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Six-Figure Financial Woes — Even High Earners Have Money Problems

Six-Figure Financial Woes — Even High Earners Have Money Problems
Posted on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 by Sherri Bockhorst

Earlier this year, statistics from the Federal Reserve highlighted the financial challenges many Americans face.


We learned that a significant number live paycheck to paycheck and would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense.  

In hindsight, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as such a revelation. The average American working full-time earns $47,060 a year, although that can vary significantly based on age, gender, race, education and location, among other factors. More than three-quarters of Americans are carrying debt, and that debt averages over $5,000.

Add to this the often crushing financial impact of student loans, an issue that affects employees in all generations, and this crisis has been brewing for some time.

Regardless, the proverbial cat is finally out of the bag, and the conversation around employee financial well-being has intensified and expanded. This is a positive development, as employers are more aware of and interested in benefits that help employees with both near- and long-term financial needs.

But, it’s a mistake to assume only low or medium earners need help. While women, younger workers and those earning less do face the most challenge, employees earning $100,000 or more are also struggling to make ends meet, and they aren’t always able to save.

Almost a half-million employees provided information about their financial situation when using our MyChoiceSM Recommendation Engine during 2019 Annual Enrollment. By aggregating this data, we gained some insights about just who is feeling the pinch.

  1. The more people earn, the more likely they are to save—but there’s no guarantee. When it comes to saving, 17% of employees are never able to put anything away. This includes almost a quarter of employees earning $30,000 or less. However, 5 out of 10 people earning $100,000 or more also aren’t saving.

    For the group earning around the national average of $47,060, 19% can always save something, another 19% never save, and 62% are sometimes able to put something away.

  2. Men are in a better position to save. Given wage inequality in the US, it’s not surprising that men are 7% more able to save consistently than women (30% compared to 23%). At the opposite end of the spectrum, more women than men never save (19% versus 13%).
  3. For many employees, going into debt is Plan A for an unexpected expense. Twenty-one percent of employees indicated that they would cover a large expense by borrowing. This is true for employees earning $30,000 or less up to $100,000. Once employees earn more than $100,000, only 12% would rely on debt.

    However, these highest earners were most likely to have a plan. Only 2% said they didn’t know what they would do if hit with a large expense. The same wasn’t true for those earning $30,000 or less. Of this group, 35% had no plan at all.

As employers consider what types of financial benefits to provide, it’s important to understand who might need help. Financial insecurity impacts people all along the earning spectrum, although it is certainly most pronounced among employees who earn less.

However, if you are an employer with highly compensated employees, you should still be considering their financial situation plus benefits and programs that help people meet their near-term and unexpected expenses. Even people earning that proverbial “six-figure” salary aren’t immune from financial issues. If you want to provide meaningful support and ensure all employees aren’t spending their time at work worrying about money, don’t assume your high earners don’t need help.

Want more insights from our MyChoiceSM Recommendation Engine Benefits Insights Report about the differences and similarities among employee groups when it comes to their financial situation, emotional state and knowledge about benefits?