Category Archives: financial wellness

Student Debt Still a Plague

Here’s some more fuel on the financial-stress fire, particularly as it affects employees straddling student debt: A new survey by American Student Assistance finds more than half of all young workers worry about repaying student loans either all the time or often.

Here are some key — translated alarming — findings of the Young Workers and Student Debt survey, which polled 502 young workers (ages 22 to 33) as well as 451 human resource managers at companies with at least 100 employees:

  • 40 percent report that worrying about their student loans has impacted their health,
  • 55 percent would like to go to grad school but couldn’t take on any additional student loans,
  • 61 percent have considered getting a second job to help pay off their student loans,
  • 63 percent of young workers report that they don’t have anyone to turn to for help with regard to paying off their student loans,
  • 75 percent of HR professionals report that their company does not offer any guidance or assistance regarding student loans, and
  • 54 percent of young workers report that, right now, paying off student loans comes first, and they will put off saving for retirement until later.

Seriously folks, how did this burden on this nation’s young workers get this bad? And why aren’t we doing a better job of triage here?

Kevin Fudge, director of consumer advocacy and ombudsman at Boston-based ASA, says the stress these workers experience over student debt “clearly impacts their health and productivity in the workplace.”

In this editorial I wrote in November of last year, I cite a study by EdAssist in which 72 percent of all people with student debt say it impacts their daily lives, forcing them to give up on dream jobs and further education. That study also finds nearly half (49 percent) of these people saying they’re so stressed, they’d prefer help with school debt over budgeting, credit-card debt and even retirement.

Indeed, the ASA survey shows more than 90 percent of young workers would take advantage of a sign-on bonus or a company match targeted at paying back these mountainous burdens. So why do a whopping 75 percent of HR professionals say their companies offer no help or guidance?

Granted, some companies are treading into this muck and mire to try and clean some of it up. We blogged on this site about PricewaterhouseCooper’s commitment to pay up to $1,200 a year toward employees’ student loans for up to six years. And we blogged about Natixis Global Asset Management’s pledge to contribute up to $10,000 to every full-time employee who has been at the company for at least five years and has outstanding Federal Stafford or Perkins Loans. But that was 2015. And we’re still not hearing about any massive debt-help-bandwagon jumping.

Let’s hope a bipartisan bill introduced Feb. 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act does better this time around than when it was introduced in October 2015 as H.R. 3861. The proposed law would shield employers’ student-loan-repayment benefits from federal taxes, thereby opening the door to many more than just a few willing to help their employees pay down their school debt. Why didn’t this garner more support two years ago? This needs to pass.

Meanwhile, this November feature by Larry Stevens, which I mention in my editorial, cites a new approach some employers are taking for all their financially stressed employees: paying them pre-paycheck for the income they’ve already worked for — in other words, the hours they’ve already accrued. As Ijaz Anwar, the co-founder and chief operating officer of one of the suppliers behind this approach, San Jose, Calif.-based PayActiv, told me:

“Why can’t you just give people [living paycheck to paycheck] what they have earned, what is rightfully their, when they so desperately need it [and when it can mean] dignity for these struggling people who can’t even qualify for a credit card?”

But, sadly, there again, there’s no flood of employers taking this approach. Not sure why, when the benefits include better health and productivity for employees, and there don’t appear to be any negatives.

More Bad News on 401(k) Front

Seems the 401(k) red flags just keep waving. This latest report from Ben Steverman on the Bloomberg.com site — based on U.S. Census Bureau research — shows a whopping two-thirds of Americans aren’t putting money into any defined-contribution plans.

That’s right. Based on this research, which relies on tax data instead of surveys (as in the past), only about a third of workers are saving in a 401(k) or similar tax-deferred retirement plan.

What’s more, it now appears — using this new research methodology — that only about 14 percent of employers offer retirement plans at all! How can that be? As the report explains:

“Census researchers Michael Gideon and Joshua Mitchell analyzed W-2 tax records from 2012 to identify 6.2 million unique employers and 155 million individual workers, who held 219 million distinct jobs. This data produced estimates starkly different from previous surveys.

