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Prepare W-4 2020, other benefits when you get a new job



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Peter Dunn, Special to USA TODAY
Published 11:26 a.m. ET Sept. 20, 2020 | Updated 11:27 a.m. ET Sept. 20, 2020

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Dear Pete,

I’ve been without work income for four months now, but I just received a job offer. I haven’t started a new job for almost twenty years, as I’d been with the same company that entire time. When it comes to starting a new job, have things changed from a benefits and procedural perspective? I want to make sure I don’t make any mistakes.

Allison, New Haven, Connecticut

Congratulations. And I hope millions of other Americans are soon able to experience what you’re about to experience.

You’re smart to pause and ensure your onboarding process goes smoothly. It’s incredibly easy to let the excitement and relief of the moment distract you from making prudent, calculated benefits decisions. 

It begins with your W-4, the form which lets your employer know how to set-up your paycheck’s tax withholding. This form was redesigned for 2020, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s much different than previous years. Making a mistake on this form can lead to either a tax bill come April of 2021, or a giant tax refund which can be the result of choking-off cash flow throughout the year.

Check out new W-4

Before your new employer sends you this form, make sure to go to IRS.gov and familiarize yourself with the form now, and seek the help of a tax professional if you need additional guidance.

Depending on how much of a financial blow you’ve endured in the past few months, you may need to re-establish financial stability. From paying down debt to rebuilding your emergency fund, getting your near-term finances back in order is prudent, to say the least. However, don’t disregard the importance of getting long-term finances back on track either. Set your 401(k) contribution to the proper level from the jump. Promising yourself you’re going to increase it later to proper levels is often a forgotten commitment that can seriously impede your quest to retire successfully. 

Review your retirement goals

Retiring successfully is the most difficult task you will ever accomplish. People tend to either not believe that fact, or they simply ignore their role in it. Respectfully, as difficult as the last few months have been for you, a failed retirement is much worse. There is a number, specific to your financial life, which will allow you to successfully retire. Is it 10% of your income going toward your retirement plan? Is it 18%? A brief discussion with a financial adviser, or even an online retirement calculator, should help answer those questions.

Again, the temptation is to address the retirement challenge later. But with every passing day, the already challenging challenge gets more challenging. 

Health insurance

Making wise insurance decisions is next on your checklist. You’ll absolutely want to make sure you sign up for the proper amount of life and disability insurance; it’s often quite affordable through employer groups.

Your health care coverage decisions are also vitally important. If you have to choose between a “traditional” plan and a high-deductible plan paired with a health savings account (HCA), make sure you take into account your current health and the frequency with which you typically seek medical care.

And check to see if your family’s current physicians are in-network. If they aren’t, either come to terms with paying out-of-network costs, or switch to physicians who are in-network. Don’t neglect this very important process. Too many people skip this step, and the result is a very costly out-of-network medical bill when they go to a routine doctor’s appointment at their existing physician’s office. 

With so much chaos everywhere we look, be sure to take the 30 to 90 minutes necessary to make thoughtful benefits decisions that will benefit you and your family for years to come.

Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: “Million Dollar Plan.” Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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