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Shutterstock_573543445Nearly two million students are estimated to graduate with a bachelor’s degree this year. As they enter the job market and evaluate the employment opportunities before them, it’s a good time to remember that the perfect job should be about more than just salary. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) asked young millennials who graduated from college in the last two years or will graduate in the next year about the workplace benefits they find most important. Matt Rosenberg, CPA and member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, spoke to AICPA Insights about the survey results and shared some insight young job seekers should keep in mind as they evaluate their employment opportunities.

The top three workplace benefits that younger millennials say will help them reach their financial goals are: health insurance, paid time off (PTO), and student loan forgiveness programs. Does that match your experience working with clients?

Matt Rosenberg: Paying for health insurance outside of a large employer plan can be very expensive. Also, the thought of not having some sort of catastrophic healthcare coverage is very scary for most people. So, it’s not surprising to see health insurance listed as the most desired workplace benefit. However, I am surprised that PTO and student loan forgiveness are the second and third most desired benefits. More specifically, it’s surprising to see these two benefits higher on the list than a 401(k) match which was listed as the 5th most desired benefit (after working remotely – 4th).

A benefit package should ideally be a mix of short and long-term perks. A 401(k) match is essentially additional compensation for the employee and will lead to a much higher probability of retirement success. By not saving towards retirement, young millennials would be missing out on the greatest asset they have on their side—time. The contributions made to a 401(k) match have the potential to grow significantly over the long term. I don’t fault young millennials for thinking about PTO and loan debt forgiveness– those benefits address issues closer at hand in their situation. However, it’s very important they consider the whole picture and not just the short-term.

Among young millennials with outstanding debt, student loan repayment was viewed as being the most important use of their benefit dollars. For young job seekers who have debt weighing on their minds, how would you suggest they approach prioritizing potential workplace benefits?

MR: I remember starting my first job after graduating from college and receiving the benefits package from the HR department. There were a lot of choices and it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all, especially when you’re also focused on the actual work that needs to be performed. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Approach benefits and financial planning decisions objectively. List out the expected dollar value of each benefit over a long period of time so you can evaluate it adequately.
  • Take the time to understand all your options. Selecting the right benefits will not just have a significant impact on your financial future but can also provide peace of mind. It’s not something that should be rushed.
  • Get help. For some, it may be their first experience with health insurance, retirement plans, etc. Seeking professional advice on these decisions early in one’s career will likely pay for itself in spades.

Do you have any additional advice for the many young Americans who are just now starting their careers?

MR: I highly recommend that everyone takes time to clearly identify their financial goals and values. Many people think that setting financial goals simply means trying to accumulate as much wealth over time as possible. This isn’t true; and understanding one’s values and goals is a very important first step in the financial planning process.

Finally, take time to educate yourself about the personal financial impact of your employment decisions. The AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website is full of free resources including information about what questions to ask when evaluating benefits as well as a wide-variety of calculators on topics such as 401(k)s, loan repayment and setting a monthly budget. 

Jon Lynch, Manager, Public Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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