Feb 25, 2021Four ways to spend your stimulus check
Four ways to spend your stimulus check
Thu, 02/25/2021 - 15:05
Put the money where it can do the most good
Whether you are in financial straits or not, your next COVID-19 relief check can improve your financial situation. The trick is deciding how to spend your stimulus money. Consider using the following list of priorities to guide your decision-making.
1. Pay any past-due bills
If you’re behind on any major bills — utilities, rent or mortgage payments — you probably want to start there. Because past-due bills can incur late fees and even restrict access to your home and/or necessary utilities, they should typically be paid first.
If you have more than one overdue account, you will likely need to do some research to decide which bill is the priority. Here are some factors to consider:
You may qualify for state-administered housing and/or utility assistance. To learn more, visit your state government’s website.
If the property you live in is financed by the government, you may have additional options — even if you’re not the homeowner. Learn more at fhfa.gov.
Federally backed student loans offer generous protections for borrowers. Contact your loan servicer to see whether you qualify for reduced or deferred payments.
Once you’ve determined what assistance you’re eligible for, you can use your stimulus check to pay the highest-priority bills.
2. Pay down high-interest debt
The next major category that deserves attention is your high-interest debt, such as a personal loan or a credit card. These debts can cancel out your efforts to save, because the interest you owe on them will accrue faster than the interest you earn from your savings. Any extra money you pay toward your high-interest debts helps you take control of your finances and boosts your ability to save.
3. Build your emergency fund
An emergency fund is essential to financial stability. Having cash set aside to cover unforeseen expenses can help you keep from taking on new debt when the roof leaks or your car breaks down. If you don’t have an emergency fund, consider using your stimulus check to start one — setting even a few hundred dollars aside is a great way to start building up a cushion. If you already have some emergency savings, keep adding to that account until you have enough to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses.
4. Save for retirement
If your basic finances are sound, one of the best things you can do with your stimulus check — or any windfall — is to put it in your retirement savings. Contributing to your retirement savings now gives your money potential to grow until you need to withdraw it in retirement: Any investment returns you earn can go on to produce returns of their own over time. And if your employer matches your contributions, that can give your savings another boost.
Gain control of your financial future with an Empower Investment Account.
Feb 17, 2021The Pandemic Inspires a Focus on Saving
The Pandemic Inspires a Focus on Saving
Wed, 02/17/2021 - 10:44
How a Houston entrepreneur rebooted her financial plan due to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has set many Americans on a course they never expected, whether that involves working from home while trying to help kids with virtual classes, coping with job loss or caring for a loved one who is ill. At the same time, the events of 2020 have compelled many to take a close look at their finances and reconsider their plans. In fact, spending less and saving more are Americans’ top financial New Year’s resolutions according to a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of Empower Retirement and Personal Capital.
Take Steffa Mantilla for example: Before the virus broke out in the U.S. and changed daily life for millions of Americans, Mantilla ran two businesses from her Houston, Texas, home while caring for her toddler. One was a financial advice website, where she shared resources and advice on budgeting and paying down debt. For the other, she put her experience as a zookeeper to use and offered animal training as well as pet-sitting and dog-walking services.
Mantilla and her husband have tackled some major financial goals over the years, such as paying off significant consumer debt. In early 2020, they were working on another ambitious plan: paying off their mortgage. She was making extra payments to help them reach that goal faster. But in March, the pandemic put a swift end to her pet-sitting side hustle. “Everyone was at home, so they didn’t need a mid-day dog walker, and no one was going on vacation,” she says.
At the same time, her husband’s income dipped. While he continued to earn a base salary, he lost the commission-based earnings he counted on from making in-person sales calls. Fortunately, even with the financial hit, the couple had enough income to cover their needs. But they decided to rein in their spending and put their extra mortgage payments on hold.
“I’m a planner,” Mantilla says. “I definitely like looking ahead and preparing.” But amid a pandemic, doing so became more difficult. The best course of action, she decided, was to work on beefing up their savings, “because I honestly don’t know what the future holds.”
The couple wasn’t starting from scratch — they already had an emergency fund that would cover about four months of expenses. But the sudden drop in their income plus the overall economic uncertainty highlighted the importance of keeping extra savings on hand.
For now, Mantilla plans to keep padding their emergency fund until it can cover at least six months’ worth of expenses. And she’s working on replacing some of her lost income by offering new products, such as pet-training guides.
One day, when the family’s income stabilizes, Mantilla says she’ll get back to paying ahead on their mortgage. But in the meantime, increasing their cash buffer feels like the right move. Now, she’s no longer stressing about potential scenarios that could strain their finances. “Building up our savings helps a ton with mental well-being,” she says. “It has been a huge sense of relief.”