“For example, previous estimates suggested more than 40 percent of private-sector employers sponsored a retirement plan. Tax records uncovered a much bigger pool of small businesses, showing that, overall, just 14 percent of all employers offer a 401(k) or other defined-contribution plan to their workers.”

Bigger companies, the researchers say, are the most likely to offer 401(k) plans, and since they employ more people than small firms, they skew the overall number of U.S. workers who have the option. Gideon and Mitchell estimate that 79 percent of Americans work at organizations that sponsor a 401(k)-style plan. In the words of the report:

“The good news is that’s more than 20 points higher than previous estimates. The bad news is that just 41 percent of workers at those employers are making contributions to such a plan — more than 20 points lower than previous estimates.”

But should we all be trying to shepherd employees into 401(k)s? Earlier posts by me on this site suggest that’s a very good question. This one from January finds the creators and supporters of the retirement-savings vehicle now lamenting their creation. None of them imagined the vehicle would replace pensions, leaving workers struggling to ever contribute enough to their 401(k)s to retire comfortably.

As Herbert Whitehouse, a former human resource executive for Johnson & Johnson and one of the earliest proponents of the 401(k) for employees, tells the WSJ in that post, he and others were hoping and assuming back in 1981 — when the 401(k) was in its infancy — that the savings approach would be a kind of supplement to company pensions.

They did not imagine the idea would actually replace pensions as employers looked to cut costs and survive during subsequent downturns. As Whitehouse puts it in the WSJ story:

“We weren’t social visionaries.”

Then there’s this post a little later in January presenting the opinion of benefits expert Larry Sher, who thinks there’s even more corrupt and wrong with the savings vehicle than its merely replacing pensions. He blames the people who’ve had skin in the 401(k) game all along, who’ve been reluctant to give up their own benefits of the system — a system that forces employees to shoulder more responsibility and stress.

The chief concern of policymakers, employees and even some of the employers that have embraced the 401(k) concept, Sher says, “can be summed up as the total shifting of risks to employees — the risks that they won’t save enough, the risk that they will use the savings for non-retirement purposes, the risk of unfavorable investment results — culminating in inadequate retirement savings and the prospect of outliving such savings.”

Meanwhile, some states and cities have introduced local individual retirement accounts designed to encourage workers to save by requiring employers to either offer a retirement plan or automatically enroll their workers in the state- or city-sponsored IRAs.

The U.S. House of Representatives, however, voted to rescind those rules on Feb. 15, citing the IRA plans’ unfair competition to the financial industry. If the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump sign off on the move, all such auto-IRA plans would be placed in jeopardy, leaving people in the lurch once again. As Steverman writes:

“Whatever the outcome, any effort to get workers to save for retirement faces a daunting challenge: Can Americans spare the money? Student debt and auto loans are at record levels, according to Federal Reserve data released Feb. 16, and overall consumer debt is rising at the fastest pace in three years.

“Retirement is an important goal, but many Americans seem to have more pressing financial concerns.”

Empty Nesters’ Emptying Coffers

Full disclosure: I’m a softy when it comes to helping my grown kids. I frequently find myself opening my wallet more than I should, especially during this “giving” holiday. Not that they ask for it, just that I see needs in these lives I cherish, always have, and am probably quicker than most to contribute to the cause.

So I’ve been nagged ever since I came across this release from the SUM180 site about this study by the Boston College Center for Retirement ResearchDo Households Save More When the Kids Leave Home?

The answer to that question appears to be, in the words of SUM180, “not as much as you might think.”

Carla Dearing, the online financial-planning service’s CEO, doesn’t mince words in suggesting why empty nesters are only able to sock away 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent more than they were able to when they had much bigger bills and children in school.

