If employers want to improve the poor retirement prognosis for a large chunk of American workers, there are some obvious things they could do.
That’s the big takeaway in Morningstar Inc.’s new report on employers that offer 401(k) plans to their employees but don’t do what’s required to encourage them to save enough.
During the early 2000s, automatic enrollment to increase participation in employer 401(k)s became all the rage, and the strategy has proved itself. Today, nearly 90 percent of automatically enrolled employees stay where they are put, while only about half of workers sign up to save when 401(k) enrollment is strictly voluntary.
But the auto enrollment trend has stalled, and the crazy-quilt private-sector retirement system still has a lot of holes in it. Even when companies automatically enroll their workers, the plans are often designed in ways that discourage them from saving enough, Morningstar’s David Blanchett, head of retirement research, concludes in his report.
“Too often the focus among plan sponsors is improving [401(k)] participation,” he writes. The plans themselves have left us “with low and inadequate savings rates that threaten the retirement security of many Americans.”
At least there’s something to be improved upon: many private-sector employers don’t even offer retirement plans, particularly in industries when people earn low-incomes or work for small companies.
Blanchett’s critique of plans already in place rightly leans on groundbreaking academic research a decade ago that tested 401(k) plan design to determine what drives employee participation in the plans and drives how much they’ll agree to save.
Take plans with auto-enrollment. His analysis of T. Rowe Price and Vanguard client data found that 3 percent of salary remains the most popular savings rate that employers default their workers into during automatic enrollment in the plan – but 3 percent is widely viewed as inadequate if a worker wants to have enough money to retire on.
Why so low, Blanchett asks, when people might accept more? …Learn More
The U.S. retirement system is built on people having a working knowledge of finance. Yet financial literacy among a big chunk of Americans ranges from unimpressive to abysmal.
This revelation was again confirmed in a survey that recently debuted by financial literacy guru Annamaria Lusardi, head of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. In a 2011 survey, Lusardi had found that too many Americans were unable to answer three very simple financial questions.
This new survey is more ambitious, though the results are no more promising. It asks 28 questions in eight areas: earning money, budgeting, saving, investing, borrowing, insuring, understanding risk, and information sources. In the nationally representative survey, about one in four people got no more than seven answers (25%) correct.
One telling finding is that the highest scores were for knowledge about borrowing, with nearly two out of three answering these questions correctly. I suspect this knowledge has been gained from experience – experience with high-interest credit card bills and onerous student loan payments, as well as mortgages.
In every other financial topic surveyed, about half or less answered the questions correctly. Questions about risk, which is at the heart of many financial decisions, fared worst – only 39 percent answered these correctly.
An important connection is made in the report regarding 18- to 44-year olds, who answered only 41 percent of the questions correctly (versus 55 percent for people over 45). Younger adults also answered “I do not know” most often.
When it comes to retirement, those who would gain more from financial knowledge are the least knowledgeable. Saving that starts in early adulthood can go a long way toward achieving retirement security, thanks to compound investment returns over the many years remaining prior to leaving the work force. It’s unfortunate that those who could benefit from compounding often don’t comprehend its effect. …Learn More
There’s new evidence to remind us that nothing much changes: we are still baffled by our DIY retirement system.
And no wonder!
First, saving must start at a young age, when retirement is an abstraction. Saving is further stymied by two big questions: how much to save and how to invest it? It’s also smart to anticipate how one’s compensation arc might affect Social Security – taking into account, for example, that women withdraw temporarily from the labor force to have children and that earnings can decline when workers hit their 50s. As we fly past middle age and retirement appears on the horizon, it’s a little late to figure this retirement thing out. And there’s no plan for long-term care when we’re very old.
The evidence: Start with Merrill Lynch’s new survey in which 81 percent of Americans do not know how much money they’ll need in retirement. This makes it very difficult to know how much to deduct from one’s paycheck for retirement savings. Employers, frankly, could do more to help us figure this out. (Some answers appear at the end of this blog.)
Being in the dark now about how much to save is a cousin of being afraid of running out of money later, in retirement. More than 70 percent of accountants say this fear of running out is their clients’ top concern – followed by whether they can maintain their current lifestyle and afford medical care in retirement – according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Our inclination to avoid difficult issues does not go away with age. Yes, we’ve gotten wiser, but advanced old age means death, and who wants to think about that?
The upshot: seven in 10 adults have not planned for their own long-term care needs in the future, Northwestern Mutual reports. Even among a smaller group who anticipate having to take care of an elderly parent, one in three of them “have taken no steps to plan” for their own care.
“You would think that would prompt them to action,” said Kamilah Williams-Kemp, Northwestern’s vice president of long-term care. And while the constant barrage of news and statistics is making Americans more aware of their rising longevity, Williams-Kemp said, caregivers are often more interested in talking about their emotional and physical challenges and the rewards of caregiving than about its substantial financial toll.
There is a “disconnect between general awareness and prompting people to take action,” she said.
The potential for dementia or diminished capacity late in life isn’t on our radar either, the survey of CPAs found: the vast majority of people either choose to ignore the issue, wait and react to it, or are confused.