Read more about how Americans are planning to move financially forward in 2021
Feb 16, 2021Empower Retirement earns 89 “Best in Class” awards from customers
Empower Retirement earns 89 “Best in Class” awards from customers
Tue, 02/16/2021 - 08:49
Empower’s top satisfaction ratings doubled in four years, a 2020 PlanSponsor Magazine survey says
GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo., Feb. 16, 2020 — Empower Retirement earned the highest number of “Best in Class” ratings from its customers in an annual survey from PLANSPONSOR Magazine that gauges employers’ satisfaction with their retirement plan providers.
"Best in Class” is given for the highest level of customer satisfaction. Among the 10 largest retirement plan providers in the survey, Empower received the most “Best in Class” awards and earned high ratings in key areas including plan management, cybersecurity policies and retirement planning tools.
The 2020 PLANSPONSOR Defined Contribution Survey aims to offer insights into the relationships between plan sponsors and their recordkeeper, according the PLANSPONSOR website. The survey asks plan sponsors to rate their retirement plan providers in 23 areas across six categories — participant services; sponsor services; service teams and support; plan administration; and investments and fees.
“It’s a great compliment for us to hear from clients that we are providing them with the best customer service and experience across the board,” said Edmund F. Murphy III, Empower Retirement President and CEO. “Every Empower associate is focused on our clients’ needs and designing plans that offer the best solutions for employees.”
Empower supplies retirement plans and services to more than 12 million1 working Americans in all plan sizes. In the PLANSPONSOR survey, Empower received awards in all plan sizes.
Customers gave Empower high marks in areas such as plan and industry knowledge, responsiveness and consistency, keeping clients informed on regulatory updates and custom investment options.
“We are dedicated to giving all of our clients the best customer service and the best customer experience no matter what the plan size,” Murphy said. “With leading edge technology, we can build custom plans and give employees the personalized attention they desire that meets their needs and gets them to their savings goals.”
About Empower Retirement
Headquartered in metro Denver, Empower Retirement administers approximately $884 billion in assetsfor more than 12 million1 retirement plan participants as of December 31, 2020. It is the nation’s second-largest retirement plan recordkeeper by total participants.2 Empower serves all segments of the employer-sponsored retirement plan market: government 457 plans; small, midsize and large corporate 401(k) clients; non-profit 403 (b) entities; private-label recordkeeping clients; and IRA customers. Personal Capital, a subsidiary of Empower Retirement, is an industry-leading hybrid wealth manager. For more information please visit empower-retirement.com and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Stephen Gawlik, Stephen.Gawlik@empower-retirement.com, 617-417-4408
Monica Mendoza, Monica.Mendoza@empower-retirement.com, 719-373-2460
To learn more about how we’re empowering plan sponsors and their participants to be more engaged in their retirement plans than ever before, call us at 800-719-9914.
1 Estimated participants and total assets under administration (AUA) of Empower Retirement and MassMutual as of December 31, 2020. Information refers to the business of Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company and its subsidiaries, including Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company of New York. As of September 30, 2020, GWLA’s consolidated total AUA were $709.9B. AUA is a non-GAAP measure and does not reflect the financial stability or strength of a company. GWLA’s statutory assets total $54.8B and liabilities total $51.8B. GWLANY statutory assets total $1.69B and liabilities total $1.57B.
2 Pensions & Investments 2020 Defined Contribution Survey Ranking as of April 2020.
Securities offered and/or distributed by GWFS Equities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. GWFS is an affiliate of Empower Retirement, LLC; Great-West Funds, Inc.; and registered investment advisers, Advised Assets Group, LLC and Personal Capital. This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide investment, legal or tax recommendations or advice.
FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS DISCLAIMER
Certain statements in this press release constitute forward-looking statements representing management’s current view of future events based on reasonable assumptions. These statements are not guarantees of future performance as actual results may differ depending on the development and completion of this business combination. Consider these and other factors, uncertainties and potential events carefully and do not place undue reliance on forward-looking information. Other than as specifically required by applicable law, forward-looking information as a result of new information, future events or otherwise will not be updated.
Feb 16, 2021Retirement Plans in a Post-COVID World
Retirement Plans in a Post-COVID World
Tue, 02/16/2021 - 08:42
Organizations have an opportunity to help their employees meet shifting goals during this period of financial uncertainty
American workers are vowing to take control of their financial futures by more carefully managing their retirement savings according to a survey of financial security conducted in late 2020 by the Harris Poll on behalf of Empower Retirement and Personal Capital. The survey also reveals the drastically different levels of optimism about the economy between men and women as well as a heightened desire for more personalized financial advice.
As a result, employers who offer retirement savings plans have an opportunity to help their workers navigate this new era of financial uncertainty. Indeed, employees tell us they’re searching for more personalized and targeted advice as they adjust financial plans and expectations. Read the full report here.
