Financial Stress on the Rise

An increase in health care costs over the past two years is directly attributing to decreased retirement savings, a survey finds.
Financial wellness has declined from 2013 to 2015 and as a result, financial stress is on the rise. The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report shows that six in 10 employees are worried about their financial futures, up from 50% in 2013.

Nearly seven in 10 (69%) have experienced a rise in health care costs over the past two years, directly attributing to decreased retirement savings. However, this cost also appears to be driving activity in other investment vehicles with nearly half (46%) of employees starting or increasing contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). In addition to rising health care costs, many other components of financial wellness have declined in a couple years. In 2013, for example, 77% of respondents said they “strongly agreed” that they were able to pay their monthly mortgage or rent. In 2015, that number went down to 59%. In 2015, 57% of respondents strongly agreed that they always have money to spend on basic necessities, compared with 40% in 2015.

Interestingly, the only component for which responses improved was, “I am saving enough for my retirement.” Nineteen percent strongly agreed with this statement, compared with 15% in 2013. “There’s sort of this false sense of security and optimism about having enough savings for retirement. But overall, they still feel uneasy about their [holistic] financial wellness. So there’s a disconnect,” Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, tells PLANADVISER.

Even if their actual financial conditions may not have worsened, employees seem to feel less certain about their finances now than in 2013, which has created high levels of financial stress.

NEXT: Employers Can Help With Financial Stress

Employers can help workers combat this stress through financial education. While the vast majority of employees (83%) say their workplace financial benefit plans are critical to financial security, more than half (59%) admit they need help understanding how these benefits can work for them, and 55% say they need help managing their finances.

Plan sponsors and advisers can work together to craft educational programs and resources that speak to these needs. And of equal importance, they can create a culture where employees are comfortable saying they need help with financial planning, Sabbia says. “How do you make them feel comfortable? Allow that to be part of the culture and dialogue,” she adds.

According to the survey, employees are seeking a combination of personal and digital assistance. A near-identical percentage of employees say they want online tools (54%) as those who want access to a one-on-one relationship with a financial professional (52%).

“Many would jump to conclusions to say Millennials want to do it themselves [when it comes to financial planning]. But that’s not accurate,” Sabbia adds. “People are saying they want education from their employers.”

The full report is available here