“Among the explanations [are] empty nesters’ continued financial support of adult children,” she says. “Picking up their grown kids’ expenses — student loans, insurance, auto payments, smartphone bills — is a generosity those who have not yet saved enough for retirement can ill-afford.” She goes on to stress that:

“Those in their 50s — typically — are ideally positioned to accelerate their retirement savings: They’re at the peak of their earnings, the mortgage is paid and the kids are finished with college and out of the house. As this is possibly their final chance to ensure their retirement is financially stress-free, directing more into retirement savings must be their top priority.”

OK, I get that. I have been upping my 401(k) contributions fairly regularly. And I’m not picking up my grown kids’ living expenses as a matter of course. But oh is it ever hard to turn my back on those unforeseen needs in their stressed-out lives and the little lives they’re now raising. Yet that’s what Dearing is telling me to do. Get more selfish about my own survival. As her release says:

“Think of it as putting the oxygen mask on your face first. It may feel counter-intuitive, but, after all, your security in retirement is something your children want for you, too.”

I don’t think I’m alone in this baby-boomer weakness, fallacy, foible … call it what you will. And I do think it’s a problem specific to us boomers, not just because of where we are in our lives as parents, but because of where our heads are as parents as well. We’ve always wanted everything for our kids. We’ve always been willing to do everything in our power to see them not just make it, but succeed. How can we now dial this back and take better care of our own retirements? And is there something HR leaders can do to help this along in the workforce?

I put these questions to Dearing. She had some suggestions and observations worth sharing and thinking about:

“Too many boomer parents have a hard time drawing the line when it comes to helping their grown kinds financially, even when their own financial security is at stake. Helping your employees address this issue can have a big impact on their financial wellness, but it’s tricky. Dealing with money is always emotional; this is particularly true when family is involved.

“From an HR leader’s perspective, the challenge is to help employees make decisions about money and their children from a place of clarity and strength, rather than uncertainty and emotion.”

Here’s what she suggests, not just for boomers, but as talking points for the employers trying to help them:

“First, break through the emotional fog with real information. Give employees access to tools that help them get a handle on their own financial situation. You can encourage your employees to read books or attend workshops about communication and boundaries, you can keep trying to ‘educate’ parents about the importance of saving for retirement versus supporting grown kids financially, but in my experience, nothing beats real information for helping parents draw the line with their adult kids financially.

“The truth is, ‘putting on your own oxygen mask first’ is much easier when your eyes are wide open about your own financial shortfalls. When employees have a clear understanding of what they, themselves, need to regain control of financially, their priorities can naturally self-correct. Real information takes the guesswork out of the question, eases the emotional pressure and gives parents a rational framework for deciding whether they can truly afford to help.

“Second, bring the language of business to conversations with grown children about money. Chances are, your employees already know how to navigate business conversations with skill, tact and resolve. Show them that they can apply the same principles to financial conversations with their kids, and that this can go a long way toward defusing the emotion involved and arriving at sound decisions as a family. Some specific tactics worth sharing:

  • If a child wants to borrow money, the parent or parents should set up a meeting dedicated to discussing the loan and nothing else. Keep the meeting free of distractions such as household chores or family activities.

  • The parent or parents should maintain a businesslike tone and attitude throughout the conversation. If a child wants a loan, the parents should require a repayment schedule and an interest rate that they can be happy with.

  • Practice makes perfect. Saying no to one’s kids may never get easy, but it will get easier as they get used to approaching financial conversations in a rational, businesslike way.

“Let me close with a story that I think illustrates these two points. My client, a woman age 49, had a business that was doing fine, but not great. As we worked on her financial plan together, she realized two things: 1) Looking hard and honestly at WHY her business was underperforming, she was forced to admit that her son, the business’ controller, was not the best person for the job, and 2) She had a limited window of opportunity — 10 more years — to save and prepare for retirement. These realizations gave her the push she needed to finally give her son 12 months’ notice. Her son received plenty of time to transition elsewhere and she was able to start growing her business into the source of retirement income she needed it to be.”

