How well do you know your benefits?

(WVLT) -- In tough economic times, consumers are faced with juggling immediate priorities and expenses, while often letting decisions that affect their longer term health and financial security fall by the way side. October marks the start of open enrollment season for many American workers. This is the time their once-a-year opportunity comes to take advantage of the valuable personal and financial benefits made available by their employers. While many Americans do have important insurance coverage, the vast majority would be surprised they don't have quite enough to help them weather a financial storm.

Did You Know?
80% of workers say the workplace is an important source for personal insurance and savings products
68% of people say they make little or no effort in choosing benefits each year
1 in 3 people will become disabled before they retire, yet less than 70% of people have disability insurance
30% of Americans own no life insurance at all, including 11 million households with kids under the age of 18

Personal Finance Expert, Carmen Wong Ulrich, shared top line results of a recent study showing Americans attitudes and knowledge of benefits.

She says it's best for workers to sign up for benefits through their employer, but it's also important to carefully consider benefits options during open enrollment.

Smart benefits decisions can help consumers prepare their families to deal with life's expected and unexpected events, including the birth of a child, marriage or divorce, disability and even the loss of a loved one. Ulrich says, "Know that your employer has many resources available for you to manage these benefits and to see how much you need so when you get that email that's benefits enrollment and you get the packet in the email, make sure to take the time to really review it and also review your own life and your own changing scenario. Think about it...have you gotten married, have you had another child, do you have an elderly parent that's moved in with you? Who depends on you and your income for their quality of life and that changes as we grow older. Also, your income level may change, too so make sure your life insurance coverage and your disability coverage really keeps pace with the needs of your life professionally as well as your family."

Some of the most common mistakes in open enrollment is "not updating those benefits. I've seen many scenarios where people just keep the same life insurance coverage, disability coverage, that they've had for 10 years! The biggest mistake you can make is doing that because -- for example, maybe 10 years ago you were just married but you had no kids, but now you've got three, so you've got to make sure that your life insurance and your disability moves along with the needs of you and your family. Every single year, this is the time of year to make sure that you have enough coverage and think about what you need coverage for, not just income replacement. What about debts? Outstanding debts, like your mortgage, or what about your children's education? That's another mean, so just make sure you have enough," says Ulrich.

Carmen Ulrich also suggests to have a back-up plan in case of job loss. "In this changing job market where we have people losing their jobs and where they're getting other jobs...you're going to have gaps in between and I want to make sure that folks know that you should get your own life insurance and disability coverage separate and in addition to what you have with work so that should you lose your job, you have that coverage because Cobra may take care of your medical benefits but your other benefits like life insurance and disability may not carry over."

Even if you're young, make sure to sign up for diability. "What would happen, should anything happen to you? We know that three out of ten Americans will experience disability before retirement...that is a really big number so if 1/3 us are going to see that, even if you're young and you want to maintain some quality of life, and not fall too far behind, make sure you have disability coverage."

For more information on this, visit prudential.com


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