Planning for the future Featured

5:45am EDT July 28, 2003
I recently met with the regional vice president of a financial services firm who bemoaned the fact that most middle-class households (two adults and up to two children, with a combined annual income under $100,000) carry a high revolving debt load and don't understand the fundamentals of building wealth.

According to federal statistics, U.S. consumers have racked up $1.7 trillion in debt. Of that, more than $718 billion is revolving debt, typically credit cards and lines of credit. The personal credit card debt carried by the average American is approximately $8,500. For an average family, it is nearly $20,000.

The vice president mentioned what she saw as one reason the problem hasn't improved -- most employers don't do much for their employees beyond offering 401(k) plans and bringing in, a couple times a year, the financial adviser who manages the plan.

That struck a chord.

While it's certainly not the responsibility of employers to educate their employees about how to build wealth, in these difficult financial times, when many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, it should be.

Most executives take the same approach to building wealth -- hire a financial planner or money manager to handle your funds and let them do the heavy lifting for a fee. But for your employees, many of whom can't afford to do that, the task is much more daunting and confusing, creating a cycle that widens the gap between upper- and middle-class America.

Take a cue from employers that are developing programs to offer their employees opportunities to learn about wealth-building. Some hold mandatory quarterly meetings with the 401(k) plan manager. Others bring in financial planners each month to discuss market trends and diversified portfolios.

One local CEO not only hosts monthly financial planning meetings but also brings in other specialists, such as someone in life insurance, to provide employees with a broader understanding of how to build a solid financial pyramid.

Whatever method you prefer, if you care about your employees' long-term well-being, consider their financial future along with your own. They'll appreciate that they receive more than just a regular paycheck, and you'll build loyalty and respect among your staff.