I Want to Get Set Up at My New Job

Alden Wicker

Bring two forms of ID or your passport.

When you arrive on your first day, your employer will give you a form called an I-9, which verifies you are eligible to work in the United States. In order to complete it, you’ll need either a valid U.S. passport, or a state-issued driver’s license plus a Social Security card. If you don’t have one of these, you can find a full list of appropriate IDs here.

Fill out your W-4.

You’ll also be asked to fill out your W-4 on your first day. This determines how much in taxes will be withheld from each paycheck. If this is your first time ever filling out a W-4, don’t worry—your taxes are most likely very simple, and you can follow the instructions right on the sheet. However, if you’re at all unsure how many allowances to take, we provide a full explanation of how the W-4 works here.

Set up your paycheck for direct deposit.

On your first day, you’ll probably also receive a form that gives you the option of getting your paycheck deposited directly into your bank account, which will make your life much simpler. Some companies don’t even have a form—they just request you hand them a voided check. We think it’s best to put your first paycheck in your savings account (we’ll tell you how to get money into checking later), so you’ll need to know the routing number and account number for the bank that holds your savings. You can log in to your account or call your bank to find out. Some banks even provide a direct deposit form that you can print and hand in. Later on in the checklist, you’ll decide whether you’d like to have your whole paycheck go to savings permanently.

Digitally link your savings account to your checking account.

You won’t be transferring any money today—you won’t have your first paycheck for a couple of weeks at least. But linking your two accounts together now will ensure that when your first paycheck arrives, you’re ready to send yourself some spending money. To do so, log in to the account where your paycheck is being deposited, and find the option for “transfers.” In order to link your accounts, you’ll need your checking account’s routing number and account number, both of which are found on a check for that account. Follow the instructions from the bank to complete the process, which might take a few days.

Review your employee handbook.

Now is the time to make sure you thoroughly understand your company policy on holidays, vacation, hours, overtime, the dress code and more. You’ll want to be familiar with how many days you can take at the beach, whether sandals are appropriate in the office and if you get free dinners for working late!

Set up your health care benefits and flex spending account.

This is an extremely important financial decision, as you won’t get another chance to change your preferences until open enrollment in the fall. Read this guide for setting up your health care benefits and flex spending account.

Sign up for your employer-sponsored retirement plan.

What if you had the choice of buying a summer dress for $75, or keeping that money, having someone else double it, and then watching it grow by 7% every year? We hope you’d take the latter choice. If your company offers a 401(k), 403(b) or SIMPLE IRAA SIMPLE IRA is an employer-sponsored retirement plan for small businesses, including self-employed individuals. It often offers a matching component. with matching benefits, then–hey, pay attention!—you’re about to get free money. Make sure you’re contributing at least the match percentage or you’re turning down that free money. For a complete guide to choosing your retirement accounts, read this.

Maximize your benefits.

Now it’s time to take a look at all the benefits your company offers. If it has a program that allows you to buy public transit passes with pre-tax dollars, signing up can save you hundreds of dollars of savings over a year. Or maybe your company offers discounts on museum visits or gym memberships, or the gym discount might come through your health insurance. Some companies match your tax-deductible charity donations each year up to a certain dollar amount. Read this complete guide to tax-free benefits, see what your company already offers and maybe even suggest a couple new benefits to human resources if you work in a small company.

Set up your workspace.

Now comes the fun part! It’s time to customize your workspace for maximum motivation and efficiency. To get inspired, read the four tips to improve your office space, or even try a little bit of practical feng shui for your desk. Your boss will notice that you’re set up and ready to work!

Get organized.

Next set up a personal organization and time management system that helps you to stay on top of your duties and makes sure you get the most of every hour. You might have to tweak it after a few days or a week as you get comfortable with your duties. It should enable you to:

  • Organize and find information when you need it
  • Prioritize your tasks so that you are always using your time most effectively
  • Manage your time so that you have the flexibility to deal with crises but can progress steadily on longer-term work
  • Get a bird’s eye view of entire projects, so you can plan each from start to finish
  • Help you identify potential crises in advance
  • Track your progress and results, so you can easily communicate them to coworkers, clients and superiors
  • Learn from each week

Understand your first paycheck.

