Get expert insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Skip to Main Content

Telling the Truth: How Financial Wellness Firms Make Money

These days, it seems everyone is taking a hard look at their money. It’s tough not to! Whether it’s employees reevaluating their personal finances or employers tightening their budgets, the pandemic put everyone on notice. And if this experience has taught employers anything, it’s that now is the time to take their employees’ financial wellness seriously. Really, it's always been a good time!

Because of the crisis, companies just like yours all over America are looking for the program that’s best for their employees. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to a financial wellness program. That’s why it’s important to really do your homework—and look at how financial wellness firms make money—because sometimes things just aren’t what they seem.

Not All Financial Wellness Programs Are Created Equal

Financial wellness programs fall into a few categories you need to know. Research these well, because not all companies have your team’s best interests in mind. How can you tell? Follow the money. You’ll quickly see their true intentions for your employees by how they make their money. Solicitations? See ya. Predatory debt products built in? Get out. Some are more obviously bad than others.  

Bank Products

What they look like: A lot of banks offer some kind of financial wellness product—whether it’s a budgeting app, a financial literacy course, or education on financial planning. And while they might provide information that helps certain individuals, they don’t do anything to really help change the financial behaviors of product users.

How they make money: Bank-offered wellness products usually come as low- or no-cost programs, which can make them tempting for companies looking to save money. The reason they charge low or no fees, though, is because they know they’ll make money from selling their products and services to your employees within the program. And that’s not a recipe for lasting financial behavior change. It’s a recipe for the bank to make money off your employees’ bad money habits.

Financial Coaching Programs

What they look like: First and foremost, there are good financial coaches out there. Let’s be clear about that. The problem with the ones that aren’t good is that they focus more on getting leads than actually helping your team. So, you need to look for ones that offer their coaching in the context of a program that your people can use anytime, anywhere. That sets them up to win with money. Good financial coaches understand that financial wellness isn’t a math issue, it’s a heart issue. Meanwhile, bad financial coaches come in and tell your people everything they’re doing wrong and don’t provide the tools, resources or encouragement to help them succeed. So, as a result, their coaching doesn’t translate to real behavior change. And it’s that change that will take your team from falling behind to winning with their money. That’s what a good financial coach understands and preaches.

How they make money: While many coaches may offer a low-cost seminar and give your team free resources, individual coaching sessions can be pricey. That’s where financial coaches make their money. However, if you can find a good financial coach that offers cost-effective coaching for your team, that’s your best-case scenario.

Pretender Wellness Programs

What they look like: These types of programs aren’t even financial wellness, though they pretend like they are. They even market themselves like it! You need to understand, though, that even if some programs look good and are free to the employer, they’re really offering financial illness—and don’t help your employees find financial wellness. As the wolves in sheep’s clothing that they are, they prey on your employees with purchase programs, emergency loans, credit cards and more debt.


Click here for free, SHRM-accredited webinar content on all things HR and business leadership.

How they make money: For programs like this, you can tell what they want to do just by looking at what they sell. If they cost your employees money, put them in debt, push credit cards on them, and leave them worse off than before, it’s pretty obvious they’re not going to help your team—plain and simple.

Earned Wage Access

What they look like: Earned wage access programs let your employees access the money they’ve worked for before their paychecks hit their accounts. They’re marketed as a “fix” for short-term cash issues, but they do nothing to fix the long-term problem that created those issues in the first place. And to make matters worse, these programs encourage your team toward the dangerous habit of taking pay early to buy stuff they don’t need, leaving them behind on their bills and living paycheck to paycheck.

How they make money: Fees. Either by charging the employer or the employee, earned wage access programs can charge fees just so employees can access their own money. Some charge a fee for each advance, some set up a loan that’s paid back on payday, and some charge fees per pay period. While offering earned wage access to your employees might seem like you’re giving them greater financial flexibility, you’re actually pushing them further into bad money habits. That’s not what you want or what they need.

