Liz Erk (lizerk) wrote,
Liz Erk

Strange Days

These last 2 months have been a little strange. We've got everything from my having to call the police on a garbage man and sleeping at Logan airport to me getting run over by a motorized wheelchair and hanging out with one of the Pimp My Ride guys. I'm not quite sure when my life went from calm and steady to "WTF???," but I'm getting a little sick of it.

I have many many stories to tell and I will this week. I'm having LJ withdrawal!

In the meantime I will leave you with this Wall Street Journal article that I was in. It's actually a really useful piece on how to get more money out of your existing paycheck. (Too bad they spelled my name wrong... seriously, why is it so hard to accept that my last name is three -THREE- whole letters??? The reporter spelled it "Erik," but I corrected it in the below.)

10 ways to get the most pay out of your job
Monday, September 18, 2006

By Perri Capell, The Wall Street Journal

Want a bigger paycheck? It may not be as hard as you think.

A lot of people assume that more pay can come only from winning a promotion, or finding a new job elsewhere. But there are ways -- large and small -- to put more money in your pocket each week. Separately, these strategies may not be enough to change your life. But put several together, and they start adding up.

"It's nickels and dimes that can get you to a dollar," says Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson & Associates, a New York pay consultant. "A thousand here and there can add up to real money."

Here are 10 tips from compensation experts, human-resources managers and employees on how to beef up your pay.


You may work harder than the people around you, but your annual raise and bonus award may still be lower than theirs. That's because your co-workers are getting more of the right things done than you and making sure their boss is aware of it.

"To say it concisely, the main way to increase your paycheck is to do a good job and make sure the right people know about it," says Craig Schneier, executive vice president, human resources, for Biogen Idec Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., pharmaceutical company.

The best performers received raises averaging 9.9 percent in 2005, compared with 3.6 percent for average performers and 1.3 percent for poor performers, according to a survey by Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm in Lincolnshire, Ill. Thanks to compounding, those differences translate into a lot of money over time.

Hewitt offers the example of three hypothetical employees, each hired in 2001 at a salary of $50,000. They then received salary increases related to their performance. After five years, the poor performer earns $52,807, the average performer makes $57,821, and the top performer earns $72,078. (Hewitt calculated the final salaries based on actual increases for the three types of performance since 2001.)

What's more, don't assume you know what your manager expects, and don't be afraid to ask. You must understand exactly what he or she thinks is outstanding performance in your position, says Laury Sejen, practice director of strategic rewards for Watson Wyatt, a global compensation consulting firm.

Have two meetings with your manager, she advises. At the first, ask how you can earn the maximum amount of pay over time at your company. This can tell you what career goals to shoot for. At the second, ask how you can receive the highest salary increase.

"Some organizations struggle to set objectives," says Ms. Sejen. "You can take the responsibility to have it clarified."

Write down what you both agreed to and give your boss a copy, says Steve Gross, head of rewards consulting in Philadelphia for Mercer HR Consulting. At the end of the year, you can use this list to discuss how well you performed against your goals.

"Now you both have a scorecard for the performance review, which makes it easier for your boss to recognize your performance," Mr. Gross says.

You don't have to brag to get a top-dollar raise. Simply citing your accomplishments will set you apart "because a lot of people don't take the time to do it," says Paul Dorf, managing director of Compensation Resources Inc., an Upper Saddle River, N.J., consulting firm. He adds that if you have no significant contributions to list, "you probably shouldn't be seeking more money."


Having a bonus tied to performance goals and hitting them can get you more money annually. More than 95 percent of companies offer a chance to earn annual bonuses to executives, while 80 percent offer them to managers, 68 percent have plans for professionals and 54 percent award them to clerical and technical workers, according to Mercer HR.

Target bonus awards vary by industry and company type, but a typical bonus for an employee earning $50,000 might be 10 percent of salary, while someone earning $75,000 in salary might have a 15 percent target bonus and a $100,000-a-year employee might have a 20 percent target, Hewitt reports.

The key to receiving more bonus money is superior performance. If you meet your goals, you should receive your target bonus amount. But at some companies, if you exceed the targets set for you, you may receive an award that exceeds your target bonus. At Biogen Idec, for instance, high-performing employees can receive up to 200 percent of their target bonus amount, says Mr. Schneier.

In the mid-1990s, Eric Herzog was director of marketing for a computer-hardware-storage company in Silicon Valley that paid its senior executives salaries only. Mr. Herzog says he wanted the potential to earn more money, so he told the chief executive officer that the company might be more successful if it created an annual bonus plan for executives that was tied to revenue and profit goals.

He explained that every executive had the ability to influence profits and that the plan could be designed so that bonus awards would be distributed only if the company made more money. Having all six of the company's executives in the plan was key, because then they would aim toward common goals, Mr. Herzog says he told the CEO.

