It’s smart to invest retirement savings in mutual funds that charge very low fees for one simple reason: the worker keeps more of his money and hands over less to Wall Street.
But in a study of people in their 50s and 60s who have retired or otherwise left federal employment, the people with the most education and the best scores on a standardized test were more likely to make what seems to be the wrong decision. Rather than keep their retirement funds in the government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which has extremely low fees, they transferred the money to much higher-fee IRAs operated by financial companies.
The $500 billion TSP – the world’s largest defined contribution retirement plan – is inexpensive in large part because it invests only in index mutual funds, which automatically track a variety of stock and bond market indexes and avoid the need to pay money managers to pick the investments. The annual fees for TSP’s index funds – known as expense ratios – are under 0.04 percent of the investor’s assets.
But over a 10-year period, about one fourth of the former federal employees rolled over the money saved during their careers into IRAs that typically had much higher expense ratios: 0.57 percent. On top of that, IRAs often charge additional fees for investment advice, pushing the potential total annual fees to well in excess of 1.5 percent. It’s possible that investing in an IRA could generate enough returns to make the extra fees worthwhile, but research has shown this is not the norm.
What explains the rollover decision? More educated people tend to have larger retirement account balances, raising the possibility that they were either seeking out financial advice or were targeted by advisors’ sales pitches. However, even among people with similar balances, those with more education were still more likely to roll over to IRAs.
It’s possible that they “perceive that they know what they’re doing” and want to take control of their investments “even when higher fees result,” the researchers said. …Learn More
If a 60-year-old baby boomer started saving consistently at the beginning of his career back in the 1980s, he would have some $364,000 in his 401(k)s and IRAs today.
How much does he actually have? One-fourth of that, according to a new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR).
One obvious explanation for the enormous gap is that the 401(k) system was in its infancy in the 1980s, and it took time for employers to widely adopt the plans and for young adults to get into the habit of saving for retirement.
Another likely reason is the large share of workers who do not have any type of employer-sponsored retirement plan. This coverage gap, which predates the introduction of 401(k)s, persists today and leaves about half of private-sector workers without a plan at any given point in time.
And this gap isn’t just a problem for baby boomers. A majority of young workers are not saving in a retirement plan, despite their advantage of having entered the labor force after the 401(k) system was more mature. …Learn More
Workers are apparently very eager to get their hands on the money in their retirement savings plans.
The evidence is the spike in withdrawals from IRA accounts that occurs soon after people turn 59½, the age at which the IRS’ 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals vanishes and is no longer a deterrent, according to a research study.
Average annual withdrawals from IRA accounts surge by about $1,965 to $3,540 – an 80 percent increase – after people cross the age 59½ threshold, according to the study, which was conducted for NBER’s Retirement Research Center by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Early withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts – IRAs and 401(k)s – usually are not for frivolous reasons. This money tends to be tapped to ease financial hardships, such as unemployment, a disability, or a large, unexpected medical expense. But when older workers withdraw retirement funds – even for important matters – they may be chipping away at their financial security in old age. Withdrawals by high-income workers, on the other hand, will likely have little impact on their security.
The researchers analyzed taxpayer data from the IRS, which requires withdrawals to be reported at tax time. They compared withdrawals by people in the dataset for the two years before they turned 59½ with their withdrawals between 59½ and 60½.
While the penalty was in place, daily withdrawals were largely flat. But soon after people crossed the age 59½ threshold, withdrawals spiked before declining “to a new higher level than that of prior ages,” the researchers found. …Learn More
Roughly half of U.S. employers with a 401(k) plan enroll their workers automatically, deducting money from their paychecks for retirement unless they explicitly opt out of this arrangement. This strategy is widely viewed as a good way to get people to save.
But auto-enrollment might not be as effective as it seems, if individuals are compensating for a smaller paycheck by borrowing more.
A new study of civilian employees of the U.S. Army used credit and payroll data to gauge whether debt increased for employees who were automatically enrolled in the federal government’s retirement savings plan. The researchers compared changes in debt levels for people hired after the government’s 2010 adoption of auto-enrollment with hires prior to 2010.
