Financial Wellness Programs Lead to Less Stress, Health-Care Savings: Financial Finesse

A case study of a Fortune 500 company offers evidence of health care cost savings due to improvements in financial wellness

People who are stressed out are not as healthy as people who are less stressed, a study released Wednesday showed. While this is hardly groundbreaking, the Financial Finesse research showed the effect that financial education can have on reducing levels of stress among employees and increasing health care cost savings to companies.

In the study, "Impact of Employee Financial Stress on Health Care Costs," Financial Finesse found a client saved over 21% in health care costs between 2009 and 2010 tied to frequent users' involvement in financial wellness program, compared with just over 4% in savings from non-users.

The research group studied participants in its financial education program 30 days after they participated in it and two years after they participated to see how they made adjustments to their financial habits. After 30 days, over 90% had taken at least one step to improve their finances, and 78% had taken two or more steps.

The most common actions employees took after participating in a financial wellness program was to review their retirement plan’s asset allocation, cut back on their monthly expenses and experiment with calculators and worksheets provided by Financial Finesse. Reducing credit card debt and increasing 401(k) contributions round out the top five actions taken.

Regular participants in financial wellness programs have steadily improved over the years. Almost 60% of regular participants had an emergency cash fund in 2011, up from 34% in 2009. Sixty-three percent pay off their credit cards in full every month, up from 48% in 2009.

Despite these improvements, though, the percentage of participants who know they are on track to replace at least 80% of their income in retirement is still low; just 30% of participants reported knowing whether they were on track in 2011, up from 17% in 2009.

Frequent users of financial wellness programs have other good habits, too. While almost all regular participants contribute to their 401(k) plan, the average deferral rate increased with the number of interactions a participant had with the company’s financial wellness program from 5.7% among participants who used the program once to 11% for those who used it five or more times.

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