NEW YORK (MainStreet)—A good 83% of employees in the U.S. report they are under financial stress with 51% having taken a loan or hardship withdrawal from their 401(k) plan, putting them at risk for not being able to achieve retirement security, according to a new study.
"The challenge in working with these employees is that they are so stressed, they often can't see a way out and many are on the verge of giving up altogether," said Liz Davidson, president of Financial Finesse.
Financial Finesse's Employee Financial Stress study found the 53% that reported high or overwhelming stress were women aged 30 to 44 who had small children and who earned below $60,000 a year.
The source of the stress includes not having control of their current financial situation, being unable to reach future financial goals and having concerns about the economy and the financial services industry.
"Employers who have a lot of employees in this demographic are probably facing significant costs from the impact of employees' financial stress—from higher health care expenses, to drains on productivity and performance, higher turnover, absenteeism and an overall lack of engagement since they are so focused on surviving financially," Davidson said.
The study revealed that among those with overwhelming financial stress, 82% do not have an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, 80% say they do not have a handle on their cash flow, 49% are not able to pay their bills on time each month and 80% are uncomfortable with their debt levels.
The demographic that felt the least amount of stress at 6% were men between the ages of 55 and 64 with no minor children and income above $100,000 a year.
"Employers with low levels of employee financial stress usually need proactive financial planning since their employees are concerned about how to invest effectively in an uncertain economy to grow their wealth over the long term," said Greg Ward, director of Financial Finesse's Think Tank of Certified Financial Planner.
Among those with low financial stress, 98% report paying their bills on time, 96% say they have a handle on their cash flow, 96% are comfortable with their debt levels while 89% have an emergency fund.
"One interesting thing about this group is that many still have serious financial vulnerabilities," Davidson said. "You'd think that those who report having no financial stress would be fully prepared for retirement, fully insured with a will or trust in place and basically have all their ducks in a row. That's just not the case."
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Despite reporting low financial stress, about 39% are not confident their investments are allocated appropriately, 41% don't understand the tax implications of their investments and retirement accounts and 46% are not maximizing available tax credits and deductions to reduce their tax liability.
"Addressing the broad financial vulnerabilities faced by employees is the next frontier in averting a retirement crisis," said Trisha Brambley, a leading retirement consultant and president of Retirement Playbook, Inc., a specialty consulting firm that offers financial wellness programs as well as workshops and support for retirement plan committees. "More plan sponsors are looking at reducing financial stress as an important component in attaining a comfortable retirement for all of their different employee demographic groups."
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet