Go beyond a basic 401(k)

Go beyond a basic 401(k)

Give your employees more than just a 401(k), join the movement.

5 min read

Play the long game with your 401(k)

Evan Ross
September 25, 2019
Play the long game with your 401(k)
Table of contents

Your employees are dealing with a lot of financial stress.

Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Savings are low. Widespread student debt is delaying financial milestones. Retirement at 65 is becoming increasingly unattainable. And healthcare costs are rising.

Whew, that’s a lot! Small wonder that employee financial stress is so high.

If you’re reading this, you likely know that high financial stress among your employees has a big negative impact on your business’s bottom line. Whether it’s from absenteeism, increased health costs, or lost productivity, financial stress can be a real drag on profits, making it a crucial issue for HR and business leaders to solve in 2019.

Implementing a full-blown financial wellness program can be a major undertaking, and you probably have a lot of other stuff on your plate. So to help you take the first step of your employee financial wellness journey, we’ve assembled some quick and easy tips from top financial experts that you can give to your employees.

So let’s jump right into the good stuff - personal finance tips from well-regarded experts across the internet:

Financial Wellness Tip #1: Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck means always being one unexpected expense from disaster. A small problem can eat up the phone bill budget, the last of the grocery money, or an upcoming credit card payment. Counting down the days until the next paycheck means living with chronic background stress.

Financial stress is bad for everyone. Employees suffer, and employers pay. In fact, financial stress costs American businesses about $2,000 annually per employee.

So naturally, it’s in everyone’s best interest to invest in financial peace of mind.

What the Experts Say: Build an airtight budget with specific financial priorities.

Lauren Bowling of Financial Best Life advises readers of the three most important parts of setting up a budget:

“1. Figure out your amounts – Track your money and allow it to guide your different expenses properly by using the 50-20-30 rule or another budgeting strategy that works for you.

  1. Budget for your goals – Pay yourself first! Put money aside for goals like paying off debt (the best goal ever), or saving for a car or your first home.
  2. Budget for spending – Working hard at setting up your budget is cause for celebration, but it doesn’t mean you need to go into debt for it. Set money aside for spending on something fun in the future.”

That’s some ultra-condensed budget-building wisdom right there. Don’t disregard your employees’ personal financial goals. As Lauren says, “It's the golden rule of personal finance – PAY YOURSELF FIRST HOMIES!”

Colloquial cuteness aside, this really is the truth. Helping your employees avoid day-to-day financial panic is all well and good, but it’s only the start.

Financial Wellness Tip #2: Build Emergency Savings

When an employee doesn’t have any emergency savings, it’s not hard for even a small financial issue to derail their life.

Maybe their car broke down, they don’t have the “rainy day” fund to pay for the expensive repair, and have to take the bus for now. Adjusting to the new routine takes a while, the bus isn’t always on time, and they’re significantly late more often.

The results aren’t pleasant: The employee is stressed and extra tired from their unexpectedly longer commute, and the business loses out on their productivity and pays for their lateness. Without emergency savings in place to handle these unexpected expenses, everyone loses.

What the Experts Say: An employee needs to find out how much they need in their emergency fund, fill it up, and don't use it unless there is a financial emergency.

There’s a common rule of thumb that says an “emergency fund” should never have less than 3-6 times someone’s monthly expenses, but Well Kept Wallet has a slightly more practical (and realistic) approach.

If in debt, a small savings ($500-$1000) is just fine. If unburdened by debt, build it up to the “3x-6x monthly expenses” level as soon as possible.

“The goal is to have cash reserves to cover most emergencies that come along. Now, if a job loss is foreseeable, or knowledge of potential expenses that could exceed 3 months, then by all means, increase the amount that is set aside.”

And it’s a good idea to keep that money in a high yield money market account - easy to access but still able to grow.

It’s not easy for everyone to dedicate money to building up an emergency fund, but that’s where the diligent budgeting from Tip #1 will come in. Here’s a rule of savings to hammer home: Set the exact monthly contribution amount to save towards your emergency savings and don’t make excuses.

Remember, that having emergency savings isn’t just nice for your employees - it’s an essential part of their financial wellness (and will make employees less distracted while at work).

Financial Wellness Tip #3: Get Help With Student Debt

If you’re reading this at work, you’re probably surrounded by employees who are dealing with some level of educational debt. In 2015, nearly 7/10 graduates from public universities had student debt. If your company has a lot of employees under 40, this should be concerning.

