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Giving employees a hand in learning how to handle money

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

October 24, 2017


PITTSBURGH ó With one credit card paid off and two more to go, Bill Stiner was determined to stick with his plan of total debt elimination after finishing a nine-week course at his Pittsburgh church with other members of the congregation who also had declared war on their debt.

"Everybody in class paid off debt," he said, referring to the program. "But I didnít pay off all the debt. Iím still in the middle of that."

Not long after the church program ended this summer, Stiner was pleasantly surprised to find out that his employer ó Aerotech ó had decided to offer the very same course to its employees for no charge.

He was one of the first employees in his workplace to sign up.

More employers are starting to focus on the financial well-being of workers. In addition to basic employee benefits such as health care and life insurance, financial wellness programs sponsored by companies are helping more workers overcome personal financial challenges, reduce their debt and prepare for retirement.

Aerotech, a global manufacturer of motion control components and systems, is one of four companies in the Pittsburgh region that are bringing financial education into the workplace through a money management course created by Nashville, Tenn.-based talk radio host Dave Ramsey called SmartDollar.

Nationally, workplace financial education are also offered by companies such as WiseWealth based in Liberty, Mo., and FourSeasons Financial Education based in St. Louis.

Brian Hamilton, vice president of SmartDollar, said 4,000 companies currently provide his companyís program to about 2 million employees. Representatives from parent company Ramsey Solutions declined to provide information concerning how much it charges businesses for the program.

Ramsey Solutions has for 25 years been offering a debt elimination course called Financial Peace University that is taught to groups of people in churches and communities. Families pay $93 for the nine-week FPU course held at churches and community centers. The FPU course costs $129 online.

The workplace program contains the same course material, but it is designed for workers to access the program from their personal computers at home. There is no religious content in the SmartDollar version of the money management plan, unlike the church version that touches on Biblical principles.

"Financial Peace University is traditionally a gathering, or small group of 10 to 20 families sitting together and holding each other accountable, which is great, and thatís been very effective in the church and community space," Hamilton said.

That doesnít work in the corporate world, he said. "Those employees donít want to sit around with their co-workers and talk about their money problems."

Topics covered include saving, budgeting, eliminating debt, investing, planning and retiring with dignity. The online version allows users to import their bank statements, keep track of their debt paydown and pull information from investment accounts.

Employees have access to the course for one year.

For Stiner, 30, who works as a supervisor in an Aerotech warehouse, the workplace program has reinforced progress he made studying money management with groups at his church.

He rents half a duplex for $1,200 a month. He recently paid off his car ó a 2005 Toyota Prius with 260,000 miles on it. And he has made a sizable dent in the $10,000 in credit card debt he started with in 2015, paying off one of three credit cards he ran up when he lost control of his spending.

He said his five-year goals are to be married, living in a home he owns, and be free of all credit card and other consumer debt.

The budgeting work gives him a clearer picture of his finances. "Whereas before, I was sort of scared of my finances. I almost didnít want to check them because I knew that I was always paycheck to paycheck, and itís always tight."

More employers are finding that companies have a stake in the financial wellness of their employees.

Human resource departments spend valuable time dealing with garnishments from unpaid credit card bills. Employees may be distracted at work if they are getting calls during work hours from collection agencies. Financially stressed employees often produce less and call in sick more. Employees under financial stress also may start looking for a higher paying job to cover their expenses.

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Mark Botos, CEO of Aerotech, said his company offers a benefits package that includes health care, profit-sharing for all employees and most recently the free financial wellness program.

Aerotech, which has about 400 employees worldwide and 315 workers in the Pittsburgh plant, recently crossed the $100 million annual revenue threshold. The company was founded in 1970 by Botosís father. He took the helm in 2009 when his father retired.

"Iíve been here a long time," said Botos, 50. "I worked here part-time in high school in the 1980s. So, the years are starting to pile up. Iíve known a lot of these people for decades. And that matters. We are only successful because our employees help make us successful."

Heís waiting to see how the new program works and if it will help employees. But heís pleased to be giving it a try. "Itís another way of giving back and working on employee retention and trying to be concerned about their well-being."

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