Though I’m not running a business, therefore thankfully don’t have to think about firing one of my own kids, I do think having more resolve to “just say no” when my giving spirt goes into overdrive needs to be a New Year’s resolution. Or maybe it’s time to sit down and have that financial talk with them (though I think I’ll wait till after the holidays).

After all, I’ll be handing my retirement reality over to them one day. We should all be on the same page.

Setting Their Sights on Retirement

thinkstockphotos-498426671If you think millennials aren’t concerned about retirement, think again.

On Tuesday, Willis Towers Watson released a survey that found six in 10 millennials are willing to sacrifice pay for more secure retirement benefits. (This compares to roughly four in 10 in 2009.)

“Employees of all generations, including millennials, are feeling vulnerable about their long-term security,” says Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “Employees young and old actually have a strong desire for more retirement security and are willing to give up pay to get more guarantees or a larger retirement benefit. Interestingly, employees seem to be saying they have enough health coverage now and are reluctant to pay more.”

As far as healthcare is concerned, only one-third of millennials (32 percent) surveyed said they are willing to pay a higher amount for lower or more predictable health costs, a decline from 43 percent in 2009.

When asked how they would spend money if their employer provided them with an allowance to spend on a variety of benefits, millennials said they would allocate more than half to healthcare and retirement-plan benefits (27 percent each). Not surprisingly, nearly half of millennials (48 percent) ranked pay and bonuses over all other benefits if given a choice, a clear indication of the financial issues they face and the need for more financial flexibility today.

Slowly but surely, employers are beginning to accept the fact that employees, be they millennials, Gen X or baby boomers, are hungry for support as they strive to tuck more money away for the future.

So I guess it’s no surprise then that we’re beginning to see robo advisers such as Betterment gain some traction in the workplace.

At the 2016 Benefits Forum and Expo in Nashville, Tenn., this week, Betterment General Manager Cynthia Loh shared the value her organization is bringing to the business community. (Loh spoke during a general session on Wednesday.)

Many of you probably will recall Betterment’s announcement last fall of a new 401(k) platform that uses technology to offer personalized investment advice for all participants, along with administrative and fiduciary support for plan sponsors. (It began rolling out the platform earlier this year.)

Betterment CEO and Founder Jon Stein said at the time, “Current 401(k) offerings—and we have examined them all—have poor user experiences, high costs and a clear lack of advice. Not anymore.”

In late July, the company announced that it had signed on more than 200 plan sponsors since the beginning of the year—and, according to Loh, the company is continuing to sign up new clients at a fast clip.

So far, Betterment hasn’t signed up any Fortune 1000-size organizations. The largest plan sponsor to sign on is MVP Anesthesia Associates, a physician group. But down the road, the company certainly hopes to make inroads into even larger employers.

Are You Giving Job Seekers What They Want?

The gender gap. The generation gap. The wage gap. The skills gap …

Disparities abound in the workplace, unfortunately. And, according to Randstad U.S., we can go ahead and add “attributes gap” to the lengthy list.

The HR services provider’s recent survey of more than 200,000 respondents—designed to measure “the market perception of employers with the largest workforces” in 25 countries, according to Randstad—found salary and employee benefits, long-term job security and a pleasant working atmosphere to be the top three employer characteristics that job seekers value most.

These same attributes, however, scored fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, on the list of attributes that would-be employees feel companies actually offer.

The same poll finds employers excelling in other ways, of course. The problem is that job seekers don’t seem to care that much about the things that organizations are good at delivering.

For example, the attributes that job seekers feel U.S. employers score highest on—financial health, strong management and quality training, in that order—rank fifth, ninth and seventh on jobseekers’ list of most-desired employee attributes.

“These findings reveal an ‘attributes gap’ between what U.S. job seekers want and what they perceive potential employers to be best at providing,” says Jim Link, chief human resource officer at Randstad North America, in a statement.

“What this should signify to employers is a growing disconnect that can be detrimental from an employee engagement, retention and, ultimately, cost perspective.”

Naturally, Randstad offers employers and HR executives suggestions on bridging this gap, such as “evaluat[ing] where you stand versus companies with which you compete for talent and determin[ing] the best steps to take to improve upon performance and/or perception.”

In addition, the firm recommends developing a three-year plan to “anticipate the future needs of your employees and what employer attributes talent will view as most important,” advising HR leaders to “arm yourself with insight leveraging talent analytics and predictive workforce intelligence to stay ahead of changing workplace dynamics.”

While organizational and HR leaders “may not be able to influence every workplace desire, managing workers’ wants and needs should not only be done from a macro-level by the organization,” says Link, “but also much more frequently from a micro-level by managers to ensure alignment.”

Retirement Planning: The Gender Gap Persists

A quick search of our website, using the terms “women” and “retirement,” brings back an article from August 2008 that describes retirement planning as “a nightmare for many women.”

In said piece, former HRE freelancer Marlene Prost shed light on female employees’ well-founded worries about outliving their retirement savings, and urged HR leaders to “step in with help” for women workers, who live longer than men on average while typically earning less.

As I sat this morning reading a press release summarizing new Aon Hewitt research, it felt like Prost’s article could have just as easily been written in 2016.

In other words, the story remains largely the same.

In examining the retirement saving and investing behaviors of roughly 3.5 million defined contribution participants from more than 125 employers, the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Aon Hewitt found that 83 percent of women aren’t saving enough to meet their needs in retirement, compared to 74 percent of men who feel they aren’t putting enough away to live comfortably after leaving the workforce.

Aon Hewitt projects that women will need 11.5 times their final pay to meet their financial needs in retirement, but finds “a gap of 3.3 times pay between what women need and what they’re actually on track to have saved in order to retire at age 65.” Meanwhile, the disparity between needs and resources is just 2.0 times pay for men.

This shortfall, according to Aon Hewitt, means women, on average, will need to work until age 69—one year longer than men—in order to meet 100 percent of their needs in retirement.

“Women face significant stumbling blocks when it comes to saving enough for retirement, including longer lifespans, lower salaries and a greater likelihood of taking hardship withdrawals from their 401(k)s,” says Virginia Maguire, director of retirement products and solutions at Aon Hewitt, in the aforementioned press release. “Making retirement and financial well-being a priority is paramount for overcoming those challenges.”

The study also finds women and men participating in employer 401(k) plans at the same rate (79 percent), but lower savings rates pair with salary incongruities to further broaden the savings gap. For example, women are, on average, contributing 7.5 percent of their salaries to 401(k)s, which lags more than a full percentage point behind male employees (8.7 percent). In 2015, women had an average plan balance of $71,060, while the average amount for men was $119,150 last year, according to the report.

Naturally, Aon Hewitt suggests ways in which employers can help chip away at the difference, including offering tools such as healthcare and financial market education to improve overall financial well-being, providing professional investment help and adding plan features designed to increase savings rates.

And, even minor tweaks can have a major impact.

“When employers take an active role in helping all workers improve their financial well-being and save more for retirement, women will benefit,” according to Maguire. “Small changes to plan design and an improved focus on day-to-day finances can go a long way to closing the savings gap.”

When Peers Speak, Employees Listen

Who has the most sway over the financial decisions your employees make?

The answer seems to be “everyone but their employers,” according to a recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans poll.

At a recent meeting for its board and committee members, the Brookfield, Wis.-based non-profit organization asked 150 benefit industry leaders to name the single-biggest influencer on their workers’ financial decisions. In response, 74 percent of those on hand said their employees’ money moves are most affected by the input of family members, friends, co-workers and peers.

While financial education has become a larger part of many companies’ broader employee wellness initiatives, IFEBP finds more employers expanding their efforts in an attempt to also reach those who have the ear of their workers when it comes to financial matters.

