I dedicate this column to my friend Elaine, who gave me an up-close look at the paperwork nightmare that arises when you change jobs. Even if you get a better offer from a new employer, the piles of paperwork involved in re-establishing your retirement plan, health insurance and other benefits could make you think twice about moving to a new job. But for many people, resisting job change is not an option. A spouse moves, a job is reorganized out of existence, or a new boss makes life impossible. So for the millions of Americans who will change jobs this year, here are some issues involved in the shift.
Then there was a matter of signing up for the new 40l(k) plan -- not only deciding on funds but also figuring out how much money she could afford to have deducted each week. Typically, I cavalierly tell people to invest the maximum allowed. But even well-paid executive secretaries need something left over for food and commuting expenses. We decided on a simple assortment of funds, and then she signed a form naming her husband as beneficiary. We'd come back to the specific contribution amount later.
Bottom line: Since Elaine has ongoing and expensive prescription costs, the new company's health plan would likely require her to pay the entire deductible amount of $4,000 per year. That was far more than the cost of her old company's traditional plan. It didn't take much to realize that Health Savings Plans are great for healthy people who don't need to dip into their tax-deductible savings account but not so great if you have ongoing medical costs. Plus, she'd have to track all those costs herself, adding to her paperwork burden. By the time Elaine and I calculated the monthly deductions from her new, larger paycheck, the results were disappointing. First there was that huge deduction for taxes. Then she had to make large Health Savings Account contributions to cover her ongoing prescription costs. Then I was urging her to make larger contributions to her 40l(k) plan, even though there was no match. We kept subtracting. Then she showed me her weekly gasoline bill, even in a small car, with no public transportation. Plus, she helps pay for her aging father's care. More subtractions. A light went off in both of our minds at the same time: Why was she working? The answer went beyond the need for health insurance. Elaine loves her job, and she's great at it. She makes a real contribution. The world needs more such motivated workers. But then last week we had a failed CEO who left his company with a
$210 million severance payment. I wonder how long that will be possible if all the self-motivated people who keep our economy running suddenly have second thoughts about the value of their work. And that's The Savage Truth.