7 little-known employee benefits that could save you thousands of dollars this year


Wouldn't it be cool if your company paid you to go on vacation — or covered the cost of your wedding? Believe it or not, some actually do as part of an effort to offer meaningful employee benefits that attract and keep top talent.

Today's workplace benefits go beyond pizza parties and free massages. Instead, companies are zeroing in on the perks employees value most.

"There was a trend a while back where companies offered perks for the sake of offering perks," said Adrian Granzella Larssen of career site the Muse. "Free food and ping pong tables in the break room were fun, but if you weren't fulfilled in your job, a free lunch wasn't going to make it better."

Wondering what some companies offer? Check out these seven generous perks. Then schedule a chat with your favorite HR or people ops person: You might be able to sweet talk yourself into an unexpected benefit you never knew was possible. (For example, do you know if your employer offers a "cash in lieu" of of healthcare option?) It never hurts to ask.

1. $10,000 off your student loan debt

Getting crushed by student loan debt? Fidelity, Staples, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are among the companies that student loan repayment assistance as a benefit, Newsday reports. All three pay $100 or more a month to qualified employees, with a lifetime benefit cap between $3,600 to $10,000.

Although only an estimated 3% of companies offered student loan repayment assistance in 2015, more than half of employers offer some type of help with tuition, so it's worth finding out if your employer can help at least defray your educational costs. You might be able to make the case for them to chip in.

2. Free money advice from a certified financial advisor

Employees at recruitment firm WinterWyman have access to a certified financial planner, free of charge for individual financial literacy sessions. "The certified financial planner who manages our 401(k) makes himself available a few times a year to answer questions and meet one-on-one with employees," Cathy Renda, director of employee engagement at WinterWyman said.

Many employers offer "some form of financial education to their employees," according to U.S. News & World Report. Check with your human resources department to find out what free money advice is available for you. Customized expert advice can get expensive, so you could end up saving a lot.

3. $100,000 to fund a dream project

Some companies recognize that employees are the best resource for innovation and offer funding and support for project ideas, Larssen said. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services lets employees compete for a $100,000 prize to pursue an idea that will "dramatically improve their Office, Agency or the Department's ability to carry out its mission," through its Ventures Fund.

Meanwhile, Adobe's Kickbox program offers workers $1,000 to develop and test an innovative new idea. It has given the money to more than 1,000 employees to date. Consider talking to someone at your company about starting a similar program.

Some companies reward innovation — in a big way.Source: Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock

4. $2,000 to go on vacation

Some companies will even give you money to go on vacation, especially if it happens to align with one of their core values. For example, Airbnb offers employees a $2,000 travel credit toward stays at any Airbnb on the globe. That helped earned it a spot on Glassdoor's 2017 Best Places to Work rankings. Travel site Afar Media and software firm BambooHR also give their workers a $2,000 credit.

"Taking vacations and getting away from the office from time to time is needed to do great work," as a BambooHR spokesperson told CNNMoney. Vacations are healthy — and have benefits for society, the economy and even employers.

5. Getting paid to volunteer

Socially conscious companies encourage employees to contribute to their community or important causes, which is why Salesforce and Timberland give employees a full week of paid time to use toward volunteering. Even smaller companies like construction firm Feyen Zylstra gives its 52 employees eight hours of paid time off each year to volunteer, the Traverse City Record Eagle reported.

Some companies take that thinking one step further by offering "social justice time off" to attend political marches and protests, Fast Company reports. Patagonia goes a step further by giving workers paid time off for court appearances or legal appointments if they are arrested for "peacefully protesting environmental or related issues."

6. Help paying for your wedding

The average wedding cost a whopping $35,329 in 2016, according to a survey by The Knot, so any help you can get makes a big difference. Bulk shopping site Boxed will pay full-time employees who are getting married up to $20,000 to fund their wedding, Inc reports.

"We don't do free meals, we don't do $10,000 happy hours," Boxed CEO Chieh Huang told Inc. "We focus on a few fringe benefits." Other employers with great family-friendly perks include Netflix, which offers a full year of paid parental leave and Etsy, which gives new parents six months paid time off.

Source: Wedding photography/Shutterstock

7. Paid time off to explore the great outdoors

Does your company encourage you to have fun outside the office? We're not talking about the tired company picnic here. Employees at REI receive two paid "Yay Days" dedicated to the exploration and enjoyment of nature. They can also apply for a "Challenge Grant" to cover the costs of an outdoor challenge, from a 50-mile bike ride to a Mt. Everest expedition.

If your employer doesn't offer this perk, why not suggest it? Chances are you're not the only one there who would be happier — and healthier — with a little more time to commune with nature.

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