Taking control during times of financial uncertainty
Our survey of financial security polled workers who remained employed during the pandemic (as well as retirees), but even these fortunate Americans were stung by the level of financial uncertainty around them. In December 2020, just 52% said they’re confident in the 2021 economy versus 69% in April. Although they anticipate improvements in the second half of the year, they’re especially concerned about the economic effects of more lockdowns.
Yet, importantly, they view the pandemic as a wake-up call to take control of their financial futures. They’re saving more (70% of respondents) and spending less on non-essentials. And 65% of respondents say they’re confident in their ability to achieve their savings goals. That said, employees don’t expect massive annual gains — slow and steady is the new normal.
Financial uncertainty is more prevalent among women than men
Our survey reflects a trend that has been widely reported: The pandemic has had a greater impact on women’s careers and income than it has on men’s. Fewer women feel optimistic or in control of their finances — 33% versus 44% of men. More women report they “barely have their head above water” — 31% as opposed to just 19% of men.
Not surprisingly, the survey of financial security also found a wide confidence gap. For example, women are less confident in their ability to build emergency savings — 55% compared to 69% of men. And just 62% of working women are confident in their job security compared to 72% of men. Only 54% of women are confident they can retire when they want compared to 67% of men.
There was no “run on the bank”
Data from our own platform reveals that the CARES Act did not lead to a panic surge in early withdrawals during this period of financial uncertainty. Only 4.4% of eligible participants from plans using the Empower platform made CARES Act withdrawals through December. The average disbursement was $16,000. Participants who took out cash withdrew, on average, 43% of their balance — and a third of withdrawals were for the total amount. Only 17% of participants taking CARES Act withdrawals had been terminated.
Workers are turning off autopilot and taking control of their financial futures
If the pandemic reminded employees that the larger economy is uncertain, it also energized them to take control of their financial futures by turning their attention to personal retirement plans, with a specific commitment to saving more as a cushion against the unknown. Twenty-five percent of respondents in our survey of financial security said saving for retirement is their top financial goal in 2021, and 38% plan to save more from their paycheck. (That number jumps to 47% of parents.)
And while workers respond favorably to online advice and digital tools such as the Personal Capital investment management app, they also want personal, human advice. Indeed, 48% of respondents to the July 2020 survey said they would only trust a human advisor when planning for retirement. Not surprisingly, Empower participant behavior in response to the pandemic shows a 109% increase in appointments for one-on-one advice.
These findings suggest employees will be receptive to retirement managed accounts — employer-sponsored retirement plans overseen by registered investment advisers. These plans combine robust technology platforms and online user experiences with human assistance from call centers staffed by trained registered investment adviser representatives.
Keep it simple, make it personal
Workers lacking confidence in the economy are taking control of their financial futures. And employers have an opportunity to support them in this process by offering more targeted advice to help them navigate this time of financial uncertainty.
Employees want more specific and targeted advice from employers and financial advisors.
There’s a big opportunity for employers to offer targeted expert advice to female workers.
Even if the CARES Act provisions are renewed by the new Congress and the Biden administration, we don’t expect a “run” on retirement savings given Americans’ renewed focus on financial stability and understanding of the value of long-term retirement planning.
Only 11% of respondents said they had recently sought financial advice from employers, suggesting there is room for employers to play a greater role.
Download research paper
Feb 11, 2021How is an HSA different from an FSA?
How is an HSA different from an FSA?
Thu, 02/11/2021 - 10:34
Understanding two popular ways to get a tax break on medical expenses
At first glance, health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) seem quite similar. They both offer ways to pay for a portion of your — or your family’s — medical expenses with pretax dollars. And in both cases, you make tax-deductible contributions to an account and then draw from it to pay for certain eligible medical expenses.
But the two accounts have many differences worth paying attention to. Here’s what you need to know.
Anyone enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health plan (HDHP) who has no other coverage
Anyone with health insurance through an employer
Who owns the account
You, your spouse, dependents and children under 27
You, your spouse, dependents and children under 27
What you can use it for
Current healthcare expenses
Healthcare expenses in retirement
Current healthcare expenses
Qualified health expenses as defined by the IRS
Prescription drugs and prescribed OTC drugs
Premiums for long-term care insurance and COBRA coverage
Qualified health expenses as defined by the IRS
Prescription drugs and prescribed OTC drugs
Withdrawals for non-medical expenses
If you’re under age 65, you pay income taxes and a 20% penalty on the withdrawal
If you’re age 65 or over, you pay income taxes on the withdrawal
How to use it
Pay for the expense with your HSA debit card
Pay out of pocket and reimburse yourself later
Make a claim through your employer for reimbursement; you’ll need proof of both the expense and the fact that your insurance didn’t cover it
None; your HSA assets roll over from year to year
In general, you lose any unspent funds at the end of the year
Some FSAs let you roll over $500 into the next year
Others give you 2½ months into the next year to spend your balance1
Ability to invest
Yes; many HSA providers allow consumers to invest in mutual funds
Ability to save for healthcare costs in retirement
Yes; HSA savers can hold their investments indefinitely
2021 contribution limits
$3,600 for individuals in an HDHP
$7,200 for a family HDHP
Enrollees who are age 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000
Read about the impact HSAs can have on retirement savings
1 Healthcare.gov, https://www.healthcare.gov/have-job-based-coverage/flexible-spending-accounts/
Feb 09, 2021A winning ‘pair’: Stephanie Schierloh honors mom with special cleats
A winning ‘pair’: Stephanie Schierloh honors mom with special cleats
Tue, 02/09/2021 - 07:56
Think about how often you suddenly draw a blank as you’re getting ready to sign in to one of your online accounts.
