Nothing's easy about finding your first job: not the internet scouring, not the resume tweaking, not the interviews. When you finally are hired, you should experience some relief — but the sheer number of things you have to learn in the first few weeks can make you feel just as harried as the search process itself.
We can't tell you how best to do your job, but we can prime you for the paperwork. Here's a breakdown of how to handle it.
Direct deposit forms
As soon as you can, sign up for direct deposit — an electronic transfer of your salary from your employer directly into your bank account. It might not go into effect until after your first payday, but once it does, it'll make your life much easier. Your wages will be harder to steal, and you'll be able to access them more quickly. Checks can take a few days to process.
>Setting up direct deposit is easy: You just need your bank account number and your bank's routing number, both of which appear on your personal checks. If your employer doesn't have a direct deposit form, your bank can provide one.
Health insurance sign-up forms
Most people get health insurance through their employers. Those who don't must shop for a plan through private exchanges or the public marketplaces created under President Barack Obama's health care law — or pay a penalty for forgoing coverage.
Whichever route you take, there are a few facts and terms you should know when evaluating plans:
- Your premium is the amount you pay for insurance. If you receive coverage through your employer, it's usually deducted from your paycheck.
- Your deductible is is how much you are expected to pay per year for medical services your plan covers. After you "meet your deductible," you will only be responsible for a percentage of the cost of service, a copay or a flat fee, depending on your policy. If you have a higher deductible amount, you often have lower monthly payments and vice versa.
- A copayment or copay is the small fee — say, $10 or $20 — you pay every time you visit the doctor, get a prescription filled or generally receive health care. These payments go toward your deductible.
There's much more involved in choosing a health insurance plan, including understanding the alphabet soup of plan types, such as HMOs, PPOs, EPOs and POS plans. Read any plan details carefully to decide which type of insurance is best for you. (And if you'd rather stay on your parents' health insurance plan, you can do so until you turn 26.)
Retirement and 401(k) deferral forms
You're just starting your first job, so the time when you can stop working probably seems like it's eons away. But now is exactly when you should start saving for your retirement.
Your employer might offer a retirement savings plan, such a 401(k), which lets you divert a portion of your pay into a tax-advantaged account. Your employer might also match some of your contribution. If you can, take advantage of the full match amount — it's essentially free money.
Other retirement savings options include individual retirement accounts and brokerage accounts, but one thing is constant: The earlier you start saving, the more you'll have when you retire, thanks to compounding interest.
You'll probably notice very quickly that having a $50,000 salary doesn't mean you're actually taking home $50,000 per year. A portion of your check pays your federal and state taxes, as well as deductions for Social Security and Medicare.
Before you receive your first paycheck, you'll have to fill out a W-4 form, telling your employer how much tax to withhold from it. If you're single and have no dependents, it's pretty straightforward. And even if not, the IRS has a helpful calculator. Depending how much you have withheld, come next April you could have a big refund coming, or you could owe the government a lot of money. If you don't like how things shake out at tax time, you can file a new W-4.
Questions? Ask your human resources department
Just as there's probably someone at your office who will train you and show you where the restroom is, there are probably also people who can help you make sense of all these forms — the human resources department. If you have a question about your benefits or how you get paid, talk to them. It's their job to help, and they've been at it longer than you have.
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