Puzzle pieces: auto enrollment

401(k)s Stall, Post-Auto Enrollment

Seven years after Congress encouraged employers to automatically enroll their workers in the company 401(k), the retirement fix has run out of steam.

Corporate America rushed in to adopt the feature in their 401(k) plans after the Pension Protection Act (PPA) made auto enrollment more attractive by giving employers that used it a safe harbor from non-discrimination rules governing their benefits.

Immediately after the PPA provision became effective in December 2007, employee participation in 401(k)s increased.  But since that initial bump, it’s been virtually flat for years.

In 2008, participation increased to 73 percent of all employees in workplaces that offered 401(k)s, up from 68 percent in 2007, according to Vanguard Group Inc.’s new “America Saves 2013” report, which provides a decade of participation rates for its large data base of clients.

Fast forward to 2011: participation was 74 percent.  It has barely budged.  (Last year, participation was 68 percent, but Vanguard said past experience indicates this figure will rise to roughly the same level when all of its clients turn in their data). …Learn More

Photo of generation: Grandmother, mother, daughter

Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children

The financial media (including this blog) inundate baby boomers with articles cajoling, coddling, and counseling them about their every retirement concern.

But members of the Me Generation might want to focus on their children: retirement is likely to be an even greater financial challenge for Generation X, now in their 30s and 40s.

Economists at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, recently produced this striking prediction: three out of five Americans in their 30s and well over half of those in their 40s are at risk of experiencing a decline in their standard of living after they retire.

This compares with 44 percent of baby boomers.

The reasons for Generation X’s poorer prospects are due to long-term trends like the rise of 401(k)s and less generous Social Security benefits for future generations. …Learn More

Student Loans = No House, No New Car

Here’s what Will Flannigan, 26, would rather do with the $401.58 he pays on his student loans every month.

• Save.
• Buy a house: the mortgage payment on a house he looked at was the same as his rent, but renovating or fixing anything would be unaffordable.
• Replace his 2006 Ford Focus – it’s red but he calls it a “lemon.”
• Buy new clothes – thrift shops are standard.
• Eat dinner out at someplace other than a fast food restaurant.

Flannigan is getting married in August – to a woman who pays about $250 per month for her college loans.

Three out of four people now paying off student debt – whether graduates or their parents – are just like Flannigan: they’re delaying important life goals in order to make their payments, according to a new survey by Harris Interactive sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). About 40 percent also said they have delayed saving for retirement or buying a car, to name just two deferred goals.

This survey, which was random and based on telephone interviews, illustrates the reason behind the growing concern among financial advisers, 20- and 30-somethings, and their parents that paying for a college education has become a burden with financial implications for years, even decades.

“It’s indentured servitude – that’s what it is,” said Flannigan, a Kent State graduate (2010), whose loan payments equal one-quarter of his salary as the online editor of Farm and Dairy, in Salem, Ohio, near Youngstown. Payoff horizon for his $62,000 loans: more than 25 years, according to his loan documents, he said….Learn More

Piecing together Social Security

Getting What You Need for Retirement

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

Rolling Stones, 1969.

There is nothing better that most people can do to get what they’ll need in retirement than delaying when they start collecting Social Security.

The recent PBS documentary, “The Retirement Gamble,” sounded the alarm for many viewers who may be ill-prepared for the financial challenge of a long life – and not much retirement savings in the bank.

To address this growing issue, financial advisers often emphasize retirement-survival strategies to their baby boomer clients. These strategies revolve around the complexities of figuring out how much to save, how to invest, or the best way to spend one’s 401(k) assets post-retirement.

But the real problem facing most Americans is that they have meager balances in their 401(k)s – or none at all.

Putting off when one claims Social Security “is the best deal in town,” concluded an analysis by Steven Sass, program director at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. …Learn More

Lab worker

How Good Is Your 401(k)?

When Sanofi froze its defined benefit pension plan last year, the top brass wanted to make sure its 401(k) was seen as a worthy replacement by the company’s 24,000 U.S. employees and retirees.

Sanofi has succeeded, judging by Plan Sponsor magazine’s designation of the U.S. division of the French pharmaceutical giant as 2013 “Plan Sponsor of the Year.”

In corporate America, 401(k) plans are now the norm: in 2012, only 11 of Fortune magazine’s 100 largest companies still offered a traditional defined benefit pension, according to the consulting firm Towers Watson. But Sanofi U.S. had strong motivation for designing a 401(k) that is generous compared with typical 401(k)s.

The company has “highly technical, highly specialized, highly skilled [employees] that we have to recruit for and retain,” said Richard Johnson, senior director of benefits. “We wanted to ensure our employees had adequate retirement income.”

Squared Away recently interviewed Sanofi executives about their plan’s details, shown below, which readers can compare with 401(k) plans in their own workplaces. We hope you’ll post a comment on Facebook and let us know how, or whether, yours stacks up.

Here how Sanofi compares with other 401(k)s:

Learn More

Translating Savings to Retirement Income

Determining how much money one will need in retirement is a mathematically and psychologically daunting task for many Americans. But new research has landed on a deceptively simple strategy for prodding workers to save.

Employees in an experiment at the University of Minnesota saved more for retirement after researchers provided them with a personalized chart with information similar to that shown below. Each employee’s chart translated a $100, $200, or $500 contribution, made every other week, into the amount of income each of these contributions would generate annually once they retired. If they saved more, they could see that it translated to more retirement income.

“We think people may have a hard time making that translation from an accumulation of wealth to an income flow,” said researcher Colleen Flaherty Manchester. “They’re used to the flow because that’s what they get every month or week in their paycheck.”

The income projections, she said, are “completing the circle for them to make it clear.” …Learn More

Photo of us army

Financial Boot Camp Helps Army Enlisted

A U.S. Army requirement that newly enlisted men and women complete an ambitious personal finance course is having some impressive results.

At a time when financial education is increasingly being criticized as an ineffective way to raise Americans’ low saving rate, an 8-hour course held on 13 Army bases is significantly boosting how much military personnel are saving for their retirement – among both big and small savers. They also trimmed their debts.

The strong results, described in a new study by William Skimmyhorn, an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, are also sending a ripple through the financial literacy community.

“The reason this study is so interesting is because it’s so unusual,” said Harvard University’s Brigitte Madrian, co-director of the household finance working group for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “There aren’t a lot of other scientific studies one can point to” that show empirically that financial education can improve an individual’s well-being, she said. …Learn More

...10...1617181920...