Student debt is a big problem, but there are some pretty good solutions for employees.

What the Experts Say: Refinance student loans for a lower interest rate and more favorable terms.

Refinancing is simple, but it’s not always easy to get the best possible deal. As Millennial Money knows, having the right lender is the most important factor for employees looking to refinance.

Here are four things employees should carefully review in a refinancing partner:

“1. Flexibility: What kinds of loans do you need to finance? Are you looking for fixed or variable rate loans?

  1. Interest Rates: Keep an eye out for competitive rates. Make sure you match your total savings goal with the rates being offered.
  2. Benefits: In cases of financial hardship, such as losing a job, can your lender offer a forbearance, letting you get back on your feet before restarting payments? Keep a running list of the things you need from a lender, and be diligent about getting as many of those benefits when refinancing.
  3. Process: Make sure you are comfortable with the steps required by the lender before accepting an offer to refinance your student loans. How long does it take from application to refinance? Take the time to get all of your questions answered.”

Student debt may be a nationwide issue, but you can still tackle it within your own business. Good budgeting and refinance terms will get employees where they want even faster.

Financial Wellness Tip #4: Pay Off High-Interest Debt

Pursuing freedom from debt is one of the best things for overall financial wellness. Paying off their debt allows your employees to breathe a little easier every day, knowing their debt is shrinking, not growing. And when they’re all paid up, they can focus on the fun goals.

Now, here’s how to get there...

What the Experts Say: Move debt around to minimize interest payments and pay it off faster and more efficiently.

Natali Morris, an accomplished finance blogger who knows how to deal with debt creatively, has a few good tips for employee debt management. Here’s what she has to say:

“Can you transfer some of your higher-interest rate debts to a lower-interest credit card or loan account? Call your credit card company or bank. Ask if they have any specials on balance transfers...

Can you set up a payment plan with your medical bills or overdue utility bills? Call the creditor!

Find a low-to-no interest temporary loan or credit account. Do you own a home with some equity? Do you have strong earning potential? Consider a [Home Equity Line of Credit] HELOC or [Personal Line of Credit] PLOC.”

And that’s just to start. Debt is a huge burden to bear, and that financial stress has a real impact on your employees’ physical health. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be conquered.

Financial Wellness Tip #5: Maximize Tax Advantages (Retirement + HSA)

Taxes are expensive. Depending on income, taxes can be anywhere from 10% - 37% of an employee’s income. Regardless of which bracket they land in, taxes generally equate to a lot of money - money that could be going to emergency savings, paying down debt, or achieving other important financial goals.

So with that said, financial experts recommend taking advantage of every opportunity to legally avoid paying taxes on earned income.

That’s where employee benefits come in...

What the Experts Say: Use employee benefits to maximize tax advantages.

Dave Ramsey has a veritable library of information on saving and making the most of employee benefits. This man knows his stuff:

On the 401(k): “This benefit is essential to any worker’s financial wellness, and it’s one you definitely want to get into as soon as possible. If you’re already debt-free and have a full emergency fund, see if your employer offers this kind of plan and start investing today.”

On HSAs: “Think of a Health Savings Account (HSA) as the health care version of a 401(k). Since it’s always paired with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), this benefit lets you save on premiums and save money specifically for medical expenses—tax-free!”

Minimizing tax burdens and building rock-solid retirement savings isn’t the end of the financial journey by any means, but mastering these means employees can pursue other financial goals - while businesses reap the benefits of low-tax payroll (and more relaxed employees).


And there you have it - 5 simple financial wellness tips that you can give to your employees.

Offering your employees these tips - whether as a part of onboarding, or as ongoing education - is a good start towards improving the financial wellness of your workforce, and could lay the groundwork for implementing a full-blown employee financial wellness program in the future.

Given how prevalent financial stress is, and how much of an impact it has on your bottom line, taking these steps could provide a huge boost for your business in 2019.

Go beyond a basic 401(k)
Give your employees more than just a 401(k), join the movement.
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Evan Ross
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1 Schwab 2022 401(k) Participant Study - Gen Z/Millenial Focus, October 2022.
2 As of 12/31/2022. Employees include both current employees and terminated participants with a balance.
3 "Morgan Stanley At Work: The Value of a Financial Advisor" Morgan Stanley, March 2022.
4 Sarah Britton was a client when she provided this testimonial through an independent third party review website. She received no compensation for her remarks. There are no known conflicts of interest in the provision of her comments related to the services provided.