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Creative Compensation: Beyond Salaries

By Laura Sweeney

Employers who aren't handing out generous salaries (and even some who are) are finding themselves negotiating "creative compensation" with employees-that is, perks, niceties, and other non-monetary concessions that make life more convenient.

The worst thing that can happen is that your employer says no. But you never know unless you ask.
Compensation means much more than a paycheck. These days, employees expect money in addition to complete insurance coverage (including health, life, and disability) and a savings or retirement plan, too. And when employers won't budge on price, workers negotiate what HR reps call "creative compensation" - that is, perks, niceties, and other amenities that make life more convenient.

If you're about to sit down at the negotiating table (either to ask your boss for a raise or to negotiate a salary with a potential employer) you should know all of your compensation options. If your employer won't raise your salary, you can bargain for non-monetary concessions. Consider playing one or more of these cards:

Your employer's hands might be tied in raising your salary, but vacation time is more discretionary. Ask for more paid vacation time. If you can't get more time, at least get the right time - name the days you want to be on vacation. Most entry-level employees are expected to take off when it's convenient for the higher-ups, but if you name your dates up front (or explain that you have long-standing plans to be away) you could win that time off.

Commuting Expenses
Many employers are paying workers a stipend for commuting expenses, whether it be for public transportation, parking fees, or gas. Before you go to your meeting, tally your commuting expenses for a typical month, or by year. Your employer may reimburse you for part of your expenses.

Tuition Reimbursement
Large companies usually have a set policy regarding tuition reimbursement. If you work for a smaller company, however, there might not be an official policy, or it may be applied on a case-by-case basis. If further education is going to help you do your job better, your boss might be eager to send you to class. This can save you a bundle and make you a more marketable worker, too.

Company Car
If your job requires you to be on the road, it may be perfectly reasonable to request a company car or car allowance. Life without car payments and auto insurance is a dream.

Some people just aren't cut out for the nine-to-five life. If you're a morning person, your boss might be willing to adjust your time card so that you can work from, say, seven to three; or if you're juices get flowing later in the day, from 10:30 to 6:30. It might even be to your boss' advantage to let you work during your most productive hours. Remember, though, that flextime works only if your coworkers are not dependent on you being in the office during certain times.

Like flextime, telecommuting is a way to make your schedule more convenient for you. If you're not needed physically in the office, you could work from home part of the day or a couple days each week.

Moving Allowance
If you are negotiating a salary for a new job in another city or state and will have to relocate, definitely hit your employer up for moving expenses. Before you ask for an allowance or reimbursement, gather an idea of how much the move is going to cost you.

Stock Options
Stock options are quickly becoming a standard part of companies' benefits packages and bonus systems. But at many companies they're still a bargaining chip, and (just like vacation time) can be more discretionary than a salary.

One last note: You're obviously trying to better your position during your compensation negotiation, but be fair, because no one will bargain with someone who is being greedy or unreasonable. Follow that rule and the worst thing that can happen is that your employer says no. But you never know unless you ask.

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Tax Implications of Stock Options
As with any type of investment, when you realize a gain, it's considered income. Income is taxed by the government. How much tax you'll ultimately wind up paying and when you'll pay these taxes will vary depending on the type of stock options you're offered and the rules associated with those options.

Benefits Basics
Compensation is more than just base pay. It is a total package that should address your overall well-being - financial, physical, emotional, even spiritual. As companies compete for talent in tight labor markets, many are rolling out better benefits to attract and retain the best workers.

A Sample Stock Option Plan asked some of its stock options experts to interpret a stock option plan from Dell Computer Corporation. Bill Coleman and Keith Fortier, neither of whom is a lawyer, have summarized each section in plain English and explained why it matters to the person who has stock options under the plan. The sections in italics are the actual language of the plan; the sections in regular type are's interpretation.

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