You know the feeling.
Eventually, to gain access to your personal information, maybe you call for assistance, reset your PIN or answer an identification question. Or, perhaps you refresh your memory and remember your login credentials. From there, you likely go on about your day without giving the episode any further thought.
“It happens to everyone, right?” said Stephanie Schierloh, who is a security relationship manager for Empower.
“It never seems like a big deal.”
But for Schierloh’s mom, who passed away last July from a malignant brain tumor, it turned out to be a very big deal.
As part of the company’s internal “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, Schierloh nominated the MD Anderson Moon Shots Program to honor her mom and raise awareness for glioblastoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer for which there is no cure. During the final phase of the contest, which included more than 1,000 votes from associates, Schierloh earned the most tallies and won a customized pair of colorful football cleats that feature her mom’s full name and promote the nonprofit entity.
With input and insight from Schierloh, the cleats were designed by a local Denver artist who also partners with many players on the Denver Broncos during the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” event each season.
“I want to do anything I can to help fight all the terrible things that can completely destroy people’s lives,” said Schierloh, who started at Empower in 2005. “For me, this is a pretty awesome way to bring more attention to such an awful condition. It’s gut-wrenching to experience and leads to so much pain.”
For Schierloh, her world changed on Memorial Day in 2020 when a routine task ended up being far from routine for her mom.
Schierloh’s mom, who was age 70 and “totally happy and healthy” at the time, was having issues logging on to her work computer from home. She texted Schierloh stating that, for some weird reason, she couldn’t remember her password. Her mom was scared. She was confused. She was worried. After all, her mom’s cousin died of a stroke earlier in 2020, so there was the fear that she could suffer one, too.
“I thought she was just paranoid,” Schierloh said. “I figured it was nothing. I even told her, ‘I’m sure it’s fine.’” Her mom, also wasn’t showing any other serious symptoms like trouble talking, walking or seeing.
Still, as a precaution, Schierloh took her mom to the hospital where tests ultimately revealed a giant mass on the right side of her mom’s brain. “It was out of control,” Schierloh said. So out of control that, following medical evaluation, her mom was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma tumor that was expanding in size.
Worst of all, it was termed inoperable.
“There was nothing the doctors could do to treat it,” Schierloh said. “It was growing at an extremely rapid pace. My mom went from being a normal person to being gone in seven weeks. Her mental decline was horrible.”
Despite the heartache, Schierloh is committed to paying tribute to her mom’s life and cherishing the special bond they built as a family. That means holding on to all the fond memories that define Schierloh, her sister and her mom, like the road trips to North Dakota, the skiing in Colorado and the snorkeling in Mexico. Don’t forget cheering for the Broncos in the fall or cooking a homemade meal in the kitchen.
In fact, Schierloh, her sister and her mom were so close that they were often referred to as “The Three Amigos” by their friends and peers. “We did everything together,” Schierloh said. “We always had a blast. Now we’re missing one of the amigos — which is really hard on us. But we won’t ever stop celebrating her.”
Schierloh’s new cleats will help them fulfill that promise, too.
“They’re going to help my mom’s spirit live on,” said Schierloh, adding that she intends on saving the unique shoes for her 3-year-old son and his future sports career. “They mean a lot to me and my family.
“We’ll hang on to them forever.”
Empower’s version of “My Cause My Cleats,” which was inspired by the NFL’s annual celebration,
kicked off with employees highlighting their favorite organizations and promoting their powerful purposes. From a long list of submissions, four charities were randomly chosen to each receive a financial donation from Empower. Associates then elected Schierloh and the Moon Shots Program as the overall champion.
Last year, Empower won Denver Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell’s patriotic cleats that benefitted the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We really wanted to engage with our employees virtually and connect back to social impact,” said Angie Ruddell, engagement and corporate social responsibility manager. “It was great to have so many people share the causes they’re passionate about and tell their stories. Our associates are dedicated to taking action.”