Buying and selling your time off

Buying and selling your time off

By Vince Vitrano, Stephanie Graham. CREATED May 17, 2013

Jeffe Kennedy and her husband love all kinds of getaways--from fun in the sun to sightseeing, to shopping for local artwork to fill their home.  Jeffe laments, "I run out of vacation time every year."

That's no problem, since Jeffe's company offers a buy-sell vacation program that allows her to purchase an extra week of time every year.

"It's absolutely worth it to me to pay out of pocket for the extra time off," Jeffe says.

According to Payscale, a company that conducts job-related research, the average American worker receives about two and a half weeks of vacation time each year.  Not enough for some, too much for others. 

With buy-sell programs, also known as 'Cafeteria Plans', everyone gets what they need, according to Julie Stich, an expert on employee benefits plans.  She works for the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans in Brookfield.  "I think employees like the flexibility of being able to decide how many days they want to take off."

A recent survey found 14% of companies now allow employees to buy or sell their vacation days, through payroll deductions or credits.  Building materials manufacturer USG Corp is one company offering both options.  Managers say it's a great way to build employee loyalty, especially in tough economic times.

Brian Cook is with USG.  He explains, "We get very, very positive feedback about vacation buy and sell. Flexibility in terms of how people work, where they work, when they work is very important to employees today."

However, he says, the 'buy' is much more popular than the 'sell.'  "About half of employees will buy a week of vacation each year. Only about 10 percent will sell a week."

Some companies also offer a third option--donating unused vacation time to charity.

"Employees who have extra days they can't use can give them back to the employer who converts that into a cash value and then writes a check in that amount to a charity," Stich says.

Other businesses offer the chance to donate to fellow workers who may be suffering a personal crisis

As for Jeffe, she already has big plans for her extra vacation this year--an extended trip to Ireland.

"It's not much point in making the money if you can't use it to do something really interesting," Jeffe says.

When employees sell their unused vacation days back, they'll normally receive an extra paycheck, with all the usual deductions.  However companies can also offer them the option to contribute the cash to their 401k or profit sharing plan instead.