Jania Stout’s team won one of the most prestigious awards in the industry: the 401(k) Advisor Leadership Award sponsored by National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA). Jania is also a past winner of the National Financial Educator Award. She’s been featured in the Washington Post, 401(k) Wire and 401(k) Advisor Magazine…and now on the podcast! Listen as she talks about why pairing an HSA with a 401(k) is the best savings vehicle, what people are surprised about when it comes to benefits, and what the CARES act has changed and will impact in the future.
Carla: Hello, my name is Carla Wardin, and I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Explanation of Benefits." Today, I'm speaking with Jania Stout, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Fiduciary Plan Advisors at Hightower. Hello, how are you doing?
Jania: I'm doing great on this rainy day, but actually, it's a fabulous day. So, thanks for having me.
Carla: Thank you for working from home so that we can make this happen easily. Tell me about your position.
Jania: Sure. I'm the co-founder of Fiduciary Plan Advisors, and we're a team of 13 individuals, and we work with mid- to large-sized companies, helping them with their fiduciary duty as it pertains to their 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and interesting, over the last, you know, I'd say three to five years, really getting more and more into the whole retirement benefits, which, as you may know, includes health savings accounts because they are savings accounts, not spending accounts.
Carla: That is an important distinction, right there. So, in getting into the retirement benefits, what have you found that people need?
Jania: As far as retirement benefits, you know, I think what's most important for working America right now is just understanding how much they should be saving. You know, what should they be thinking about today to get them in the best position so that when they do go to retire, they have enough money to live off of? And I would say there's a huge gap in knowledge, on people just not understanding, you know, what that dollar amount is that they need to be putting away every pay period.
Carla: Yes, that's something that a recent survey by NAPA found, (and I know you're really involved in NAPA), that people want more education about that. Is that specifically about HSAs that people are looking for information about, or is that 401(k)s, or savings all together?
Jania: Oh, I mean, I think it's everything. Honestly, I will tell you, on the health savings account, we do a lot of participant interaction. So, just for example, in the last 90 days, we've done 1,000 one-on-one meetings. So, and nowadays, we're doing them virtual, which has actually worked out really well. I think people are actually more inclined to sign up for one-on-one financial consultation that's virtual, and maybe that's because it's a little easier for them to carve it out in their day versus having to go somewhere physically.
But, you know, one thing that we talk about when we have these interactions and really speak to what NAPA reported on, where people don't even understand health savings accounts. And they might vaguely understand it, but they don't understand that this actually could be a pocket of money or a bucket of money that you put away, and you save it, and you can even invest it. I mean, as you all know... I know I've seen ConnectYourCare report numbers on what percentage of people are actually investing their money. It's a small percentage. But, you know, I think we're getting there. So, as far as what NAPA, we definitely are seeing the workforce saying, "We need more education and to better understand not just our 401(k) savings, but health savings accounts as well."
Carla: What do you tell people in your one-on-one meetings? What do you tell them about a 401(k) pairing with an HSA? How does that all go in your conversations?
Jania: Well, I can't tell you how many times I've told somebody that they need to maximize the 401(k) match or the 403(b) match, and then stick everything they can in that health savings account. And I always joke and I say, "I know I'm not the, you know, '401(k) lady,' but I'm telling you, the health savings account is the best savings vehicle you have." Other than the fact that, in a 401(k) or a 403(b), you have company matching, other than that, health savings accounts are by far the better tax play because you never pay taxes on it if you're, you know, if you use it for health spending when you go to retire.
And usually, Carla, what we tell people, when we're having this conversation... You know, they might say, "Okay, I get it. I never have to pay taxes, you know, as long as I take it out and use it for a health care expense." But some of them might be like, "Well, but how much is my health care expense really going to be?" And then we, you know, we kind of drop the bomb on them and let them know, nicely, but their health care expense is going to be their largest expense in retirement.
So many people think Medicare is going to cover all their expenses. And I used my parents as my own study, my personal study group. My dad tracks his spending on an annual basis, and my parents have great benefits, health benefits. And they retired, but they're still spending, you know, more than $10,000, $20,000 a year on out-of-pocket expenses, and my dad wasn't fortunate enough to have a health savings account back when he was working things.
So, anyway, we're huge fans of health savings accounts and really trying to get the workforce to understand that they need to use it as, you know, as a priority for saving for retirement.
Carla: That's also really convenient that your parents volunteered, I'm guessing, to be your personal study group. That's really nice that you have somebody who's as into recordkeeping as you are on that.
Jania: Well, they don't know how often I talk about them in presentations. My dad would probably cringe if he knew I was talking about his and my mom's dental work every year.
Carla: Very important aspect of that. Let's not overlook that. You have worked with ConnectYourCare in the past. How has the relationship worked between the companies?
Jania: Well, for one, we have clients, our own clients, that hire us to work with them on their 401(k), and then, more and more over the last, gosh, again, three to five years, we've had... We bring up to our clients, you know, "Who are you using for health savings account administration? Do you know what investment options you have?" And I can tell you, most of the committees... So, we meet with them at a committee level, which generally is, you know, the Head of Benefits, Head of HR, the CFO, etc., and many times, they don't...they never really thought about their health savings account, as far as like, "Oh, I don't know what our investment options are," or, you know, "I didn't know that there was a big difference between providers."
