Up until the Civil War, banks in the U.S. could print their own money. So long as a bank had a corresponding amount of silver or gold to back it up, the paper money that it printed to represent it could look like anything. In 1850, a Boston bank printed $5 with Santa Clause on them. Others used the faces of bank staff, family, or other characters on their currency.
And as money circulated the country by bank customers, retailers ordered catalogs to cross-check a customer’s money was actually money. For many retailers and shopkeepers, the number of designs, banks, and currencies was just too much to understand. So they refused to accept anything but what they were familiar with until paper money was formalized by Lincoln and the federal government in 1860.
Ruste Pontenberg at The HSA Authority, a part of Old National Bank, recognizes a similar situation today with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): “If you don’t understand something, you’re not going to fund it.” And therein lies the rub with HSAs—they’re as good as gold, but for many people that do not know what they are, how they are used, or how to handle them, they get spurned or forgotten.
“We have a responsibility to make sure people are making good, quality healthcare decisions for their families,” says Pontenberg. “Our biggest challenge is overcoming a severe lack of understanding about the HSA market,” he says, adding The HSA Authority is ”very good at overcoming that challenge.”
Health Savings Accounts are still relatively new in the insurance and banking industry, making them a bit mysterious to many Americans. Pontenberg has been in the banking industry since 1989 and with The HSA Authority since 2011. In that time, he has seen their popularity—and some confusion around them—continue to rise.
HSAs are commonly offered by employers who want to help employees cover the cost of deductibles in aptly named high-deductible insurance plans. “There are times when employers want to be ‘too efficient’ with their benefits,” says Pontenberg as one source of confusion. This could include an employer who does not offer training or seminars about benefits on the job, or giving only a narrow window of time for people to decide on unfamiliar options.
But as Pontenberg explains, “When employers let us offer HSA education online or in-person, confusion drops.” In those cases where employees can ask questions, compare options, and understand HSAs and how they work, they’re more likely to save money, reduce their tax burden, and take advantage of matching dollars.
Sometimes, Pontenberg says, “It’s frustrating, but the education can stop at the broker level, too, with brokers or HR saying, ‘Oh, we don’t need [training]. You may not, but those employees will.”
HSAs may have gained a lot of attention around 2005 when deductibles started increasing rapidly to keep monthly costs down for employers and employees. Around the same time, Indiana became one of the first states in the nation to experiment with using HSAs coupled with state-run Medicaid programs to great success. HSAs could be among the best-kept secret in public and private insurance programs. Despite the attention then and now, says Pontenberg, “HSAs haven’t changed much. The investment has gotten more attention, but the product hasn’t changed.”
Ponteberg and his team of seven operate out of Fort Wayne but cover a wide territory of the Midwest in person and offer accounts nationwide. Their name holds up, as The HSA Authority has become one of the most trusted HSA brands in the United States for health savings accounts.
Looking ahead, Ponteberg’s enthusiasm for the product’s well-deserved popularity shines through. “HSAs will continue to rise, and there’s a lot of talk about legislation that will only broaden their use,” he says. Some proposals have encouraged generational wealth-building and options to broaden their use to more people.
Unlike those pre-Civil War era banknotes of 1850 with confusing designs and varying denominations, Pontenberg thinks the simplicity of HSAs makes them a long-term winner. “I think The HSA Authority is in a fantastic position that meets the needs of our clients without loading it up with a bunch of fancy bells and whistles that cost a lot of money that people don’t use.”
To learn more about The HSA Authority, visit Old Nationals’ website at https://www.oldnational.com/thehsaauthority. Brokers can visit a special education page dedicated to common questions.