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4 Money-Saving Employee Benefits

The right benefits can save your company money and help keep your people happy.

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Saving money is great. So is having happy employees.

How about both? Adding a few new benefits to your company's repertoire can make your business more attractive to prospective employees, help you retain the employees you want to keep and give you an edge against the competition. There may also be money-saving opportunities for both your business and your personal finances.

Here are four ways to make your company's benefits program stand out against corporate rivals.

  1. Direct deposit. Offering electronic paychecks--direct deposit--to your employees will save your company time and money, and give your employees a benefit that will make their lives a little bit easier.

    According to The Electronic Payments Association (NACHA), companies can save up to $3.15 per payment by using direct deposit instead of paper checks.

    That adds up to big bucks. A company with 100 employees can save nearly $19,000 a year by switching to electronic payments, and even companies that have fewer than 10 employees can save, according to the NACHA. (For more detailed cost analysis, click here.

    Those savings come in the form of reduced administrative and processing costs, as you won't need to spend hours working on the books and cutting regular paychecks. You can use software payment programs, payroll processors or even your financial institution to help reduce the time your employees spend on payroll issues.

    Direct deposit is win for employees, too. According to a Consumer Federation of America survey, three out of four employees who have this benefit available would use it.

    Plus, your employees won't have to leave work to deposit their paychecks during banking hours. Workers who deposit paper checks spend up to three work days a year at the bank, a NACHA study said. So you might see an increase in productivity, as well.

    Try this cost calculator to see how much your business can save.
  2. Offer a 529 plan. Saving for college is a major concern for parents. You can make the task easier for your employees by offering a direct payroll contribution program to a 529 plan. Employees like the 529 plan because contributions to this account grow tax-free. When money is withdrawn for qualified expenses, such as tuition and room and board, no tax is owed.

    In a recent survey by benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates, 19 percent of employers surveyed said they planned to use payroll deduction 529 plans for their employees, and another 46 percent were considering a program.

    How to get started? Each of the 50 states offers a 529 plan, and some offer more than one. You don't have to use your state's plan, but some states offer tax incentives and other benefits to residents.

    You can research all the 529 plans out there at, a comprehensive site that allows you to compare plans side-by-side. Look carefully at expenses and performance, and find a plan that offers age-based portfolios--which will automatically shift funds to more conservative investments as the child gets closer to college age.

    If you need professional help, ask a financial advisor or call your favorite mutual fund company. Just know that plans purchased through an advisor will be more expensive than those purchased directly.
  3. Make retirement savings easier. To make your business attractive to new employees, you need a benefits package that competes with the big guys. That means you need a retirement plan.

    Employees will appreciate the opportunity to set some money aside for retirement, and you can save for your future, too. Depending on the size and type of business you run, you have a variety of options.

    Whichever plan you choose, your employees can contribute funds pre-tax (meaning before the IRS gets its hands on those dollars), and the invested funds will grow tax-deferred (no tax will be owed) until withdrawals begin.

    If you offer employer matching funds--a few bucks for every few bucks your employee adds to the account--you can deduct the expense. You can also deduct the expenses associated with setting up and maintaining your plan.
  4. Day-care options. According to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, child-care issues cause more problems in the workplace than any other family-related issue. The report found increases in lateness and absenteeism, with 80 percent of the companies surveyed saying work days were cut short because of child-care problems.

    One solution to consider is instituting an on-site child care center for your employees' brood.

    Many of the companies that make Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list and Working Mother's "The 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" list have on-site day-care options for their employees.

    Parents will welcome the opportunity to have a convenient place to drop off their children before work. It will save employees' time and make it more likely they'll get to work on time. They'll love the ability to stop in at lunchtime. It's a real morale booster, especially for new parents who are transitioning back to work after maternity or paternity leave.

    Sure, it will take an investment, but if many of your employees have children, you could save money, too, by reducing turnover and lost work days. One cost-benefit study at Union Bank in Pasadena, Calif., found its on-site day care program saved up to $232,000 in annual operations costs.

    Then again, you can't put a price on a happy employee.

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