Work for a big company--or better yet, one of those perennial best-workplace contest winners--and you're loaded up with benefits, right?
Not necessarily. Soaring health costs and a shift away from guaranteed pensions have taken their toll, even among the biggest and best.
For example, just a third of companies with 200 or more workers offer retiree health benefits, according to a 2006-2007 survey of benefit plans by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust.
Among this year's winners of AARP's Best Employers for Workers Over 50 awards, 31 of the 50 companies on the list offer retiree health benefits. That's a significantly higher rate than the Kaiser study found, but it still means a good chunk of these "best" workplaces for older workers are not providing health benefits to retirees.
Just 29 of the companies on the AARP list offer an employer match to a 401(k) retirement plan, contest organizers said, though they may offer retirement pay in other ways.
Several other perks--including flexible work arrangements for retiree part-timers and automatic enrollment in retirement plans--were stressed in choosing the best workplaces, said Deborah Russell, AARP's director of workforce issues.
The organization's annual list--along with new retirement plan data from benefits consultant Hewitt Associates--provides a glimpse at some of the better benefits being offered in workplaces.
Finding an employer that offers all of them (and matches with your skills and happens to be located in your city) is probably unrealistic, but knowing a few of corporate America's benefit benchmarks might help as you consider future jobs, or your career path at your current one.
-- Show them the money
To show workers a company has their long-term financial future at heart, it's hard to beat cold, hard cash.
Just ask Irene Hollingsworth of Memphis. The former secretary retired at age 60 with a traditional pension, a 401(k) account and subsidized retiree health benefits from First Horizon National Corp., parent of First Tennessee Bank.
First Horizon, an AARP award winner, offers a traditional pension and a 401(k) with employer match, as well as stock options and catch-up provisions for workers older than 50.
"Had it not been for those benefits I couldn't have possibly retired when I did," said Hollingsworth, now 71. She used the health benefits as a bridge until she was eligible for Medicare at age 65.
Among large employers surveyed recently by Hewitt, 46 percent offer a traditional pension and most kick in contributions to a 401(k)-type retirement plan. The most common employer match is 50 cents for every dollar contributed, up to 6 percent of pay, said Pamela Hess, Hewitt's retirement research director.
Hess said it has also become common for employers to offer catch-up contribution provisions in their 401(k) plans, which allow workers older than 50 to stash away an extra $5,000 in 2007. While common, this perk isn't required, so it pays to watch for it.
Less common are the newer Roth 401(k) plans, but these are plans for older workers to watch for, Hess said. With a shorter time horizon until retirement, the benefit of years of tax-free compounding becomes less significant, but money in a Roth plan can be a nice diversifier because it is after-tax money that is typically tax-free upon withdrawal.
-- A little advice, please
Another perk gaining in popularity is investment advice at work, Hess said. About 40 percent of employers in the Hewitt study offer investment advice, up from 25 percent a few years ago, she said.
At SC Johnson & Son Inc., a Racine, Wis.-based household products-maker that ranked No. 1 on AARP's list, workers have access to financial planners at subsidized cost, along with many other perks.
-- Healthy options
With fewer employers offering health benefits to retirees, studying your options for financing health care--such as health savings accounts at work or your own private insurance plan--is crucial, said Jeff Munn, a principal with Hewitt's health management team.
"Some people close to retirement have saved a lot of money, so a $2,000 medical expense is not as big a deal," he said. People in that situation might be able to save big on premiums if they can take the risk of hitting the out-of-pocket maximum on a high-deductible health plan, he said.
For Doug Drake, 66, all of those benefits take a back seat to the phased retirement he began in June after 44 years with Stanley Consultants in Muscatine, Iowa, another AARP winner. When the engineering consulting firm needs an extra pair of hands on a project basis, Drake steps in to help. The company offers a phased retirement program that three-quarters of new retirees join.
Drake said being able to come back for a little part-time work has made all the difference--another offering worth investigation.
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