Debt

8 in 10 Employees Live Paycheck to Paycheck -- How You Can Help Them Break the Cycle

Financial struggles for employees also create problems for employers.
8 in 10 Employees Live Paycheck to Paycheck -- How You Can Help Them Break the Cycle
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Counting down to payday is a stressful, but all too common practice. Unfortunately, an August 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that the vast majority (78 percent) of the 3,462 full-time U.S. workers polled said they live paycheck to paycheck.

Related: Help With Student Loans Is the 'Hot' New Employee Benefit

This isn’t just the employees’ problem. Financial stress hurts everything from productivity and performance to morale and satisfaction at work, making it an employers’ problem, too.

For these reasons, more employers are opting to provide financial wellness assistance to their employees.

Free financial education

To improve where they stand financially, employees need to first focus on becoming more financially literate. Interestingly, employees at BambooHR, an HR software company based in Lindon, Utah, actually get paid to complete a class on financial savviness.

The course, called “Financial Peace,” has not only helped them gain a better understanding of their finances, employees say, but also given them peace of mind. “It just clicked for me,” Kelsie Davis, a BambooHR employee, says in a company YouTube video. “The small sacrifices now have big payoffs later.”

Since taking the class, graduates have been able to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and also begin saving more, the company reports.

To give your own employees the same sense of financial knowledge and peace, offer access to financial literacy tools and programs that walk employees through the basics of budgeting, reducing debt and saving.

Related: 6 Secrets for Creating Fierce Employee and Customer Loyalty

Student-loan repayment

Student-loan debt is on the rise, making it a top financial concern for many employees. Yet, a January 2017 WorldatWork report found that just 4 percent of the more than 40,000 employers it surveyed provided loan-repayment benefits.

The good news is that employers are starting to realize why these benefits are vital to their staffers' financial fitness.

Jeff Oldham, the senior vice president of global and institutional markets at Benefitfocus, a benefits-enrollment software company  in Charleston, S.C., said that repayment assistance is a top benefit his company's clients like to offer. “Student loan debt continues to rise in this country, surpassing credit card debt,” Oldham wrote in an email. “It’s a crisis that threatens consumer finances and workplace productivity; as a result, many employers are evaluating options to help employees manage this debt.”

Employers of all sizes can match student-loan repayments through online services. It’s also important to teach employees how to use a college-repayment account. Employees simply automate transfers to the account, then apply it to their loans each month.

Access to emergency loans

It’s hard enough as it is for employees to cover the rising cost of living. So, when an unprecedented issue arises, like car maintenance or a medical emergency, they’re left scrambling to cover the bill.

This concern is more common than employers think. A January 2017 survey from Bankrate found that nearly 60 percent of the 1,003 Americans surveyed said they couldn't cover the cost of a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room visit.

Worse, they said they hold off on necessary services -- like basic health care -- until they can afford it.

Related: College Debt Relief and Affordable Lifetime Learning Are Essential for a Thriving Economy

According to a March 2018 poll from NORC at the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute, nearly 40 percent of the 1,302 adult Americans surveyed said they had skipped a recommended medical test or treatment. What’s more, 44 percent didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick or injured due to the cost.

This is why Benefitfocus’ clients also offer micro-loans. They fund the loans themselves via a third-party vendor or provide access to other companies offering low-APR loan options.

“While loans are helpful short-term answers, the core issue is that more than 50 percent of Americans don’t know how to devise or manage a budget,” Oldham said via email. “As a result, access to foundational financial wellness is critical to help employees address present challenges while building long-term financial health.”

Provide employees with one-on-one time to help them find online loan services, like RocketLoans or Upstart. This kind of safety net can reduce the amount of stress that comes with facing an unexpected financial burden.

Benefits that grow automatically

Automation is vital for ensuring long-term financial wellness. For example, a common best practice is scheduling automatic transfers to a savings account every payday. It takes no effort and forces people to adapt to living within their means.

Automation can also help with long-term saving, including retirement. Pattie Money, chief people officer at SendGrid, said her email communication platform, headquartered in Denver, helps staffers (known as “Gridders”) take a proactive approach to retirement planning.

“To help Gridders better prepare for retirement, we recently implemented an auto-increase program, which increases an eligible employee’s contribution by 1 percent each April 1, unless they opt out of the program,” Money explained via email.

“The timing of the annual increase is in line with our company’s annual focal/promotion timing. A retirement best practice is for employees to increase their contribution every time they receive a pay increase,” she added.

Another way to help employees save is simply to pay for subscriptions to low-cost apps that help employees save money automatically. Tools like Digit and Rize are perfect for guiding employees to hit their savings goals without much effort on their part.

Related: 5 Strategies for Entrepreneurs to Steer Clear of the Debt Trap

When that happens, both they and you, their employer, just may breathe a little easier.

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