When your first paycheck arrives, look it over and understand it. You want to make sure it’s correct and that you know exactly where your money is going. While not every paycheck is laid out in exactly the same way, you should see each of the following on it:

  • Salary: This is your income. Find the number representing your gross income during this pay period. Pull out a calculator, multiply that amount by the number of pay periods in a year, and you should have the official salary you were promised. If not, it’s time to call HR.
  • Pre-tax items: Also known as deductions, these items get taken out of your paycheck before you pay taxes. The more deductions you have the less you pay in taxes. It can include things like contributions to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, a flexible spending plan, health premiums and transit check. (The more of these you have, the better! See step number 8.)
  • Taxes: Taxes are taken from your paycheck after deductions (or pre-tax items, above). Each line of your taxes is for a different type of tax, such as Social Security, Medicare, federal, state and local.
  • Net Pay: This is the final value of what will be deposited in your account after pre-tax items, taxes and any other expenses (such as health insurance) have been deducted. Your net pay, not your gross income, is what you will use to build your budget! (Sorry.)

Reassess your budget in the budgeting tool.

Now that you know exactly how much will drop into your bank account every pay period, you can reassess your budget. Look at how much you get each month and then determine:

  • How much you need to live on (this should equal about 80% of your paycheck)
  • How much you can contribute monthly to your emergency fund, financial goals, etc. (this should equal 20%). If you would like to be walked through setting up a budget and are wondering where the 80% and the 20% guidelines are coming from, we have a checklist right here that will help you do that.

Decide how you will handle your paycheck.

Now that you know how much you’ll be contributing to your savings account every month, you’re ready to decide how to handle your direct deposit. There are two ways we suggest directing your paycheck:

  1. Split it: Have your emergency fund contribution and other savings contributions (the 20% you determined above) directly deposited into savings, and the rest (the 80%) into your checking account for living expenses. The benefit of this method is that the money going into savings will be out of sight, making you less likely to spend it.
  2. The other option is to send it all to your main savings account, the way it is currently set up. If you go for this option, in the next step, we will then create a transfer (of the 80%) to your checking account that essentially functions as an allowance for your bills and other spending money. While this method is good for putting savings first, if you think you might be tempted to give yourself a bigger allowance for your living expenses from time to time, then go for option 1.

Revise your direct deposit arrangement at work or set up an auto-transfer to your checking.

If you decide to split your paycheck so 20% is going into savings and the rest into checking, then go back to your human resources department and change your direct deposit arrangement. The easiest way to add your checking account to your direct deposit is to bring in a voided check, which will have both the routing and account numbers on it. If you are going to have your entire paycheck deposited into your emergency fund, pop into the bank accounts that you linked in step 4 and set up an auto-transfer for the 80% to your checking account. If you only get paid monthly, then set up two monthly auto-transfers so you get your money spread out in doses, or even a transfer every week! You’ll avoid the end-of-the-month panic when you spend everything too early.

Set up transfers to your other savings goals.

Remember that 20% of your income should go toward “financial priorities,” which are retirement, an emergency fund, debt payment and other savings goals. (However, this is only based on your take-home pay, so it excludes whatever you may be contributing toward, say, retirement through an employer-sponsored 401(k) or 403(b) before you receive your paycheck. That’s just bonus!) For example, let’s say your take-home pay is $2,000 a month in two paychecks of $1,000 each. You’ve determined you need $1,600 a month to live on, so for each paycheck, send $800 to your checking. Then, allocate $50 to your “New Car” savings account and leave $150 behind in your main savings account for your emergency fund.

Consider disability insurance.

Check and see if your employer offers short-term and long-term disability insurance as a benefit, and how good the policy is. Short-term disability is used in situations like maternity leave and if you’re recovering from surgery. Long-term disability would provide you with a portion of your income (usually around 60%) if you were ever seriously injured and out of work for months or years or became disabled. If you cannot get this coverage through your employer or it’s insufficient, it’s time to start looking. Ideally you want a long-term policy with “own-occupation” coverage. Otherwise you might get injured but be told that you won’t receive disability insurance because, even though you can’t work at your old job, you could still work in the fast food industry. Some employers will allow you to pay a little more in order to improve your coverage, so if you find that your employer’s disability coverage is lacking, ask HR. Learn more about this and other types of insurance here.