April 2, 2020
1st Quarter: Our Most Popular Blogs
People born smack in the middle of the baby boom wave, including many of this blog’s readers, are now in their mid-60s and have retired – or, at least, they were planning to retire before the stock market crashed.
Some of your favorite articles in the first quarter, based on the blog’s traffic, were about the nuts-and-bolts of retirement, including one that ranked retiree living standards by state.
The 10 most popular blogs listed below ran before the coronavirus changed our lives but they may still hold kernels of wisdom that will be useful in these trying times.
For example, one article reported on the $38 million in misplaced retirement funds from prior employers. If you think you have a long-lost retirement plan, search the unclaimed property account in the state where you worked.
Or, if you’d already committed to retiring before the market drop, it’s become more important to fashion a satisfying lifestyle. One blog explores how to prepare for retirement.
Our readers’ most popular blogs in the first quarter were:
Have You Misplaced a Retirement Plan?
Can’t Afford to Retire? Not all Your Fault
Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement
Most Older Americans Age in their Homes …Learn More
January 14, 2020
Oddly, the Educated Pay Higher Fees
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
October 15, 2019
Does Increased Debt Offset 401k Savings?
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
August 20, 2019
Modifying a Retirement Plan is Tricky
Employers beware: changing your retirement plan’s design can have unfortunate, unintended consequences for your employees.
That’s what happened to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for federal workers, says a new study by a team of researchers for the NBER Retirement and Disability Research Center.
Like many private-sector savings plans, the $500 billion TSP – one of the nation’s largest retirement plans – has automatic enrollment. Federal employees can make their own decision about how much they want to save and, in a separate decision, how to invest their money. But if they don’t do anything, their employer will automatically do it for them.
In 2015, the TSP changed its automatic, or default, investment from a government securities fund to a lifecycle fund invested in a mix of stocks and bonds with the potential for higher returns than the government fund. However, the employer did not change the plan’s default savings rate for workers – 3 percent of their gross pay. (The government matches this contribution with a 3 percent contribution to employees’ accounts.)
After the TSP switched to the lifecycle fund, the new employees at one federal agency – the Office of Personnel Management – started saving less, the researchers said.
This probably occurred because, in passively accepting the TSP’s new lifecycle fund – a more appealing option than the old government securities fund – they were also passively accepting the relatively low default 3 percent contribution.
Employees seem to “make asset and contribution decisions jointly, rather than separately,” the researchers concluded. …Learn More