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Meeting Nurses’ Financial Wellness and Retirement Savings Needs

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Nurses have several positive retirement savings behaviors, but many have concerns about their overall financial wellness, an analysis of 320,000 out of the 1.5 million nurses on Fidelity’s 403(b) recordkeeping platform found.

Nine out of 10 nurses are participating in their workplace savings plan, which Fidelity notes is well above the overall average for the health care sector. Nurses contribute an average of 8.6% to their 403(b) plans, and 40% have signed up to have their retirement contributions automatically increased each year. Nearly one-third of nurses are saving the recommended 15% for retirement.

However, the analysis also found 61% of nurses are overwhelmed by their lack of emergency savings and 46% are worried about their debt.

“We’ve known that money has been a leading stressor for all Americans, but nurses have been really stretched over the past 18 months in particular,” says Debra Frey, head of analytics, marketing and business strategy, tax-exempt market, at Fidelity Investments in Boston. “So, when we asked and found an elevated level of stress, we were not surprised.”

Nurses don’t work traditional hours, so it’s important for employers to make resources available to meet them where they are, Frey notes. “As we see more employers leaning into financial wellness programs, we suggest they should be integrated into the overall benefits program. Nurses might have needs related to benefits, but also related to their overall financial wellness,” she says.

Frey points out that the survey found student loan debt is a major challenge for nurses. “Employers should help them get a sense of their debt and provide ways to think differently about repaying,” she says. “There are resources out there to help with student loan debt and even with tuition in the first place.

“Nurses don’t think about retirement in a vacuum, but in terms of their broader financial life,” she adds. According to Frey, nurses think about how they can put emergency savings aside so they don’t have to access retirement plan accounts. Retirement plan sponsors have ways to help build emergency savings using plan design and educational content, and they can use outside resources that make help easily accessible, she says. “Sponsors need to look at what kind of virtual education they are making available live or on demand and what forums they provide where employees can ask questions to get guidance for financial decisions,” Frey adds.

Frey notes that Fidelity has seen many employers working with employee resource groups (ERGs)—associations for women, Black workers or caregivers, for example—so employees can come together to share issues or concerns.

“We do education sessions about understanding budgets, getting control of day-to-day finances and getting control of debt,” Frey says. “When employees can do this, they can focus on long-term savings.”

In a research report Voya Financial published about the health care market last year, the company said any good financial wellness program should help employees understand what is required to reach their financial goals, adding that it’s important to establish a cadence of communication with employees using a variety of delivery mechanisms. Voya said programs should include in-person and over-the-phone advice, on-demand and live video, on-site group meetings, one-on-one counseling, and online education and tools. More than half (53%) of health care organizations that participated in the Voya study said their current plan provider could do more to help with employees with their overall financial wellness.

Brodie Wood, national practice leader, health care, Voya Financial, tells PLANSPONSOR, “We’ve had a lot of success with Voya Learn, online, on-demand education that identifies key topics of financial wellness that matter. We also do a campaign for Nurses Week in the spring to roll out financial wellness and retirement topics that matter to them.”

Keeping Nurses on Track With Retirement Savings

While the Fidelity analysis found good retirement savings behavior overall among nurses, it revealed that 5.3% made a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act withdrawal from their 403(b) plans, and the median withdrawal amount for nurses was three times higher than amount for health care workers overall. In addition, the analysis found 8% of nurses decreased the contribution rate to their workplace savings plan.

Wood notes that there is a lot of turnover among nurses in today’s job market, so they might struggle to keep track of retirement savings or get back on track if there has been a break in savings. Scenarios show what a break in savings, as well as taking distributions and loans, can do to a participant’s retirement account balance.

The key for those who accessed retirement funds to meet financial needs is how to get them back on track, Frey says. “They had a need at that time and likely nowhere else to go.” She suggests plan sponsors encourage them to get back to the savings methods they might have had before. Automatic deferral increase programs can help, she adds.

Another way to help nurses and other employees get back on track is to show them the power of small amounts of savings. Fidelity has a Power of Small Amounts tool, and an analysis it did in 2014 showed how a 1% increase in an employee’s savings rate affects retirement income.

“Employees do look to employers for help; they’re a trusted resource,” Frey notes. “Our goal in working with clients is to integrate financial wellness and retirement benefit resources—providing options that complement both. In addition, plan sponsors should make resources available over a number of different channels because of nurses’ unique work environment.”