The right kind of on-the-job benefits can add value to any job, no matter what your base salary is.

One way to maximize how you protect your assets is with insurance policies that your job makes available to opt into, such as life and disability insurance.

There are a number of companies that provide what are called voluntary benefits, including Aflac (Stock Quote: AFL), Principal (Stock Quote: PFG), Guardian and Unum (Stock Quote: UNM). asked Tim Knott, vice president of insurance operations at Assurant Employee Benefits (Stock Quote: AIZ) for more information on getting the most out of the benefits being offered to you.

MainStreet: What are voluntary benefit plans?
Tim Knott: Voluntary benefit plans are insurance products that are sponsored by employers but paid for by employees, typically on a payroll deduction basis. There are different types of benefit plans. They include term life, long-term disability, dental, vision and accident plans.

MS: Why are voluntary benefit plans popular now?
TK: Now there’s a greater awareness of financial risk and of not having an income to support your family. More and more personal responsibility has been given to employees when it comes to choosing and paying for their own benefits. I expect this trend to continue and I also expect the poor economy to speed up the process.

MS: People are anxious about job security and skittish about spending money. Why are voluntary benefits a good investment for employees?
TK: Unemployment is [on people’s] minds right now but there are many other ways that a family can lose income, such as the disability or death of the primary wage earner. I can understand why people would be skittish about paying for voluntary benefits when money’s hard to come by, but protecting your income is important, a lot more important than other discretionary spending.

MS: What is the upside of voluntary benefit offerings for employers?
TK: A lot of it has to do with cost. Businesses are looking for ways to cut costs, especially in this economy. But the primary thing is that voluntary benefit plans help employers retain and motivate employees in way that’s economical. The employer provides employees with a much-needed safety net and the employees have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they will be covered if an unfortunate event occurs.

MS: How do voluntary benefit plans compare to those you might purchase individually?
TK: Because voluntary benefits are offered on a group basis, they are a cost effective way to obtain financial protection for disabilities, death, or costs associated with medical or dental services. Most of the time the benefits can be provided on a guarantee issue basis without the need to fill out health questionnaires or provide evidence of insurability.  

Also, the ability to pay for the benefits on a payroll deduction basis is easy and convenient. Compared to insurance that can be individually purchased, group voluntary premium costs are generally lower, the administrative and distribution costs are generally not as high and that means lower costs for the employee.

MS: If I’m an employer, how can I make these plans available to my employees?
TK: Employers should contact their benefits broker. If they don’t have one, they should find one. One of the best ways is to get referrals from other business owners.