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5 vital insights on HSA education for Spanish-first employees

Photo of a mother and young daughter in a clinic talking with a physician.

It’s open enrollment season, which means benefits professionals like you are likely checking items off on a very long to-do list. From leading webinars explaining choices within your benefits package to cranking out emails to announce important dates, you’re busy helping your organization elect benefits for 2024.

In the middle of your activities, remember the diverse needs of your workforce. This includes meeting them where they are with enrollment materials in commonly spoken languages for easier review for themselves and family members.

Access to health benefits information in commonly spoken languages

Not everyone living in the US speaks English at home, with almost 68 million or 1 in 5 people speaking a language other than English at home in 2019. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau in 2020, the US is home to a Hispanic or Latino population of 62.1 million, and in 2019, at 62%, Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken at home.

If you’re looking for Spanish-language resources to reach more people during your open enrollment season, you’re on the right track. Keep reading to learn the importance of benefits literacy, what research uncovered about a benefits literacy and satisfaction gap with Hispanic and Latino employees, and how to bridge that gap. Plus, when you’re ready to say, “Sí, se habla español,” you’ll find links to a Spanish-first HSA guide and a recorded webinar hosted by Spanish-speaking benefits professionals at HealthEquity.

Why is benefits literacy important?

Everyone deserves to be financially secure. Attaining financial literacy and growing savings unlocks many important life milestones, like building good credit, renting or owning a home, and reaching retirement.

Employee benefits play a significant role in helping your people reach financial security. Health benefits allow employees to live full, happy lives in the present, while retirement benefits help them prepare for the future. Some benefits, like the Health Savings Account (HSA) help them do both.

That’s why it’s vital to connect employees with education and materials that speak to their concerns effectively and efficiently.

Research reveals a benefits literacy and benefits understanding gap for Hispanic and Latino employees

While many benefits leaders have made investments in employee education, there may be some populations falling behind. According to 2023 research from HealthEquity, Hispanic and Latino respondents were less likely to say they had a good understanding of their benefits than the average respondent. Just 46% of Hispanic and Latino employees said they understood their benefits very well.

This population is also less likely than the average employee to say they’re very satisfied with their benefits package—25% of Hispanic and Latino employees describe their benefits this way, compared with 43% of white employees and 37% of Black employees.

This gap is discouraging, but there are many things your organization can do to close it. Here, you’ll read about five things every benefits leader needs to know about working with Spanish-speaking and Latino employees when it comes to HSAs and other benefits education.

1. There is a major need for benefits materials in Spanish

Why do native Spanish speakers need benefits information written in their own language? Because the general employee population still finds HSAs confusing. According to a 2020 study from Bank of America, only 11% of employees surveyed were able to correctly answer four questions about basic HSA features.

Closing this education gap requires a lot of work, and Spanish-speaking employees face an added hurdle of reviewing materials not written or spoken in their native language. By producing emails, webinars, and other benefits materials in Spanish, your team can remove that hurdle and make it easier for your employees and their families to make informed decisions about their benefits options. It also demonstrates to your Spanish-speaking employees that you care about their success at your organization and in life more generally.

When creating these materials, rely on existing Spanish-speaking staff or professional translators rather than direct translation services like Google Translate. Human translators can appropriately capture nuances and explain concepts in ways tech-enabled translation cannot.

You can also find plenty of existing Spanish language benefits materials online or through your benefits administrator. For example, HealthEquity has several health benefits resources in Spanish in our Open Enrollment Toolkit, including flyers on:

2. Many Spanish-speaking employees may distrust health and financial systems

Another potential challenge benefits leaders need to navigate is distrust in health and financial systems.

There is a general lack of trust in financial institutions among some in the Hispanic and Latino community. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) reports that over 12% of Hispanic households don’t have bank accounts, and more than a quarter believe their heritage limits their ability to access capital for financial endeavors, according to McKinsey.

There are similar challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare. Overall, Hispanic Americans face several barriers and challenges when it comes to healthcare and health insurance. According to the Pew Research Center in 2022, Hispanic American adults aren’t as likely as other groups to have health insurance or to get the preventative care they need. And, they have comparatively less trust in medical personnel and the treatments offered.

These levels of distrust may impact benefits leaders’ ability to reach Hispanic and Latino employes. HSA plans, which provide enrollees with the ability to both visit medical providers and save for future medical expenses, are particularly challenging because they may tap into the lack of trust of both healthcare and finance.