So, we've been involved with... You know, of course, I'm a big fan of ConnectYourCare. I think you guys have great tools that help to that point. Like, people need education on how to use these health savings accounts. So, that's one reason why I've loved ConnectYourCare. And when you ask, "How do we work together?", I mean, some of that is just me bringing ConnectYourCare to our clients, saying, "Hey, can you talk to them about ways that you can help my client with their health savings account administration?"
So, we've worked that way, but I also have done other types of, you know, communication, working together, thought leadership on, how do we bridge this gap between health and wealth? Because, you know, it really is connected. So, I think that I've had an ongoing conversation with folks at ConnectYourCare in really saying, "How can we combine, deliver the right messaging to the workforce, to working America on bridging that gap between health and wealth?"
Carla: You mentioned the thought leadership, and obviously, you are also a thought leader in this industry. So, what challenges do you see coming up? Obviously, we have the challenges that have happened with COVID, but what do you see as a problem that we can fix in our industry?
Jania: I think a problem we could fix is really helping working America figure out how to spend their next best dollar, right. So, as employers and benefit professionals, you know, that are selecting and building out the benefit program for their organization, you know, I feel like we're adding more and more benefits. You know, it's not just 401(k) and health savings accounts. You've got pet insurance. You've got, you know, an emergency fund. You've got, you know, all these things, and so you hire a new employee and they are handed over their benefits brochure or go online to see all their different benefits, and people are starting to become overwhelmed. Especially the younger generation, they don't know. They don't even know what a 401(k) is, let alone an HSA, right?
Jania: And they don't know what a high-deductible plan is or, you know, a PPO. Like, they don't know any of this stuff. And so, I think the problem that we've got to solve is, how do we help our employees, across the country, better decision-make around which benefits is the best for them. And I would say it starts with helping people understand, what are their goals and how do you prioritize those goals. I think that's the mousetrap we need to build. I think there are ways to help with that. But, Carla, when you ask, you know, "What is the problem we've got to solve?", I think we've got to help people understand their benefits and how to align their benefits with what their main priorities and goals are.
Carla: Yes, the identification of goals in that part is so important. I'm sure that's covered in your one-on-one part, because you don't know what you need until you know what you want, and I think pet insurance really plays into that, like you said, just one more aspect of things you need to take care of in your life, right?
Jania: That's right. That's right.
Carla: I ask everyone on the podcast this, and I'm particularly interested in your answer. What do you see as upcoming trends? What is the new thing? What is evolving? What is changing in our industry?
Jania: Oh, I would say, for sure, student loans is a huge topic. And we actually had a team call this morning, and I was telling our team, "I look at student loans, you know, this whole discussion around, as an employer benefit, should we offer some kind of program to help our employees with their student loan debt?" And this started to be a discussion in our client meetings a couple years ago, and it's one of those things that, like, you talk about it and people go, "Yeah, that sounds really interesting." And then, it gets tabled, right?
Jania: And then, six months later, you talk about it again because you read an article, or you went to a conference, or you listened to a podcast, and you said, "Hey, they were talking about this really cool benefit." So, I think that, you know, it just takes time for these topics, like student loan programs, and it takes time to get the providers out there to get them to figure out how to make it easy for employers to offer it.
What's interesting is, the CARES Act that was passed this year actually has a pretty impactful provision that allows an employer to fund a student loan payment for the employee and it not be taxable. And I feel like, you know, we were all so busy in the beginning of this pandemic that when the CARES Act passed, we were focused on so many other components of it, and now that, I think, we've figured out, you know, the CARES Act, the big pieces of it, now I've got clients today, like every week now, is saying, "Wait a minute. What about this CARES Act student loan provision?" Well, for right now, it's due to be expired on 12/31.
But, as you mentioned before, Carla, I'm the immediate past president of NAPA, which is National Association of Plan Advisors, and we do a lot of, you know, outreach to Congress, and I've been able to actually even testify in front of Congress on pension reform. But there are a lot of people that think that this is going to eventually get extended. So, if they extend this tax-free contribution, I think we're going to see more and more employers looking more seriously. Basically, what I'm saying is, there's even a bigger incentive to have an employer offer a student loan program. So, for example, where we're starting to think about doing some web-based education on that topic because we're seeing so many clients wanting more information around it.
Carla: Yes, and like you mentioned, the web-based education, all of the virtual meetings, things like that, doing this podcast, it makes it so easy to connect with people, just through our computers.
Jania: That's right.
Carla: I appreciate that. I appreciate you being on here. I hope that your parents enjoy listening to this and they can hear more about their good decisions. And thanks so much for talking with me.
Jania: Oh, you're welcome, and please don't send the link to my dad. He would have a... He would not be happy. So, it was my pleasure. Have a wonderful day, Carla.
Carla: Once again, my name is Carla Wardin, I'm the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, "Explanation of Benefits," and today, I was speaking with Jania Stout.
Carla Wardin is the host of the ConnectYourCare podcast, Exclamation of Benefits. Carla brings her broadcasting and technology experience to talk to experts about the latest innovations in the benefits industry. Carla is an author, speaker, and marketing communicator from Michigan, where she and her husband are raising three boys on a dairy farm.