The foundation’s Financial Education for Today’s Workforce: 2016 Survey Results report, for example, saw two-thirds of employers offering financial education to their employees. The same report found 40 percent of employers saying they provide financial education to spouses and partners of employees, while 41 percent offer financial education opportunities outside of normal business hours and 20 percent make financial education available on the weekends, so spouses and partners can attend.

Meanwhile, another IFEBP report suggests that a majority of organizations are turning to employees’ peer groups to spread the word, with 63 percent of employers saying they are relying on word-of-mouth communication via workplace “champions” to increase employees’ awareness of benefits such as financial education.

Such employee advocates can play an invaluable role in the effort to increase financial education throughout the organization, said Julie Stich, research director at IFEBP, in a recent statement.

“In our focus groups, surveys and case study work, we’ve seen the importance of workplace champions,” said Stich. “Champions are passionate about the benefit in question—in this case, financial education.”

These “champions” often embrace the education they receive from their employer and pursue more information on their own, she added, noting that 75 percent of employers who indicated in the aforementioned report that their organizations use a “champion approach” report success with this strategy.

“They’ll adopt the benefit in their own life and eagerly talk with their co-workers about it as well,” said Stich. “Their enthusiasm, knowledge and ‘peer’ status grabs their co-workers’ attention and trust.”

Americans’ Financial Wellness (Or Lack Thereof)

“Financial wellness” is a buzzword that’s really taken off during the last few years as companies attempt to figure out how to help their employees be better prepared for retirement in an era of longer lifespans, disappearing traditional pensions and uncertainty over the long-term future of Social Security.

financial worriesThe findings from the latest Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch should add some urgency to the subject of financial wellness, with six in 10 Americans saying they feel stressed about their current financial situation — up from 50 percent in 2013.

The report, based on a survey of 1,200 employees with 401(k) plans, finds that feelings of financial uncertainty are widespread across all generations in the workplace, with only 24 percent of millennials, 18 percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of baby boomers saying they feel “in total control” of their financial situations. Meanwhile, although 83 percent say their workplace financial benefit plans are critical to their financial security, more than half (59 percent) say they need help understanding how the financial benefits can work for them.

Americans appear to have only a vague understanding of how much they’ll need to have saved to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, despite the fact that 70 percent of respondents say they have a “pretty good idea” of what they’ll need to have saved. Forty percent say they’ll need less than $500,000, while 61 percent say they’ll need less than $1 million. For context, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a healthy couple retiring at age 65 with $1 million in accumulated savings could expect to receive $40,000 annually at a draw-down rate of 4 percent.

That same couple could expect to spend, on average, $400,000 on healthcare during the course of their retirement years, the report states. Nearly half the employees surveyed (46 percent) have started contributing, or increased their contributions to, health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts offered by their employer. Although the report finds that the percentage of employees participating in an HSA has grown by 50 percent since 2013, 53 percent of employees with an HSA view it as a “short-term vehicle” to cover near-term health expenses rather than as a long-term savings vehicle. Additionally, 55 percent usually spend their entire HSA balance within a given year.

The combination of trying to save for the future while paying for current expenses is a tough burden for most employees. “Given how many are struggling with today’s financial demands while planning for their future, employers are in a critical position to help their employees secure their financial future,” says Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Lorna Sabbia.

Is the Tide Turning on Retirement-Readiness?

There appears to be a shift away from what, heretofore, have been dismal findings on Americans’ retirement preparations. You’ve heard them. You’ve read them. And we’ve certainly written about 505511380 -- retirementthem, all the stories positing the harsh reality that many people nearing retirement in today’s workforce can’t see themselves ever affording it.

Enter a recent piece in USA Today suggesting “Americans are finally doing something right when it comes to saving for retirement.” It cites a report from Fidelity, based on a poll of 4,650 people, showing more households are on track to cover essential expenses in retirement today than in 2013.