The CEO agreed and created a bonus plan tied to revenue and profit objectives. "We hit the goals, and I received 20 percent over my base pay," says Mr. Herzog, now a vice president of product management, channel marketing and communications for Maxtor Corp., a computer-hardware-storage company in Scotts Valley, Calif.

It's hard to increase the size of your target bonus once you've accepted a job. But when negotiating with a new employer, you might be able to swap a higher salary for a larger target award amount, Ms. Sejen says. Suppose the employer offers you a $100,000 salary and a target bonus of 10 percent of salary. You could counteroffer that you'd take a $95,000 salary if your bonus-award target was 20 percent of it. Your annual target pay then would be $114,000 instead of $110,000. "An employer might be willing to change the pay mix," Ms. Sejen says.


Executives who are skilled at running their companies often aren't so skilled at managing their own finances. Many could benefit from financial counseling so they know what to do with their stock options, restricted stock plans and other long-term incentives, says Mr. Dorf of Compensation Resources.

"Most executives, if pushed, would say they are financially challenged when it comes to doing their own deals and could use a financial counselor to advise them," he says.

One little-known Internal Revenue Service regulation allows executives to pay tax on the value of restricted stock when they receive their grants. This may help lower capital-gains taxes when you sell the stock.

A counselor can also help you determine when it's most beneficial to exercise stock options and whether to do so with cash or trade stock you already own. Using appreciated stock to exercise options may be better than using cash, because you reduce your taxable gain on the existing shares, notes Mr. Dorf.

"I estimate that 75 percent of the executives I know do not know what they earn from year to year because it's coming from so many sources," Mr. Dorf says. "They could be smarter about it."


Many employers pay one-time bonuses to employees who bring in new business or refer candidates for hard-to-fill company jobs.

After taking a break from the work force, Deirdre Carey joined Kel & Partners, a Westborough, Mass., marketing-services company, as director of client services last year, accepting a salary that was lower than her prior pay. After her employer offered all employees a 15 percent commission for landing new clients, Ms. Carey brought in a $10,000-a-month account, garnering a $1,500-a-month salary increase for 12 months, or $18,000 total. "I'm already starting to work on some other new business," she says.

Company owner Kel Kelly says six of the firm's 15 employees also have earned the commissions.

Special bonuses also may be awarded to employees who accomplish something that's unusual for their positions. Companies often call these "spot" awards, and about two-thirds of U.S. employers offer them, according to Mercer HR.

Typically, a pool of money is set aside annually to allow managers to give out spot awards at their discretion. The amount awarded might range from $100 to six figures, although some companies give gift certificates or other noncash items, says Mr. Gross.

So, find out whether your company has a spot-award program. If it does, learn what your manager thinks it takes to get one. Mr. Gross says that at a previous employer, he gave his secretary a $1,000 bonus for bringing in a new client, which he viewed as exceptional behavior for someone in her role. "It's the event based on the expectations for that person," Mr. Gross says.


Taking home a bigger paycheck may be as simple as having less tax withheld. One sign that your current deduction is too high is getting a big refund from Uncle Sam on April 15, says Tim Jones, vice president, global human resources, for IXIA, a Calabasas, Calif., technology manufacturer.

Your goal is to have your company deduct only what you will owe the government. "Otherwise you are loaning money to Uncle Sam," says Mr. Jones.

Unless you say otherwise, your federal withholding filing class determines your state filing class. You can change either anytime by visiting your human-resources department.

Be careful not to have too little money withheld, or the IRS may fine you, says Art Kaufman, a tax accountant in Monmouth Junction, N.J. The IRS requires at least 90 percent of your upcoming tax bill to be deducted, he notes. (The IRS offers a withholding calculator at

After joining the Abelson Group, a New York-based public-relations firm, four months ago, account director Liz Erk asked a professional to do a tax projection to determine how much she should have taken out for taxes. She changed her election and now receives $150 more per pay period, or $300 more a month, than when she started.


Many employers will match the amount you contribute to a 401(k) retirement savings account, up to a certain level. The company's matching amount might be, say, half of your contributions up to 6 percent of your salary. At minimum, employees should contribute enough money to get the maximum free matching money, Mr. Jones says.

While having money deducted for a retirement account reduces the size of your paycheck, the free money and the tax-free account growth will pay off. Still, only about 75 percent of eligible employees participate in their companies' 401(k) plans, reports Hewitt Associates.

At Biogen Idec, for instance, not all employees are in the 401(k) plan, even though the company offers a 2-for-1 match on employee contributions up to 3 percent of their earnings, says Mr. Schneier. He declined to disclose the percentage of employees who don't participate.

