“After” Images

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Adams

“Replacement rates”—roughly defined as the percentage of one’s pre-retirement income available in retirement—arguably constitute a poor proxy for retirement readiness.

Embracing that calculation as a retirement readiness measure requires accepting any number of imbedded assumptions, not infrequently that individuals will spend less in retirement. While there is certainly a likelihood that less may be spent on such things as taxes, housing, and various work-related expenses (including saving for retirement), there are also the often-overlooked costs of post-retirement medical expenses and long-term care that are not part of the pre-retirement balance sheet.

That said, replacement rates are relatively easy to understand and communicate, and, as a result, they are widely used by financial planners to facilitate the retirement planning process. They are also frequently employed by policy makers as a gauge in assessing the efficacy of various components of the retirement system in terms of providing income in retirement that is, at some level, comparable to that available to individuals prior to retirement.

A recent EBRI analysis looked at a different type of measure, one focused on the years prior to the traditional retirement age of 65, specifically a post-65 to pre-65 income ratio. The analysis was intended to provide a perspective on household income five and 10 years prior to age 65 compared with that of household income five and 10 years after age 65, specifically for households that didn’t change marital status during those periods. Note that in some households at least one member continues to work after age 65 (part-time in many cases) and may not fully retire until sometime after the traditional retirement age of 65.

Based on that pre- and post-65 income comparison, the EBRI analysis finds that those in the bottom half of income distribution did not experience any drop in income after they reached 65, although the sources of income shifted, with drops in labor income offset by increases in pension/annuity income and Social Security.

That was not, however, the case for those in the top-income quartile, who experienced a drop in income as they crossed 65, with their post-65 income levels only about 60 percent of that in the pre-65 periods.

This is not to suggest that the lower-income households were “well-off” after age 65. Changes in marital status, not considered in this particular analysis, particularly in the years leading up to (and following) retirement age, can have a dramatic impact on household income.

The current analysis does, however, show that Social Security’s progressivity is serving to maintain a level of parity for lower-income households with household income levels in the decade before reaching age 65, and in some cases to improve upon that result—and it helps underline the significance of the program in providing a secure retirement income foundation.

The EBRI report, published in the September EBRI Notes, “How Does Household Income Change in the Ten Years Around Age 65?” is available online here.

Tax Incentives for Retirement Plans: Lessons from Denmark?

Notes.Jan13.FinalFlow.TxIncns.Pg1A recent study found that tax incentives for retirement savings in Denmark had virtually no impact on increasing total savings But are those findings relevant to the United States?

Maybe not, according to a new report by EBRI: The two retirement systems have some similarities but also major differences—mainly that, unlike in the United States, in Denmark the availability of employment-based, tax-deferred retirement plans is not tied to the tax-deferred status of the accounts.

At issue are so-called “tax expenditures” in the United States—preferential tax treatment for public policy goals such as retirement, health insurance, home ownership, and a variety of other issues—that currently are under heavy scrutiny in the debate over the federal debt, taxes, and spending.

The authors of the study on Danish savings behaviors offered statistical evidence that changes in tax preferences for Danish work place retirement savings plans had virtually no effect on total savings of those affected by the change. This has drawn the attention of those interested in considering a modification of the long-standing tax preferences for employment-based retirement savings plans in this country.

However, aside from the differences in incentive structures between the two countries, the EBRI report notes that study of Danish workers examined only the impact that changes in tax incentives for work place retirement plans might have on worker savings behaviors—but did not address how employers might react to changes in retirement savings tax incentives.

The EBRI report notes recent surveys have found many American private-sector plan sponsors have expressed a desire to offer no plans at all in the absence of tax incentives for workers. If this happened, low-wage workers—who are generally less prepared for retirement—would suffer on several counts, said Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and co-author of the report.

“The Danish study provided insight into the savings behavior of Danes, conditioned by the culture and influences of public policies and programs of Denmark,” Banerjee said. “But the ‘success’ of work place retirement plans in the United States depends on the behavior of two parties: workers who voluntarily elect to defer compensation, and employers that sponsor and, in many cases, contribute to them.”

“While the study of Danish savings behaviors presented the impact of tax-incentives and the ‘nudges’ of automatic mandatory savings as an ‘either/or’ solution, the optimal solution—certainly for a voluntary system such as the one currently in place in the U.S.—may well be a combination of the two,” noted Nevin Adams, co-director of the EBRI Center for Research on Retirement Income, and co-author of the report.

The full report is published in the January 2013 EBRI Notes, “Tax Preferences and Mandates: Is the Danish Savings Experience Relevant to America?” online at www.ebri.org

Annuity Choice Driven by Pension Plan Rules

EBRI_IB_01-13.No381.Pg1_Page_01Why do some retiring workers with a pension choose to take a stream of lifetime income, while others cash out their entire benefit in a lump-sum distribution?

Amidst growing concerns about workers outliving their retirement savings, this has emerged as a key issue—and it depends to a large extent on whether the individual pension plan allows or restricts lump-sum distributions (LSDs), according to new research by EBRI. A better understanding of these decisions stands to shed light not only on the outcomes for traditional pensions, but also for defined contribution plans, where LSDs are the rule rather than the exception.

EBRI’s research, the first time this level of analysis has been done on this scale, reveals that differences in defined benefit (DB) plan rules or features result in very different annuitization rates. In fact, the results show that the rate of annuitization—the rate at which workers choose to take their benefit as an annuity—varies directly with the degree to which plan rules restrict the ability to choose a partial or lump-sum distribution. In choosing an LSD, the individual takes on the investment risk and responsibility for managing the distribution, and, ultimately, arranging his or her own income flow in retirement from those funds.

