Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Dear Carrie, I'm considering switching jobs. I'd get a little bump in salary, but the bonus structure and benefits are different. How can I figure out which is the better deal overall? --A Reader

Dear Reader, Changing jobs can be exciting, but it also warrants a bit of caution. As your question implies, salary is only part of the equation. It's always a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of your current job against a new opportunity. Here's a way to approach it.

Put Dollar Amounts to Benefits

Benefits can represent a significant portion of your salary, so you want to be sure to compare them apples to apples, so to speak. Start by listing the benefits you have in your current job.

For example, you may have:

--A retirement plan

--Health insurance

--Disability and life insurance

--Paid vacation and sick or family leave

--A company match for a 401(k)

--Flexible Spending or Health Savings Account (HSA) options

--Employee discounts

--Education programs

--Commuter subsidies

--Legal services

--Training and development

--Financial counseling

These benefits could mean considerable bottom-line savings. Try to put a dollar amount down for each benefit. Now do the same for the new job. Is there a significant difference? Give full credit to the value of these extras.

For example, it's generally very expensive to purchase health insurance as an individual. If the new job falls short on benefits, find out if there's room for negotiation.

Think about the Costs

Salary and benefits can be compared in hard dollars, but a job can also involve expenses such as commuting, child-care, clothing, etc.

Also ask yourself these questions:

--Will your new hours or location require paying for additional childcare?

--Will you need to purchase a new wardrobe or pay more for transportation?

These costs can add up, and eat up any salary bump, so be sure to include them in your analysis.

Be Realistic About a Bonus

You might be tempted to say that a more generous bonus structure would help cover any shortfall in benefits or additional everyday expenses. And it very well could. But a bonus is generally not guaranteed; a lot depends on how successful the business is in any given year, as well as on your own performance. I prefer to think of a bonus as a great extra, but you can't base your budget on it.

Consider Your Career Aspirations

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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