Squared Away exists in part to educate people about retirement essentials, based on facts and high-quality research. The following blogs might help you:
Having dug ourselves out of the worst financial crisis since the Depression, the nation entered 2017 amid rising wages and record-low unemployment. Yet three out of four adults report being “financially stressed.”
And no wonder: half of the 2,000 adults in the December survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) said they are living paycheck to paycheck.
Americans’ specific financial issues are routinely documented in this blog and run the gamut from cash-flow shortages to poor retirement prospects.
The primary sources of financial stress identified in the NEFE survey were not enough savings and too much debt. This was consistent with a second finding in which respondents said that solving these issues would also provide the most “financial relief.” Here are the other findings: … Learn More
Wyoming government has brought some 535 employees of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches into its retirement savings plan since July 2015 under a new policy of automatically enrolling each new hire.
They are free to withdraw from the plan at any time, but only 15 of the 535 have done so – “and not a complaint from anybody,” said Polly Scott, who manages the savings plan and heads employee retirement education.
This technique, borrowed from behavioral economics, addresses the inertia that prevents many people from ever signing up to save in their employer’s plan. So why wait for them to join? Instead, Wyoming uses inertia to benefit state workers: when people are automatically enrolled, research shows, they tend to stay put and save.
This is one piece of a larger effort to educate government workers about what’s required to properly prepare for retirement – and nudge them to do it. The 457 retirement savings plan is crucial. Wyoming’s retired state workers receive Social Security, but the inflation adjustment in their traditional defined benefit pension has virtually been eliminated for the near future. The 457 plan “is voluntary, but it’s not optional if you want a secure retirement,” Scott said.
The heart of the state’s education efforts is a website titled “Your Whole Story” that is on point and explains in clear language likely to benefit employees. Employees are encouraged to increase how much they’re already saving, resist the temptation to withdraw their savings prematurely, and prepare themselves for a long time in retirement in an era of increasing life expectancy.
This initiative is based on a campaign sponsored by the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (NAGDA) – Scott was NAGDA’s president last year – and designed by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants. Other states use some version of “Your Whole Story,” including the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration.
One problem Wyoming is tackling is young adults who hurt their retirement prospects by withdrawing money from their 457 plans when they leave their state jobs, which “means they’re spending it,” Scott said. Another issue is that more older workers are rolling 457 savings over to private IRAs, which can have higher fees. …Learn More
When people are asked why they are stressed, money – or the lack of it – is often at the top of the list.
Ask psychologists why this is so, and many would point to a deeper explanation: our parents.
How and whether our parents talked about money, as well as the emotional tenor of these conversations – or silences – are critical to how we manage money as adults.
Sonya Britt, a certified financial planner and associate professor at Kansas State University, explained how these family dynamics play out in a research summary written for financial planners, under a contract with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Britt describes a two-way street between parent and child. Parents signal their attitudes about money, either through purposeful and explicit messages or in unconscious ways. Meanwhile, children learn the behaviors that take them into adulthood by observing what parents do. These observations can override financial knowledge in shaping behavior.
For example, college students who remember that their parents had healthy credit card practices, such as living within their means, are more successful at keeping their college debt under control. Generally, parents are advised to talk about financial matters with their children – it’s known as parental financial socialization. Avoiding such conversations has a negative effect that can “wreak havoc on children as they age.” In extreme cases, silence can lead some to hoard money as adults and others to be careless spenders.
Financial dependence in post-adolescence is an emerging issue as young adults extend the amount of time they live in their parents’ homes, often to cope with college debts and inadequate employment options. Young adults whose parents provide financial help tend to develop dependency. In contrast, the offspring of people with fewer financial resources – who can’t help their children – learn more quickly to become financially independent. … Learn More
As the U.S. Department of Labor video above makes clear, the population of Latino workers is exploding.
By 2024, nearly 33 million Latinos will be working in this country – they will have doubled their labor force share to 20 percent, from just 10 percent in 1995.
Despite their expanding presence in the labor market, Latino-Americans face significant retirement challenges.
Chief among them is that they don’t have the same access to traditional pensions and retirement savings plans that white Americans have, primarily because of where Latinos tend to work. Two out of three Latino workers – many people prefer the term Hispanic – lack a 401(k)-style plan in their jobs, the U.S. Social Security Administration and other sources report.
The National Hispanic Council on Aging recently called the older Hispanic population “the least prepared for retirement of any ethnic group.”
One reason cited is that they are more likely to work for small businesses, which often don’t set up a plan. Latinos are also disproportionately employed in low-paid cleaning, landscaping, and food services occupations, and a mere 12 percent of all low-income older individuals are saving for retirement. Median earnings for Latino-Americans, at $45,000 per year, are about one-third lower than median earnings for whites, according to the U.S. Census.
Things are rapidly changing, however: more Latino-Americans than ever are attending college and completing their degrees, which will improve financial security for this college-bound group and their families.
But while Latinos have, like past waves of immigrants, fully integrated into American society in recent decades, many have not yet integrated into the mainstream institutional structures that support retirement. Until that happens, the lack of access will create greater financial challenges for the Latino community.Learn More