Analyzing data from more than 80 different pension plans, EBRI compares the “annuitization rate” among individuals at various age, tenure, and account balances, along with the rules and distribution choices within individual pension plans. EBRI found that between 2005 and 2010, pension plans with no LSD distribution options had annuitization rates very close to 100 percent. In contrast, the annuitization rate for defined benefit and cash balance plans with no restrictions on LSDs was only 27.3 percent.

“Whether people annuitize depends to a large extent on whether or not they are allowed to choose some other option,” said Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the study. “Any study of annuitization that fails to take into account the impact of plan design on participant choice will likely lead to misinterpretations.”

The report notes that through the 1960s DB pension plans offered mainly one distribution choice: a fixed-payment annuity. That changed beginning in the 1970s, as some DB plans began to offer the option of full or partial single-sum distributions, and as “hybrid” pension plans expanded in the 1980s, so did distribution options. Today, most DB pension plans offer some type of single/lump-sum option, in addition to the traditional annuity choice.

The full report is published in the January 2013 EBRI Issue Brief no. 381, “Annuity and Lump-Sum Decisions in Defined Benefit Plans: The Role of Plan Rules,” online at www.ebri.org

Home Ownership Trends Among Older Americans

Home ownership peaks at age 65, then falls slowly until the age of 75, when the rate of home ownership declines steadily, according to a new report by EBRI.

The EBRI study finds that owning is the most common housing arrangement for older Americans: At the traditional retirement age of 65, more than 8 in 10 Americans report living in houses they own. After 65, home ownership rates fall and at the age of 90, 6 in 10 Americans report living in their own houses.

“Housing is not only an asset, it also provides housing services,” said Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the report. “That is why housing wealth does not start to decline until people reach very advanced ages.”

EBRI’s research shows that death of a spouse is the most common factor associated with a housing transition: Almost 42 percent of households that went from owning to renting experienced the death of spouses. The next-most common factor is a drop in household income: 30.5 percent of households that made such transitions also reported drops in household income. Just over 1 in 10 households that shift from owning to renting report nursing-home entry of a family member (self or spouse).

The full report, “Own to Rent Transitions and Changes in Housing Equity for Older Americans,”  is published in the July 2012 EBRI Notes, online here.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, DC, that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues. EBRI does not lobby and does not take policy positions. The work of EBRI is made possible by funding from its members and sponsors, which includes a broad range of public, private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Nursing Home Entry Rates Rise, Weigh on Wealth Levels

As more American senior citizens are entering nursing homes they face the likelihood that their household wealth will be quickly depleted, according to new research by EBRI.

The EBRI research notes that nursing home stays among older Americans have increased steadily during the past decade: Nursing home stays increased from 6 percent of those age 65 and older in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2010.

Seniors face a number of retirement planning uncertainties like longevity risk, inflation risk, and investment risk, but perhaps none as critical to their retirement security as health risk. EBRI’s research also shows dramatic differences in wealth levels between those who enter a nursing home and those who do not, based on data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

For instance, after respondents’ first entries into a nursing home, total household wealth fell steadily over a six-year period. By comparison, household wealth increased steadily over the survey periods for those who never entered a nursing home. The EBRI report notes that the average cost for a semi-private nursing home room in the United States is $207 a day (or $75,555 a year) and between 10–20 percent of those who enter a nursing home will stay there for more than five years.

“Given the potentially catastrophic expenditure shock associated with nursing home stays, it is very important to examine how those who entered nursing homes in the past or those who are still living in those facilities manage their portfolios following a nursing home entry,” said Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the report. “Almost all types of assets decline fast and steadily for those who enter nursing homes. In contrast, similarly aged people who never enter nursing homes experience a steady increase in their assets.”

The full report is published in the June 2012 EBRI Issue Brief, “Effects of Nursing Home Stays on Household Portfolios,” online here. The press release is online here.

EBRI: More Americans Entering Poverty as They Age

Between 2005–2009, the rate of poverty among American seniors rose as they aged, as did the number of new entrants into poverty, according to a new report published in the April 2012 EBRI Notes.

Poverty rates fell in the first half of the last decade for almost all age groups of older Americans (age 50 or older), though they increased since 2005 for every age group, the EBRI analysis shows.

Press release is online here. Full report is online here.

Feb-2012 EBRI Issue Brief: Expenditure Patterns of Older Americans

A detailed look confirms that older Americans (50 or above) spend less in retirement, and that home-related expenses remain the top spending category.

But health costs are the second-biggest expense for older Americans, and data show that demographic sub-groups such as singles, blacks, and high school dropouts are outspending their resources in retirement, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

“Home and home-related expenses remain the single largest spending category for older Americans, followed by health care expenses,” said Sudipto Banerjee, research associate with EBRI and author of the new report. “However, health care spending is the only component which steadily increases with age: It captures around 10 percent of the budget for those between 50–64, but increases to about 20 percent for those age 85 and over.”

The EBRI report notes that before retirement, people pay FICA (Social Security) taxes, incur work-related expenses, and set aside money for retirement. But after retirement, most people have different financial obligations, and, as a result, retirees may be able to maintain their level of preretirement well-being with very different income levels.

The full article, “Expenditure Patterns of Older Americans, 2001‒2009,” appears in the February 2012 EBRI Issue Brief, online here.  It documents the income and expenditure patterns of Americans who are retired or close to retirement, using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and its supplement Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS). Both surveys are conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The press release is online here.