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It's wise to size up your fringe benefits --especially if you're considering a new job

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Fringe benefits are an important part of your total ``compensation package,'' as salary-plus-fringes is somewhat stodgily known. It's not always a fully quantified part of that package, though, and anyone doing comprehensive financial planning should take time to survey benefits.

Knowing just what you've got is especially important if you're considering going into business for yourself. ``It can be hard -- and expensive -- to reproduce those benefits,'' says Robert J. Martel, a certified financial planner in Lexington, Mass.

``People are surprised at how much their benefits cost when they try to reproduce them on the outside,'' echoes Wayne Chodkowski, president of Business & Wealth Advisors Inc., in Dunwoody, Ga. He says employers are required to give each of their employees a statement of corporate benefits every year. He then uses this statement as a point of departure in discussions with clients to find out just what is included in their benefits.

Isabel Smith, a certified financial planner in Birmingham, Mich., points out that not every fringe is a great bargain. ``It is sometimes a misconceived notion'' that additional life insurance obtained through your employer, for example, is necessarily cheaper than what you could obtain on your own.

Employers are sometimes in the dark as to what employees think of their benefits. ``Top management is surprised at what's needed,'' says Chodkowski. Sometimes the ones employers are proudest of are the ones employees couldn't care less about, and vice versa. Chodkowski suggests that if there's a benefit you'd like your employer to offer, it may not be a bad idea to talk up the idea among your colleagues and present some grass-roots input to the front office about the changes you would like to see.

What about vacation time? That certainly counts as an important fringe benefit. A Hewitt Associates survey of 250 employers found that two weeks off after a year's service is overwhelmingly the norm. ``Five years' service is the breakpoint for three weeks' vacation,'' says Mark A. Murray of Hewitt's Boston office. There is a slow but steady increase in vacation schedules. The percentage of employers offering four weeks after about 15 years' service is up from 81 percent in 1979 to 87 in 1984.

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