Leveraging professional translators and mediators, as well as tailoring education to be mindful of these circumstances, is vital in helping your employees achieve benefits success.

In addition to your traditional benefits activities, you could consider a Spanish language presentation or webinar that solicits employee questions and addresses concerns directly. Real world examples are especially helpful in showing employees how benefits like the HSA can help them and their families.

3. HSAs and FSAs are helpful for intergenerational households

Although there may be some hurdles standing in the way of benefits success for Spanish-speaking employees, there are even more reasons to push through and attain it. Consumer-directed benefits (CDBs), like the HSA or a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), have unique features that suit the needs of many Hispanic and Latino employees.

Almost one-third (31.7%) of Hispanic or Latino households are multigenerational, according to the latest research from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. These populations are particularly well-served by the HSA.

With an HSA, employees can provide healthcare for their spouses and tax dependents—including children, grandchildren, or elderly parents. As long as they’re listed on the employee’s tax return, they can be covered through the HSA plan and HSA funds can be used to pay their qualified medical expenses.

Hispanic and Latino employees may also be interested to learn they can name a beneficiary for their HSA, providing peace of mind that the funds will continue to belong to their family if they pass away.

The dependent care FSA (DCFSA) is another benefit likely to prove valuable in multigenerational households. By signing up for a DCFSA, employees can access funds to pay the expenses of dependent care for any tax dependents. This includes vital services like daycare for children or elder care for aging parents.

Benefits leaders would do well to highlight these features when talking with Hispanic and Latino employees, as well as other employees living in multigenerational households.

4. Spanish-speaking employees need to know how HSAs work and which expenses are qualified

While HSAs have been on the market for nearly two decades, the accounts can be confusing. Whether in English or Spanish, questions like these are very common:

  • What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)? ¿Qué es una cuenta de ahorros para la salud?

  • What are the benefits of an HSA? ¿Cuáles son los beneficios de una HSA?

  • Do you have HSA benefits explained in Spanish? ¿Tiene los beneficios de la cuenta de ahorros para la salud explicados en español?

  • What are the most common eligible expenses? ¿Cuáles son los gastos subvencionables más comunes?

Reference the links to the Spanish language materials above for many of the answers to these questions. Of course, everyone learns in different ways, so some people may prefer written materials while others prefer to listen to or watch a presentation.

Here are two recent resources in Spanish:

  • A recorded Spanish language webinar, hosted by three HealthEquity native Spanish-speakers, Aproveche los beneficios de una cuenta de ahorros para la salud (HSA). In the recorded session, the presenting team talks about issues common for native Spanish speakers. How do they use their HSA for their family? How do they name a beneficiary so family members get the account later on? Plus, the presenters share examples of how they use their own HSA to benefit their family.

  • A new HSA guide in Spanish. With the same helpful information and explanations as the HSA guide in English, this HSA guide for Spanish-speakers covers basic information on how HSAs work, and more.

5. There are rules on how HSAs fund expenses outside of the US

Not limited to Spanish-speakers, a common HSA-related question deals with using the funds in a different country.

HSAs can be used while visiting other countries—but employees should be aware there are limitations on what they can purchase tax-free. They may also need to pay additional fees.

The rules around qualified medical expenses are similar outside of the US. Purchases must be used for medical (rather than general or cosmetic) care. And everything must be legally purchased and prescribed. Medications must be legal in the US as well as the country they’re bought in, plus they must be consumed in the country in which they were purchased.

Medical treatments are also covered by HSA funds, as long as they’re legal in the country in which they were purchased.

When using HSA debit cards, employees should know they may be charged a markup or conversion fee. You can find information specific to HealthEquity HSA funds here.

When your organization is presenting this information, it may be helpful to go over a few practical examples and solicit any additional questions afterward.

Powerful ways to improve HSA and benefits literacy for your Spanish-speaking workers

As a benefits professional, you make a difference in your employees’ lives every day by helping them make sense of complicated and often confusing benefit choices. Now, you’re equipped with plenty of resources to provide even more assistance to Spanish-speaking employees within your organization. Now, and all year long, let’s keep moving forward and being inclusive of cultures and languages. ¡Adelante!

HealthEquity does not provide legal, tax or financial advice.

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