To conduct its research, Fidelity issued each household a score based on how well they’ll be able to cover basic expenses — food, shelter, healthcare — in retirement. The number of households that scored an 81 or above, meaning they can cover at least the basics, increased to 45 percent, up from 38 percent in 2013, the last year Fidelity conducted the study.

At the same time, the number of households that need to make adjustments to retirement plans in order to have enough money saved decreased to 32 percent from 43 percent in 2013.

As John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investment strategies at Fidelity, says in the story, “[p]eople are becoming more aware of the fact that they need to take control of their own retirement, and they need to save more.”

Bert Doerhoff, CPA and founder of Jefferson City, MO-based Aura Wealth Advisors, cautions in this more recent piece about the study that we shouldn’t overlook the fact that one-third of Americans are still failing to prepare for retirement. So don’t start throwing confetti just yet.

As that piece states:

“Many factors contribute to the increased savings rates for retirement, including an improved economy and Americans becoming more aware of the importance of saving for retirement. Many investors are becoming increasingly educated about the individual nature of saving; it is up to each individual to secure their future.

“Doerhoff notes that getting started early is one of the keys of careful retirement planning: ‘Starting too late in life means you have to do most of the saving rather than letting your money have time to work for you and grow while you work.’ Doerhoff also mentions another reason why it is critical to save money early in a career: [A]n unexpected health problem could move an investor into retirement long before planned.

“Doerhoff adds that even during times of market fluctuations, [investors should be encouraged] to observe the basic tenets of successful retirement planning, such as starting early and investing for the long term. ‘A market downturn, like the one in early January 2016, can spook investors and cause them to move money that really should be left alone to recover from the volatility,’ he says.”

Making a ‘Financial’ Resolution for 2016

We’re nearing the end of the year, and you know what that means: It’s time to start thinking about making some new year’s resolutions, right?

ThinkstockPhotos-122486570It also means it’s that time of the year when Fidelity Investments’ releases the findings of its latest annual New Year Financial Resolutions Study (now in its seventh year), which surveyed 2,013 adults in the United States (79 percent of whom are employed on either a full-time or part-time basis).

Apparently, according to the Fidelity survey, the number of those who are looking to ring in the New Year by making financial resolutions is on the rise. Thirty-seven percent plan to make one, compared to 31 percent a year earlier.

More precisely, the study found that the top three financial resolution are saving more (54 percent), spending less (19 percent) and paying off debt (16 percent). It also reveals that “paying down credit card debt” is at an all-time high of 11 percent, more than double last year’s figure of 5 percent.

Of those identifying saving as a top priority, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) preferred to set aside money for long-term goals such as college, retirement and healthcare—up from 57 percent in 2014.

Fidelity points to the August market downturn as probably having a hand in the uptick in resolutions that we’re seeing this time around. (Most of those surveyed were optimistic about 2016, with nearly three-quarters—72 percent—predicting they would be better off financially next year.)

Yesterday, I spoke with John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity in Boston about the findings and what surprised him the most.

Sweeney pointed to the fact that people still are making financial resolutions. “When the market is going well … and people have jobs, they tend to fall off the resolution bandwagon a little bit,” he said. “So the fact that we see nearly three-quarters of respondents thinking they’re going to be better off and still wanting to make resolutions, that’s a really good sign. They’re understanding that the world can change—they saw that in 2008 and 2009, which isn’t so far in the rear-view mirror that they don’t remember [what happened then] and can do something positive with that knowledge, [namely] save more, reduce debt and get their houses in order.”

As to his advice for HR leaders: “The big ask we would have of HR executives would be to do as much as they can to encourage default enrollment in 401(k)s, put in auto-escalation … and [better] asset allocation … .”

Taking Sweeney’s advice to heart, I suppose you can say this is as good a time as any for employers to re-evaluate whether they are giving employees the tools they need to improve their financial well-being and taking the steps needed to ensure that they’re taking advantage of them.

As we all know, making a resolution represents a good first step, but that’s all it is: a  first step.