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What Are Fringe Benefits?

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An official job offer will often (and hopefully!) include much more than your salary, with details about your start date, work location, and, arguably most importantly, your fringe benefits. Employers offer fringe benefits to supplement your salary, attract you to the job, and retain employees. So, what are they, and can you negotiate them during the hiring process? In this guide, we’ll cover:

What Are Fringe Benefits? Definition and Examples

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the fringe benefits definition is “a form of pay for the performance of services.” These are benefits that employers offer outside of and in addition to your salary. 

In the U.S., federal mandatory fringe benefits include Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, and disability insurance. In addition, if an employer has an average of over 50 full-time employees, they must also offer family and medical leave and health insurance.

You’ll notice that benefits like vacation and retirement plans aren’t on the “required” list. This means that many benefits you might be looking for can vary significantly from one company to another. 

A company’s human resources or people operation team will decide what fringe benefits a company offers. They’ll often use these benefits to attract and retain employees. 

“HR/people operations first identifies a list of potential fringe benefits,” Olga Eippert, director of people operations at Forage, says. “Then they organize the list based on different criteria: what are must have vs. nice to have benefits, what benefits will have the most impact on employees (e.g., happiness, retention, etc.), which benefits should we offer to be competitive in the labor market, what benefits do other companies our size offer, etc.?”

Fringe Benefits vs. Other Types of Benefits

While you might not hear the term “fringe benefits” as often as just “benefits,” the two phrases are synonymous. So when an employer lists benefits in their job description, or you read about benefits in an employer review, they’re talking about fringe benefits.

Examples of Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits include health insurance, retirement plans, and vacation days. Other examples include:

  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Employee discounts
  • Work cellphones
  • Work-from-home stipends
  • Transportation/Commuting benefits
  • Meals
  • Stock options
  • Childcare benefits
  • Gym membership
  • Flex time
  • Moving expenses
  • De minimis benefits (more minor benefits like use of office equipment, holiday gifts, and team meals or parties)

Fringe benefits — specifically ones like health insurance — can significantly affect whether you accept a job offer. Before the interview process, do as much research as possible to understand the benefits the company offers. You don’t want to ask if a company has a specific benefit if it’s written clearly in the job description or company career page. Places like LinkedIn and Glassdoor can help you find crowd-sourced benefits information (which may be helpful, but take it with a grain of salt, as benefits may change over time). 

Eippert recommends waiting to talk about fringe benefits until you officially receive an offer — however, you should address them once you do.

“Asking about benefits too soon may be perceived as ‘too demanding,'” Eipper warns. “Once you have an offer, you can schedule a call with the recruiter or someone from HR/people ops to discuss the company’s benefit offerings.”

>>MORE: What Is a Recruiter (and How to Talk to One)?

If there’s a benefit you don’t see included in the offer, Eippert recommends asking the company representative directly about it. Once the offer is in hand, don’t be shy about asking about benefits that are important to you. 

“This is the time to make sure that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision whether you want to join the company or not,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is to join a company and then find out that they don’t offer a particular benefit that was very important to you.”

How to Negotiate Fringe Benefits

Like negotiating salary, negotiating fringe benefits is a bit of a science. While you should negotiate benefits that are important to you, you want to avoid over-negotiating and risk being seen as demanding and having the company rescind your offer.

>>MORE: How to Negotiate Salary for Beginners (With Examples)

Wait Until You Have the Offer

However, unlike salary negotiation, you don’t need to start these conversations early in the interview process. While you may see information about benefits online, you can review more details about benefits offerings once you get the offer. Waiting to have this conversation until you can review the offerings ensures you save everyone’s time earlier in the process. 

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Consider What’s Most Important to You

Fringe benefits are negotiable, but that doesn’t mean you should negotiate all benefits. Instead, consider what’s most important to you and prioritize your negotiation efforts. If you think you need to negotiate every single benefit because they’re not up to your expectations, it may be a sign the company isn’t the right fit.

Be Reasonable

Some fringe benefits are less negotiable than others. Eippert recommends using your best judgment regarding what fringe benefits you’re negotiating and what you’re asking for. 

“For example, a company will probably not change its medical carrier just because you prefer a different one,” she says. “But you can ask if the company would be willing to pay you a health stipend instead that you can use to get your own medical insurance.”

Fringe Benefits: The Bottom Line

Fringe benefits are an essential aspect to consider when deciding whether to accept a job offer. Consider what benefits you’re looking for — and which are most important to you — early on in the job-seeking process, and do your research before applying. 

Fringe benefits are negotiable, yet, it’s wise to wait to start negotiating these benefits until you officially get the offer. Once you do, be transparent with the company representative about what you’re looking for and reasonable about what you ask for.

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Image credit: Liza Summer / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.