Workers struggling to save for a rainy day are increasingly likely to get help from their employers as the economic slowdown in the pandemic has underscored Americans’ need for a financial cushion.
Large companies such as UPS as well as banks, foundations and municipal governments have recently announced programs that encourage workers to set aside cash automatically, via payroll deductions, for unexpected expenses. In some cases, employers match the contributions up to a certain level.
The programs signal that employers are taking seriously a long-recognized problem: Many Americans struggle to save. Repeated surveys by the Federal Reserve have found that many households would find it difficult to pay an unexpected $400 expense.
The pandemic put additional pressure on many families’ finances, highlighting the need for workplace interventions, said Matt Bahl, vice president and head of workplace at the Financial Health Network, a nonprofit organization. “Employer savings programs are ascendant,” Bahl said.
It helps that regulators have made it easier to seek permission to automatically enroll workers in emergency savings plans. Employers’ experience with retirement savings plans shows that enrolling workers and giving them the choice to opt out is more effective at promoting participation than leaving employees to enroll on their own.
“The hard part in changing behavior is reducing the friction,” said George Barany, director of America Saves, a campaign of the Consumer Federation of America. “The easier it is to start to save, the better.”
Workplace savings programs vary in their approach. Some employers, such as UPS, let workers contribute after-tax money into a savings account as part of their 401(k) retirement plan. UPS’ program, developed with the nonprofit Commonwealth and managed by Voya Financial, is available to the company’s 90,000 nonunion employees in the United States. UPS declined to discuss the program.
Other programs work as stand-alone options. For instance, a program from SaverLife, a financial technology nonprofit group, offers employees at Alorica, a global customer-service provider, a $20 sign-up bonus and then matches employee contributions up to $40 a month. So a worker who saves $240 over six months will end up with a balance of $500. The employee must save at least $10 a month to get the match.
Participants link the SaverLife program to their own savings account and choose how much they want to save. The program encourages seasonal goals, such as saving refunds during tax time or saving for gifts during the holidays.