Social Security, but do you know where you stand on earning your Social Security “credits?” Social Security factors your eventual benefit based on the 35 years that you made the most income. What if you don’t work that long? Big problem. If you don’t collect income for a total of 35 years, your potential Social Security benefits gets dinged. Kiplinger explains.

—Why offer benefits? Offering health care and other benefits can attract and retain workers, while they add to the costs and liabilities of an employer. Small businesses do a balancing act with regard to benefits, as this brief pro-con list from the legal site FindLaw illustrates. Better benefits could persuade a worker to accept less pay, but benefit costs have a way of spiraling higher and higher for employers.

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