Tim Robberts—Getty Images
By Dan Kadlec
April 13, 2016

American workers are feeling more stressed about their finances, in large measure due to the increasing out-of-pocket cost of healthcare, new research shows. They are looking to employers for guidance—and to do something about it.

Six in 10 workers experience stress managing their finances, up from five in 10 workers two years ago, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report. The bank polls workers with 401(k) plans at companies of all sizes every other year. In the new poll, two-thirds said they are thinking more about retirement issues than in the past; more than half said they need help getting it right.

Much of their angst flows from health care planning. Seven in 10 workers report their medical costs have gone up the past two years, and the vast majority says the additional expenses are significant enough to force them to save less for retirement. Driving costs up are things like higher deductibles and co-pays, which have risen as employers and insurers, as well as the government, seek to have more individuals covered and paying part of the costs.

This trend will only worsen the looming retirement crisis. Even now, nearly half of boomers report having zero retirement savings. And a rising percentage say that Social Security will be a major source of retirement income.

So it’s no surprise that higher health care costs are stirring dissatisfaction among workers with their mix of benefits and wages. Between 2012 and 2015, workers reporting that they are satisfied with their health benefits fell to 66% from 74%, according a March report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The share of workers saying they would trade fewer health benefits for higher wages doubled.

Still, many companies are responding with financial wellness programs that explain how to get the most from a benefits package and help employees with such things as tracking spending and building an emergency fund. Two-thirds of large employers either have, or plan to have, such a program, Bank of America found. Companies are also initiating Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts. Workers participating in an HSA are up 50%, according to the report.

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Yet more than half of those in an HSA use the account for short-term medical expenses—not for their designed purpose of socking away money for big expenses later on, according to the report. A healthy 65-year-old couple can expect to spend $400,000 on health care in their remaining years, HealthView Services found. An HSA with built up savings over many years would help a great deal. But with financial stress on the rise in the here and now, such long-term issues may be difficult for most workers to contemplate.

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