BIZ PFP-EMPLYERPROGRAMS PG

Bill Stiner, an employee at Pittsburgh-based Areotech, browses through a website provided by his company to help employees get out of debt and build wealth.

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

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 didn’t pay off all the debt. I’m 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 — Aerotech — had decided to offer the very same course to its employees for no charge.

He was one of the first employees 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 in Pittsburgh, is bringing financial education into the workplace through a money management course created by talk radio host Dave Ramsey called SmartDollar.

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

An audience of 2 million

Brian Hamilton, vice president of SmartDollar, said 4,000 companies provide his company’s 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 that’s been very effective in the church and community space,” Hamilton said.

That doesn’t work in the corporate world, he said. “Those employees don’t want to sit around with their co-workers and talk about their money problems.”

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.

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 — 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.

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