What to do with your unused vacation days, according to a career expert


There are less than two full work weeks remaining in 2019, and it's likely you haven't taken all of your vacation days.

More than half of Americans had seven days of paid time remaining ahead of the holiday season, according to the work-life balance survey by vacation and travel site Priceline, which polled more than 1,000 adults in October. That's more days than most workers can, or will, use by the end of the year.

The poll cited a few reasons why workers fail to use their days off. Some have a hard time unplugging, while others are nervous about the stigma that can often accompany taking a vacation. But though you may be uneasy about taking time to unwind, "it's important to use vacation days, because they're there for a reason," says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster.

If you're stuck with lots of unused time at the end of the year, you may still have options.

Cash out or roll over your unused PTO days

Some companies allow employees to cash out on unused vacation days. To find out if you're eligible, start by researching the laws in your state. Some states don't require companies to pay employees for time off, while others do.

Consult your companies benefits website or schedule time to meet with human resources and see if you're able to rollover your unused vacation days, or get compensated for them. Keep in mind that when you roll over days, there's sometimes an expiration date on when you can use them by, so be sure to ask ahead of time.

Another important thing to remember when considering a vacation time cash-out is that you're taxed on that time, Salemi says. Lump sum payments are considered supplemental wages and are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes even if your maximum contribution limit is greater than your vacation payout, according to the IRS.

"If you really need the cash, go ahead and cash out on days if you can't roll those days over, but you should think of those days as part of your compensation package. Time is money. Let's say you have five days and if you don't use is you lose it, you're losing out on money, even if it's not necessarily money in your pocket," Salemi says.

Start planning now to take time off next year

Nearly 770 million vacation days went unused last year. Of those, 236 million were completely forfeited, which comes out to nearly $66 billion in lost benefits, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics, and Ipsos.

It's important to take personal time throughout the year to recharge. "The policies are there for a reason. If you take your vacation days, even if it's not to go on a vacation, you're actually more productive when you are in the office," Salemi says.

If you really need the cash, go ahead and cash out on days if you can't roll those days over, but you should think of those days as part of your compensation package. Time is money.
Vicki Salemi
career expert for Monster

If you cashed out on your leftover vacation time, maybe use some of that cash towards a vacation in the new year. Plan in advance to use the days you're entitled to and you're less likely to run into the same predicament, she suggests.

Another option is to use that extra cash to pad your emergency fund. Nearly 28% U.S. adults have no emergency savings whatsoever, according to Bankrate's latest Financial Security Index.

"Having an emergency fund can make that unexpected expense a little less painful. ... Maybe you only have $500 [set] aside and the tires cost $800. Charging the $300 difference on a credit card is a much more manageable sum to pay off," Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner and the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland, told Grow earlier this year.

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