The good news is that since the broadest debt category, which includes high-rate credit cards, did not increase, it did not offset the employees’ accumulated contributions. Their credit reports showed no increase in financial distress either, the study concluded.
However, the findings for car and home loans were ambiguous, so auto-enrollment “may raise these latter types of debt,” said the researchers, who are affiliated with NBER’s Retirement and Disability Research Center.
If workers are, in fact, borrowing more, the question, again, is whether the new debt is offsetting the additional savings under auto-enrollment. Auto and home loans – in contrast to credit cards – are used to finance an asset that has long-term value. Whether these forms of debt improve or erode net worth depends on the asset’s value and whether the value rises (say, a house in a growing city) or falls (a car after it’s driven off the lot).
The researchers did not have access to data on federal workers’ assets, which they would need to see what’s happening to their net worth. This remains an important question for future research. …Learn More
For most retirees, figuring out how much money to withdraw from savings every year is a difficult-to-impossible math problem. But the issue goes much deeper: fears about what the future might bring make this decision overwhelming.
Extreme caution is a popular solution. A 2009 study estimated that by the time middle-income retirees are in their 80s, they still had not touched about three-fourths of their savings, and 2016 research found that retirees with substantial assets are the most reluctant spenders. Vanguard recently reported that retirees with very modest savings turn around and reinvest a third of the money they’re required to withdraw under IRS rules after age 70½.
People saved all of their lives to make sure they will enjoy retirement. So why are they so reluctant to spend the money for the purpose it was intended?
A 2018 study in the Journal of Personal Finance surveyed retirees to get a sense of the psychology behind their caution.
Half of the survey respondents agreed with this statement: “The thought of my retirement portfolio balance going down over time brings me discomfort, even if the decline in value is a result of me spending money on my retirement goals.”
And the people who agreed with this statement said they feel like they are not well prepared financially to retire – and this had nothing to do with how prepared they actually are. …Learn More
Half of the workers who have an employer retirement plan haven’t saved enough to ensure they can retire comfortably.
This 17-minute video might be just the ticket for them.
Kevin Bracker, a finance professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, presents a solid retirement strategy to workers with limited resources who need to get smart about saving and investing.
While not exactly a lively speaker, Bracker explains the most important concepts clearly – why starting to save early is important, why index funds are often better than actively managed investments, the difference between Roth and traditional IRAs, etc.
Some of his figures are somewhat different than the data generated by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. But both agree on this: the retirement outlook is worrisome.
The Center estimates that the typical baby boomer household who has an employer 401(k) and is approaching retirement age has only $135,000 in its 401(k)s and IRAs combined. That translates to about $600 a month in retirement.
Future generations who follow Bracker’s basic rules should be better off when they get old. …Learn More
About a third of retired households end up relying almost exclusively on Social Security, because they didn’t save for retirement. Social Security is not likely to be enough.
To get Oregon workers better prepared, the state took the initiative in 2017 and started rolling out a program of individual IRA accounts for workers without a 401(k) on the job. The program, OregonSaves, was designed to ensure that employees, mainly at small businesses, can save and invest safely.
Employers are required to enroll all their employees and deduct 5 percent from their paychecks to send to their state-sponsored IRAs –1 million people are potentially eligible for OregonSaves. But the onus to save ultimately falls on the individual who, once enrolled, is allowed to opt out of the program.
More than 60 percent of the workers so far are sticking with the program. As of last November, about 20,000 of them had accumulated more than $10 million in their IRAs. And the vast majority also stayed with the 5 percent initial contribution, even though they could reduce the rate. This year, the early participants’ contributions will start to increase automatically by 1 percent annually.
The employees who have decided against saving cited three reasons: they can’t afford it; they prefer not to save with their current employer; or they or their spouses already have a personal IRA or a 401(k) from a previous employer. Indeed, baby boomers are the most likely to have other retirement plans, and they participate in Oregon’s auto-IRA at a lower rate than younger workers.
Despite workers’ progress, the road to retirement security will be rocky. Two-thirds of the roughly 1,800 employers that have registered for OregonSaves are still getting their systems in place and haven’t taken the next step: sending payroll deductions to the IRA accounts.
The next question for the program will be: What impact will saving in the IRA have on workers’ long-term finances? …Learn More