The blog of the Urban Institute
June 20, 2019

Leveraging the Workplace to Improve Employees’ Financial Wellness

June 20, 2019

The Great Recession may have ended a decade ago, but many US families are still facing financial insecurity. Low wages and rising costs contribute to over a quarter of families finding it “difficult to get by” or considering themselves “just getting by.” As of 2018, 4 in 10 US adults would have difficulty covering an unexpected expense of $400 (PDF).

Experts and policymakers have proposed and implemented several programs and approaches—from universal basic income to individual development account savings—to address this problem. One solution gaining traction is to reach people at their workplaces to improve their financial wellness.

Traditionally, many employers offered options solely for retirement savings. But employers are increasingly expanding their benefit offerings (PDF) to include more options related to financial wellness, education, and empowerment.

One example of an employer-based financial wellness program is Working Credit. Over the past year, the Urban Institute partnered with Janice Nitolli Practitioner fellow Ricki Granetz Lowitz, cofounder and CEO of Working Credit, and her team to better understand the impact of credit on financial wellness.

The core of Working Credit’s program is financial education about credit building through a workshop, followed by one-on-one financial coaching or counseling and periodic tailored updates and suggestions to help participants reach their goals over 18 months. Many participants, like the public, don’t fully understand the credit system. By clarifying common misconceptions, Working Credit helps participants make positive financial gains and save money over the long term.

Our recent brief explores employer-based financial wellness programs and highlights how Working Credit’s participants fare during and after the program. We find that participants, regardless of wage or race or ethnicity, benefited from the education and coaching aspects of Working Credit’s program.

Over the course of the 18-month program, the typical participant moved from a subprime to a prime credit score. In particular, low-wage workers (earning less than $12 per hour) increased their median score 30 points. In addition, black and Hispanic participants saw jumps of 44 and 45 points, respectively.

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Programs like Working Credit show there’s not only demand for financial wellness programs among workers, but that these programs can help improve financial outcomes. These results show that lower-wage workers can make impressive increases in their credit scores and can improve their access to credit.

By offering credit-building workshops and counseling sessions at the workplace, Working Credit reduces barriers to these services for working Americans. Expanding employer-based financial wellness programs beyond retirement savings could be promising in moving the needle for working families.

Photo by Weekend Images Inc. via Getty Images.

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