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How to Achieve Financial Wellness? Use Programs Repeatedly, Run Retirement Projections

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The financial wellness of U.S. employees improved in 2016, according to the latest Year in Review from Financial Finesse, which provides financial education and planning at workplaces as part of employee benefit programs, but their overall score, at 5.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, was still a failing grade.

Underlying the improvement was an increasing number of employees using workplace financial wellness programs repeatedly, which raised their overall score to 5.9 and lowered levels of financial stress. They accounted for 29% of total users of financial wellness programs in 2016, almost double the 16% reported for 2015.

Repeat users reported, among other things, improvements in managing cash flow, rebalancing investment accounts to keep asset allocations on track and having an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses.

(Related on ThinkAdvisor: How Financial Wellness Drives Better Retirement and Tax Decisions)

Repeat users were also more likely to run a retirement projection which, according to Financial Finesse, “may be the single most important step employees can take to reach their financial goals.”

About four in 10 employees who ran such projections discovered they were underfunding their retirement savings and needed to make changes in the amount of money they save and how they invest. Sixty percent found they were on track in their retirement savings plans.

Despite the finding that more than half of employees were on track with their retirement savings, Financial Finesse found that many employees were not contributing enough in their employer-sponsored retirement plans to earn a full employer match. Although 92% reported participating in such a plan, only 77% were contributing enough to earn the full match.

Financial Finesse uncovered another gap in financial wellness that could stand improvement: a growing difference between men and women, especially in areas of investing and money management.

Although 72% of all financial wellness program users and 76% of repeat users were women, they reported making less progress than men in managing their finances over the past year. As a result, the gap between their comfort levels dealing with cash flow, debt, retirement and investments and the comparable comfort levels of men grew wider between 2015 and 2016. “This represents special challenges for women who will generally need to save more than men to fund retirement,” the report states, referring to the fact that women tend to live longer than men.

The 2016 Year in Review report from Financial Finesse is based on an anlysis of more than 67,000 financial wellness assessments.

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