Is your net pay a joke compared to your gross salary? Do you wish your paycheck could be higher? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or both questions — you’re not alone.
Even if your take-home pay is enough to cover your mortgage/rent, car payment, groceries and utilities, it may not provide the disposable cash you need to build an emergency savings account or pay off credit card debt.
You need a bigger paycheck, yet your employer may not be able to offer a salary increase at this time. And if you like your job and the people you work with, you may not want to look for work elsewhere. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Here are four strategies to give yourself an instant raise.
1. Don’t Give the Federal Government More Than You Owe
You might look forward to your big tax refund each year—in fact, tax season might be one of the biggest highlights of your year. Many people view a tax refund as free money from the government, but in reality, you’re only getting back what you overpaid.
“Most of us are getting big refunds every year because we are having too much taken out each payday,” says Debbi King, personal finance expert, life coach and owner of The ABC’s of Personal Finance. “The best way to boost your take-home pay is to adjust your taxes.”
Every employee is required to fill out a W-4 form. This tells employers how much to withhold for federal taxes. When you don’t claim enough personal allowances, Uncle Sam takes more of your paycheck.
Filling out a new W-4 form with your employer and increasing your personal allowances reduces the amount withheld for taxes and increases your paychecks, although you’ll receive a smaller tax refund, if any. Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine a more accurate withholding status.
2. Reduce Your 401(k) Contributions
Maxing out your 401(k) contributions or contributing a hefty percentage of your income is one way to prepare for a comfortable retirement. Since contributions are withheld from your paycheck, you might not miss the money. But depending on where you stand financially, putting too much in your retirement account can put a major strain on your finances.
This might be the case if you’re struggling to make ends meet. If you need cash now, consider temporarily decreasing your 401(k) contributions. If you’re currently contributing 5% of your income, decreasing your contributions to 2% or 3% adds money back to your paycheck, which can help you get ahead financially.
Some employers offer a match program, where the company matches an employee’s 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage. Temporarily decreasing your contributions means you’ll miss out on this free money. But if you’re young and retirement is years off into the future, you can catch up later on and increase your contributions once your finances improve. Don’t forget to start your contributions again once you get in a better place financially.
3. Shop Around for Life, Health and Dental Insurance
Your take-home pay can also shrink if your employer deducts money for life, health or dental insurance. Some employers pay 100% of their employees’ insurance. If you’re not fortunate enough to have paid coverage, insurance premiums are withheld from your check.
The coverage your employer offers may not be the cheapest available. It doesn’t hurt to shop around and compare plans on the individual market. You might pay a cheaper premium by purchasing health insurance on your own. Dropping coverage through your employer can give your paycheck a slight bump.
4. Request Reimbursement for Work-Related Expenses
Depending on the nature of your job, you may use your personal vehicle during work hours, or you might meet with clients and pick up the tab for lunches or coffee. If you’re paying these expenses out-of-pocket, speak up and ask your boss to reimburse some of your work-related expenses. It might be a long-shot, but there’s no harm in asking—your boss can only say “yes” or “no.” This may involve submitting an expense report and receipts every week for your out-of-pocket expenses, or keeping track of your car mileage and getting reimbursed a set amount per mile.
While these 4 things may seem minor, they can have a big impact on the amount you take home each month!