Last year, the Illinois Credit Union System (ICUS) set out to determine where its 120 employees experience the most financial anxiety in an attempt to alleviate their stress levels and improve their overall health.
An employee survey revealed the main culprits: student loan debt, the need to save for college, and overall debt levels.
The effort was partly due to National Credit Union Foundation research showing how financial stressors can affect physical health and work performance, says Tom Kane, ICUS president/CEO.
“If people are stressed about their financial situations, they obviously don't leave that at home,” Kane says. “They bring it to work with them.”
In response, ICUS rolled out a comprehensive financial wellness program to address many of these issues.
Kane highlights the organization’s efforts to improve staff’s financial standing, and details how its member credit unions do the same for consumers.
We just rolled out a personal financial coaching program called Financial Finesse, where people can call and talk anonymously to a financial planner about the issues they’re facing.
They also have a website and hold webinars on various topics.
We do monthly educational sessions, lunch and learns, on different topics, such as when to take Social Security during retirement.
It’s changed over the last few years in that a lot of younger people are interested in topics such as Social Security and retirement. I can’t say I thought about that at all when I was in my 20s.
Probably the biggest thing we’ve done is to partner with a company called Gradifi, which offers student loan paydown.
We used to offer tuition reimbursement, but only three or four people took advantage of this each year. So we decided to spread the wealth a bit with Gradifi, through which we contribute $125 per month to pay down someone’s student loans or go into a 529 educational saving plan.
There are no strings attached. Gradifi makes the payment directly to the student loan or 529 plan. Out of our 120 employees, 32 signed up for it.
We wanted to make this benefit available to everyone. We have younger people who are paying off student loan debt and some older folks who are saving money for their kids’ college.
We view it as a retention tool and a way to relieve some financial stress.
It pains me to see the number of people who take out loans against their 401(k) plans. We try to counsel people that, while it’s their money, they should try to find alternative options for loans.
Even though we work in a financial organization, there’s still a lack of financial education. People don’t come out of school with a great grasp of what credit card debt actually costs or what they’ll lose by borrowing on a 401(k) plan.
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