Student Loan Repayment Programs

What they look like: The most important thing you should know about student loan repayment programs is that they exist because of America’s student loan crisis. After years of dangerous student loan debt marketing and false promises of loan forgiveness, 44 million people are now trapped under the weight of their school debt.1 And some of them are likely your employees. This crisis has created an opportunity for student loan repayment programs to pop up all over the place—some good, some bad. But what you need to look for is unnecessary loan refinancing—that’s the hallmark of a bad repayment program. There are even some that push debt products on people who are fighting to get out of debt. How messed up is that?

How they make money: For the student loan repayment programs that don’t make the nice list, they make their money through loan refinancing and the debt products they sell. Again, not all student loan repayment programs are bad, but you’ve got to be cautious and do your homework. Yes, recent legislation has made it easier for employers to help employees pay back their student loans—but that doesn’t mean every program out there has their best interests at heart. You can learn more in our Guide to Workplace Student Loan Programs. Get it now.

What Is True Financial Wellness? (How to Know if You’ve Found the Real Deal)

Knowing how financial wellness firms make money will do nothing for you or your employees if you don’t understand what true financial wellness is. You might find what you think is the best program for your company, just to have it do nothing for your team because it doesn’t focus on the right details. True financial wellness happens when your employees . . .

  • Have control over their day-to-day finances.
  • Have enough cushion to handle most financial emergencies.
  • Are out of debt and able to manage their expenses without using a credit card.
  • Are on track to meet retirement and savings goals.

As you weigh your options, think about the things that truly make a difference in the lives of your employees. They need financial behavior change. They need the tools and resources to make that change last. And they need a guide for the journey. With access to the right tools, resources and encouragement, they could change their family trees. Think about that for a minute! With your help, your employees could not only change their own lives, but the lives of everyone who comes after them.

You have the chance to help them find true financial wellness if you choose the best program out there.

Financial Wellness With SmartDollar

What SmartDollar looks like: SmartDollar is the only financial wellness benefit teaching commonsense principles that inspire actual behavior change using the 7 Baby Steps. With 30 years of experience helping employees get control of their money, SmartDollar helps your people get out of debt, get on a budget, and save for the future. They’ll learn from the top names in money like Dave Ramsey, Chris Hogan and Rachel Cruze. Plus, they’ll have access to all kinds of resources and tools to help them take control of their money for good. And they’ll be able to use it anytime, anywhere from their mobile device.

How SmartDollar makes money: Remember when we said you’ll know a company’s intentions with your employees by how they make their money? We wouldn’t encourage you to ask how financial wellness firms make money if you couldn’t trust us to tell you the truth about how we make money. So, here it is: SmartDollar is strictly an employer-provided financial wellness benefit. It’s totally free to the employee. You pay for it, and they’ll never pay a dime. That’s because we genuinely care about their financial futures. And we’ve built our entire brand around that fact.

We believe in honesty and trust, and these are our promises to you:

  • You never have to worry about solicitations within our product. We won’t stand for it.
  • You never have to fear the harmful marketing of debt to your employees. Debt makes us angry, and we believe no one should be a slave to it.
  • You can have confidence in us. We’re a privately owned company that’s been around for a long time, and we will never be bought out by a bank with bad intentions. We’re here to stay because we’re passionate about bringing real life-change to your employees.  

Believe us when we say we keep you and your employees’ best interests top of mind every step of the way. We sincerely believe that true financial wellness can unlock the future for both your employees and your business—but it comes down to you making the right choice.

Looking at how financial wellness firms make money is only one part of the equation. Learn more about the true definition of financial wellness next.


Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

Related Articles

link between financial wellness and mental health

Understanding the Link Between Financial Wellness and Mental Health

How your employees handle their money affects their mental health and ultimately affects the kind of employees they'll be. The sooner employees are financially well, the better their chances are for improving their mental health.

Ramsey Ramsey
Financial Education for Employees

Why You Should Be Offering Financial Education for Your Employees

Personal finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge. Employee financial education is any program or benefit that teaches employees about money management. The best solution requires more than a new budgeting app or a new book—it requires change through new behaviors and habits.

Ramsey Ramsey