Fewer corporate workers have sufficient cash flow and emergency funds on hand, according to a new survey.
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The survey, by Financial Finesse, a provider of workplace financial wellness programs, found that the proportion of employees who said they have a handle on their cash flow fell to 68 percent in 2012 from 72 percent in 2011. Fewer employees also reported having an emergency fund in 2012, at 51 percent in 2012 versus 56 percent in 2011. In 2012, 32 percent of employees reported having taken a loan or hardship withdrawal from their 401k versus 25 percent in 2011.
Only 56 percent of employees reported regularly paying off their credit card balances in full each month, a drop from 62 percent in 2011. Twenty-three percent of employees reported being charged late fees in 2012, compared to 19 percent in 2011.
Many employees turned to their retirement savings last year to pay for demanding, short-term expenses.
Financial Finesse CEO Liz Davidson saw good reason for employees to turn to their retirement accounts instead of other sources of funding last year. “More emphasis is being placed on retirement planning in general, as employers and the overall media have been communicating and stressing the importance of retirement planning, and providing more transparent retirement plan information as a result of Department of Labor legislation last summer around fee disclosures,” she said.
Davidson sees more concern from employers and the government about the future of retirement planning for younger generations, providing an explanation for increases in account balances and annual contributions. “Because retirement has become a key issue, more employees are participating in their retirement plans, and more are tapping these same accounts when they encounter short-term financial problems,” she added.
“Ninety-one percent of employees in 2012 said they contribute to their 401(k) plan at work,” Davidson said. “That’s an incredibly encouraging number of employees participating. At the same time, however, only 51 percent of employees say they have an emergency fund in place to cover unexpected expenses. That leaves 49 percent of the employee population vulnerable to tapping their retirement savings because they can’t afford expenses outside of the norm.”
Another reason why Davidson says employees are tapping into their retirement savings is they are less inclined to use credit cards or have less home equity available than they did prior to the recession. “Inflation is outpacing income growth, and the job market remains weak, so there are still people out there struggling,” she said. “As a result, some see their retirement plans as the only practical resource available to them.”
This is largely the reason Davidson believes the backslide has hit lower-income employees the hardest. “This group naturally has less to work with,” she said. “When someone making $100,000 a year takes a hit because inflation grows faster than their paycheck, it might impact the type of car they can drive or how often they can eat out. But when someone earning $40,000 a year takes a hit, they feel it much more because it could impact their living situation or other serious life decisions.”
Despite the increasing number of issues faced by employees in managing their daily finances, they appear to be unfazed. The number of employees who faced high or overwhelming stress remained low at 18 percent in 2012 (down from 19 percent in 2011) and still significantly lower than 2010 and 2009, at 32 percent and 33 percent respectively.