Research

Low Income: Why Only 12% Save to Retire

A new study estimating that just 12 percent of low-income older Americans save in a 401(k) or similar employer retirement plan also suggests that many more would save – if only they could.

The researchers – April Yanyuan Wu, Matt Rutledge, and Jacob Penglase of the Center for Retirement Research – focused on individuals between ages 50 and 58 with household incomes below three times the poverty line. That was less than $36,357 in 2010 for a one-person household, for example, and less than $46,800 for two people. The period studied spans 1992 through 2010.

Retirement saving primarily takes place in workplace plans. But to participate in a plan, workers must clear four hurdles. First, they need a job. Next, their employer must offer a retirement savings plan. If there is a plan, they must be eligible to participate. And if eligible, they must sign up and contribute.

A failure to sign up can’t be blamed for the dismal savings rate of this low-income group. Instead, the problem is that many never get the chance. …Learn More

Research

Our Blind Spots Cut Retirement Savings

Our personal biases can play havoc with how we handle our finances.

Two such biases have long been suspected as obstacles to saving for retirement. The first is a tendency to procrastinate on decisions that may benefit an individual in the long run, but also involve short-term costs, like saving for retirement – economists call this “present bias.”

The second bias is a failure to perceive the power of compounding investment returns and how this can build wealth over decades of saving.

But the impact of these biases on how much people actually save wasn’t really understood – until now.  A new study by a team of economists from Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the London School of Economics, and Claremont Graduate University finds that people who are not blinded by these two biases in particular have saved significantly more for retirement, largely because they start putting money away earlier in life.

The researchers based their findings on a big sample of nearly 2,500 people in online surveys in 2014 and 2015; the average age was about 49. To determine the consistency with which they value the present over the future, the survey asked the participants a series of questions about whether they would, for example, rather have $100 now or a larger amount on some future date – people who want their money now are a bit like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons, who became famous for wanting a hamburger now but offering to pay for it later. The survey questions about compounding revolved around estimating an account’s future value, using a variety of different interest rates and time periods. … Learn More