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When it Comes to Retirement Savings, Employers Carry a Lot of Weight

Americans have a host of excuses for not saving for retirement. Large mortgages, hefty college tuition bills, and general expense pile-ups cause a large number of workers to put off retirement savings to the point where catching up becomes close to impossible. In fact, in a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, almost half of households age 55 and over have absolutely no retirement savings to show for.

Clearly, it's critical that workers rethink their attitude about retirement savings while they still have a chance to change their ways. And in this regard, the companies that employ them may be able to help. According to a newly released Bank of America Merrill Lynch study, of workers who contribute to a retirement plan, 67% say that it was their employers who influenced them to kick-start their savings efforts.

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Not only that, but workers are looking for more support from their employers in meeting their long-term financial goals. In fact, 50% claim they'd take a more active role in managing their finances if their companies offered regularly scheduled reviews or personalized financial plans. Meanwhile, 86% of employees say they'd gladly participate in a financial education program if their employers were to provide one.

While some might argue that the above puts an undue burden on employers -- after all, it's up to us, as individuals, to save for the future -- there's no question that companies willing to increase their support stand to benefit themselves. Currently, an estimated 56% of employees are stressed out about their personal finances, and 53% are worried to the point where they claim it interferes with their on-the-job performance. If employers were to take a more active role in helping employees meet their financial goals, it seems like everyone would benefit.

What can your employer do for you?

Even if your employer doesn't provide a whole lot of financial advice or education, there may be one benefit you're currently overlooking: your 401(k). Though not all companies offer a 401(k), it's estimated that close to 60% of workers have access to a company-sponsored plan. And these folks are at a huge advantage because 401(k)s make the savings process totally seamless. Typically, all you need to do is decide how much of each paycheck you want to contribute, fill out a form, and wait for that money to automatically filter into your account. If you change your mind down the line and decide to increase or decrease your contributions, you update your form and wait a pay period or two for that adjustment to kick in. It really is that simple.

Of course, opening an IRA is hardly a taxing process. But there's something to be said about being offered a 401(k) and having a savings plan presented on a silver platter.

Not only do a large number of employers provide 401(k)s, but of those that do, an estimated 92% also offer some sort of matching incentive. Unfortunately, countless workers pass up what's essentially free money by not contributing enough of their own earnings to capitalize on those matching dollars. But if your employer offers a match equal to, say, 3% of your $60,000 salary, and you contribute enough of your own money to snag that match in full, you'll have an extra $1,800 coming your way -- no strings attached. Furthermore, if you continue snatching up that full match as your salary grows, you'll get an even larger sum of free money year after year. Talk about a win-win.

When all else fails, speak up

Sometimes, getting an employer to address your financial needs is a simple matter of speaking up. If your company doesn't currently offer some type of financial guidance, consult with your HR partner about implementing a new program. You might even try taking an informal survey of your office mates to see just how many are impacted by personal financial stress.

Finally, if your employer does offer a financial wellness program of sorts, make it your business to see what it's all about. Interestingly enough, 76% of younger workers credit their employers with influencing their savings efforts, while only 54% of baby boomers say the same. Even if you have been managing your own finances for years, it never hurts to submit to a little outside guidance, especially if it serves as the push you need to stop putting off retirement savings and start building the nest egg you'll unquestionably come to need in the future.

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