What Is It Worth?

You May Earn 30% More Than You Think

Compensation Beyond Your Pay Stub

By Siri Anderson, PayScale.com

What's in a wage? Most of us think of a simple base rate of pay, but if we call it by another name -- like, total compensation package -- this topic gets a whole lot sweeter, and you're probably earning more than you think.

Of course, base pay will make up a large part of your total compensation, but don't stop there. If you're a full-time employee, your company is quite possibly paying 30 percent more money than you see on your pay stub, according to the averages found by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're a freelancer on the other hand, you might be able to raise your rates and still be cost-effective compared to a full-time employee.

So what is included in a total compensation package? Obviously this varies from company to company, so it's worth your time to look closely at everything you're offered, from a quality health insurance plan to seemingly small perks like free lunches. Furthermore, if taken advantage of, benefits can do a lot to help you create a golden nest egg for you and your family a few years down the road.

The latest information on the costs for employee compensation comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and is evaluated based on numbers gathered through September 2008 when the average wage across all industries and seniority levels was just over $20/hour (approximately $42,000/year). Below is a list of common benefits and how they much can add to your salary:

Health Insurance Benefits, + 11%

It's no secret what an asset health benefits are, both financially and for your general well-being. Even if you have to share costs and pay deductibles, your employer is essentially paying you in insurance premiums, not to mention probably offering you a better plan than you could afford on your own. This benefit can be worth $5,000-6,000 a year if you're older or you have a pre-existing condition.

Social Security, Medicare and Other Insurances, + 8%

Unemployment insurance, workers' comp, Social Security and Medicare -- these benefits may not sound too sexy, and you may wrinkle your nose at that 7.65 percent deduction on your pay stub. But don't forget that for every cent you pay, your employer matches it. That means if you're earning $42,000 annually, your employer is paying an extra $3,200 a year on your behalf. Granted, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of these programs -- but at the very least, they're helping to take care of your parents so you don't have to.

Retirement Plan, + 6%

In addition to paying Social Security, retirement benefits vary widely from employer to employer. Most companies will offer you an investment plan (401k) and many will offer to match your contributions at a defined rate -- translation: pay raise. Beyond that, your contributions are taken out of pre-tax income, so you'll be paying less to the government. If you manage to lower your tax bracket, you might even end up taking home more disposable income while you're saving for your retirement.

Vacation, Sick Leave, Personal Time, + 7%

Never underestimate the value of free time paid equally to hours spent in a board meeting, and don't forget that not all employers offer it. Even if you get just two weeks of vacation a year, that's 4 percent of your salary that's being earned while you sip soda on the beach. When you factor in sick leave, personal time and holidays, you might be tacking on another couple of weeks, or 3-4 percent, that would otherwise come out of your pocket. And if you rather have it in cold, hard cash, you can often have it paid out while you keep working (and earning).

Certain companies may offer you extra benefits that -- if you're lucky enough to get them -- can really boost your total compensation. Some are large, some are small, but they can all add up to quite a lot over the course of a year.

* Stock Options

If your employer offers stock at a discounted price, you reap rewards automatically from the higher rate of return. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just beginning to assess the percentage this adds to total compensation, but depending on your company's program and depending on the markets, it could add 5-10% to your salary.

* Company Cars

Company cars are more commonly offered in sales and service industries, but if your company offers you this asset, that could equate to a 10% increase on your yearly salary -- especially if you get to use the car for nights, weekends and family trips.

* Gym Memberships

Offering a membership to a gym helps a business by keeping its employees healthy, which hopefuly lowers their medical costs. Either way, if you'd normally spend $40/month on a membership, this bumps your salary by $480 a year.

* Lunch, Coffee, Snacks

If your company provides snacks, teas and coffee, or even lunch, it could be worth $5-10 per day. Taking advantage of it might save you $2,600 over the year.

* Bus Passes

Some employers will encourage public transportation and offer you a transit or bus pass. This may be saving you $50/month ($600/year) or more depending on where you live. And that doesn't include what you'll save in gas and car maintenance costs by giving your vehicle a rest.