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More Employers Consider Financial Literacy Programs
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  12/11/2008
 

From the cost of living to credit card debt to how to make the next mortgage payment, workers are losing sleep with their worries about money, and an uptick in the percentage of employers offering financial education and literacy programs is expected.

Eighty-three percent of 450 HR professionals surveyed said their organizations will consider providing employees with financial educational literature and/or workshops by investment specialists, according to findings released November 2008 from a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) online poll, Changes Organizations Have Made in Light of 2008 Financial Challenges to the U.S. Economy.

Janet N. Parker, SPHR, SHRM’s outgoing board chair, sits on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, which is charged with helping the public understand and take control of their financial futures.

“The exciting thing is that our chapters have already been doing some things to improve financial literacy,” she told SHRM Online shortly after her appointment in January 2008. “They have been spending time in the community, going to schools. You can already see the results.”

Other surveys point to more employers offering, or considering offering, some type of financial literacy to employees.

“The current financial crisis has affected the way Americans are spending their money and how they are saving for the future,” said Julie Stitch, a spokesperson for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP). “If the situation persists through 2009, we may see the percentage of employers offering financial education programs increase as they try to help their employees deal with the crisis,” she said in a press release.

Just under half—43 percent—of 972 respondents from the United States and Canada the IFEBP surveyed are offering financial education or literacy programs. Among U.S. employers in the corporate sector, 44.5 percent offer employees financial education or a literacy program; 39.8 percent in the private sector do so, according to IFEBP’s report, Employee Benefits Survey: U.S. and Canada: 2009.

And a recent 2008 Defined Contribution Survey from Plansponsor found nearly three-fourths of 6,000 plan sponsors surveyed offer participants some kind of help with making investment decisions.

Financial literacy programs can take a variety of shapes in the workplace:

  • Investing and retirement educational literature; 83 percent of 446 SHRM members said in October 2008 that their employer is more likely to offer this in the coming months because of the struggling economy.
  • Training courses on debt management; 41 percent of more than 320 SHRM members polled said in January 2008 their employer offers this, and 4 percent said they planned to do so during the year.
  • One-on-one money management or financial planning advice; 40 percent of more than 320 SHRM members surveyed in January 2008 said their employer offers this; 4 percent said they planned to do so during the year.
  • Home-buying preparation; 17 percent of more than 320 SHRM members in January 2008 said the employer offers this; 2 percent planned to do so.
  • Planning for the expense of their children’s college education; 25 percent of more than 320 SHRM members in January 2008 said the employer offers this; 3 percent planned to add this.

Small businesses—those with two to 50 employees—may receive tax credit for providing financial literacy if the Employers Financial Literacy Act passes. Introduced May 5, 2008, by Rep. Eddie Johnson, D-Texas, HR 5965 proposes offering small businesses a credit against income tax to cover a portion of the costs of providing financial education to employees. Businesses and corporations that provide such education would receive preferential status when applying for federal contracts, loans and other assistance.

A variety of resources on financial literacy can be found at web sites for the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation (PFEEF); National Endowment for Financial Education and IFEBP.

“A crucial first step for employers with financial education programs is to help employees identify barriers that are keeping them from getting help with financial worries” and follow it by offering assistance to change their financial behaviors, said Aimee Prawitz, PFEEF director of research, in a press release. 

IFEBP president E. Thomas Garman urged employers to promote financial literacy.

“Don’t just give employees a raise,” Garman said in a press release, “also give them easy access to quality financial programs that can change behaviors.”

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