Discount stock-purchase plans that allow employees to buy company stock for less than the fair market price also translate into free money. Typically, employees receive a 15 percent discount on the stock's trading value, which means that unless they are required to hold the stock for a few months, they can sell it immediately and receive the gain.


Many companies offer employees flexible-spending accounts that can be used to pay for commuting, health-care and child-care costs with pretax income. The enrollment period -- when employees sign up for the accounts and say how much they want deducted from their pay -- usually occurs in the fall. Employees receive the untaxed money after submitting their expenses to their companies or a third-party administrator.

The potential for savings is significant. An average employee might owe 28 percent in federal, state and Social Security taxes, says Craig Copeland, a senior researcher for the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. Such workers would have to earn about $14 of taxable income to cover a $10 expense. By having a fund of pretax money, they can keep the $4 that would go for taxes.

The more money you can set aside, the greater the saving. For instance, an employee who has $5,000 in pretax income deducted to pay medical or child-care bills would save $1,400, he notes.

But it's important to know that you'll forfeit any unused funds, so you have to be careful when deciding how much to have withheld. Participating also means less take-home pay initially. Employees benefit at tax time because their federal taxable income is lowered by the deducted amount.

Cathy Summers, an account director for Shift Communications LLC in San Francisco, has $1,500 deducted annually to cover parking and daily commuting cost from Walnut Creek to the city's downtown financial district; $2,000 taken out for medical expenses; and 5,000 for child-care costs. When she submits receipts, the expense reimbursements are automatically deposited in her bank account.

She estimates that she realizes about $200 in extra income monthly due to the plans. "As a single mom raising a 5-year-old son," she says. "I'm always looking for ways to stretch my dollars."


You may be able to boost your salary outside of annual salary increases just by taking on more responsibility or being assigned to a department where employees doing the same thing are paid more.

Or, if you're a valued worker and the market suddenly heats up for people with your skills, the company may want to raise your pay to ensure it retains you. This was the case with information-technology employees for a few years beginning in the late 1990s.

"The outside world was moving so quickly that some companies were giving IT workers raises every six months," Mr. Gross says.

Such salary adjustments are akin to getting a promotion-based increase without the promotion, says Ms. Sejen. Companies set aside funds every year for this purpose, but employees must have justification for receiving unscheduled raises, she says.

Following a downsizing at his former employer, a technology-consulting firm, Derek Messulam met with the company's CEO, who said two remaining units were going to be merged into a group Mr. Messulam already managed.

One of the firm's youngest vice presidents, Mr. Messulam knew through the grapevine that he was underpaid relative to his peers and that in light of the increased responsibilities, he could expect a pay review and a possible increase.

He decided to see if he could squeeze a larger raise than the company may have been planning by taking an unconventional approach. When he sat down with the human-resources manager, he told them he didn't want a raise. This prompted concerns that he might be leaving, Mr. Messulam says. "The result was to shift the negotiation from a conversation centered on money to a passionate discussion of the great things the management team would accomplish," he says.

The company then designed new objectives for his role and offered Mr. Messulam a larger salary and bonus. "I was extremely satisfied," says Mr. Messulam, now a vice president at GE Capital Solutions, a unit of General Electric Co. in Danbury, Conn.


Lowering a company expense can sometimes translate into a larger paycheck. This is the case for employees who are paid to "opt out" of company medical-benefits plans because another family member provides coverage for them. The size of the payments usually varies depending on whether your health insurance was for a single person, couple or family. Your salary also will grow if you no longer have health insurance co-payments deducted.

You also might have grounds for a higher salary during initial pay negotiations by offering to forgo health benefits. Debbie Veney Robinson, a communications vice president with Communities in School Inc., an Alexandria, Va., nonprofit that helps kids stay in school, negotiated a $10,000 salary increase by offering to do without health benefits when she accepted her job in 2005. Ms. Robinson receives health-insurance benefits through her husband's plan.

"I said I would save them a lot of money now and in the future by not taking health benefits," says Ms. Robinson. "This allowed them to afford me and me to bump up my compensation a bit."


Some employees don't take advantage of a plethora of benefits and freebies available from their employers, says Mr. Johnson, the pay consultant. "Read the manual where it tells you all these things," he says. "A lot of people have no idea what a company will or won't pay for."

Tuition reimbursement is offered at 85 percent of companies, while 30 percent match education or other charitable donations, according to Mercer HR. You may not have to take courses in your field to get reimbursed for educational expenses.

Some companies subsidize gym memberships. Nearly one-fourth allow employees to purchase products at a discount, while 19 percent offer discounts on movie or theme-park tickets and other entertainment events, Hewitt reports.

"You don't pay attention to those things until you are standing in line at Great Adventure," Mr. Johnson says, "and it's going to cost you $99 for each member of your family."

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