Needs “Assessment”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

My eating habits have always tended toward what my mother politely calls “finicky.” Oh, she tried repeatedly over the years to broaden my horizons but without much success. My wife has similarly tried to expand and improve my dietary choices over the years, but even with the admonition of needing to set a good example for my kids, (my) old habits die hard. In exasperation, she’ll frequently say, “Have you ever even tried _____?”

One of the more surprising findings from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey was that fewer than half of respondents indicate they (or their spouse) have EVER tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved so that they can live comfortably in retirement.

What’s even more surprising, of course, is that that percentage has held fairly consistent for the past decade, “peaking” at 53 percent in 2000, before slipping to 38 percent in 2002.[1] It’s recovered since, of course, but still—in this day and age, with so many free and easy-to-access tools available, despite the pressures of daily life and finances, it’s hard to imagine that so many have still not even bothered to make a single attempt to do so.

As you might expect, some are more likely to do a retirement savings needs calculation than others. Married workers are more likely to have done so than singles, and the likelihood of doing the calculation increases with household income, education, and financial assets. Moreover, workers reporting that they, or their spouse, have an IRA, defined contribution, or defined benefit retirement plan are more than twice as likely as those who do not have these to have done a calculation (56 percent vs. 25 percent).

There do appear to be benefits—both emotional and tangible—to doing a retirement needs calculation. Consistent with prior RCS findings, despite having set higher savings goals,[2] workers who have done a retirement savings needs calculation are more likely to feel very confident about affording a comfortable retirement (25 percent vs. 13 percent who have not done a calculation in this year’s survey). In fact, a previous EBRI analysis found that those using an online calculator appeared to set more adequate savings targets, as measured by the probability of not running short of money in retirement.[3]

So, why haven’t more done a retirement needs calculation? Perhaps they’re nervous about the time and energy it might take to do one; maybe they’re worried they don’t know enough to do the calculation; it might even be, particularly if they’ve made no preparations for retirement, that they are afraid to find out the answer.

Whatever their rationale, a great place to start figuring out what they -or you- will need is the BallparkE$timate,® available online at www.choosetosave.org[4]

It’ll be good for you—will likely improve your retirement prospects—and you might even enjoy it.

 

More information from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey, the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation, is available in the March 2014 EBRI Issue Brief, “The 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey: Confidence Rebounds—for Those With Retirement Plans,” online here.

Notes

[1] Even among those who have made an attempt, the methods of calculation reported have been quite “varied”—according to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey, workers often guess at how much they will need to accumulate (45 percent), rather than doing a systematic retirement needs calculation. Eighteen percent each indicated they did their own estimate or asked a financial advisor, while 8 percenteach used an online calculator or read or heard how much was needed.

[2] Workers who have done a retirement savings needs calculation tend to report higher savings goals than workers who have not done the calculation. In this year’s RCS, 29 percent of workers who have done a calculation, compared with 15 percent of those who have not, estimate they need to accumulate at least $1 million for retirement. At the other extreme, 17 percent of those who have done a calculation, compared with 37 percent who have not, think they need to save less than $250,000 for retirement.

[3] See “A Little Help: The Impact of On-line Calculators and Financial Advisors on Setting Adequate Retirement-Savings Targets: Evidence from the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey,” online here.

[4] Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find a variety of free resources at www.choosetosave.org, courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). Choose to Save® is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF) and one of its programs, ASEC. The website and materials development have been underwritten through generous grants and additional support from EBRI Members and ASEC Partner institutions.

“Expected” Values

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

Over the past several years, a growing amount of attention has been focused on the decumulations of defined contribution plan balances in retirement. Much of that focus has, of course, been driven by concerns that those individuals won’t have enough resources accumulated to fund those retirements. More recently, there has been a sense that one way to help provide a different perspective on these retirement savings would be to provide participants with an estimate of what their current or projected savings would produce in terms of a retirement income stream.

In May 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) focusing on lifetime income illustrations. Under that proposal, a participant’s pension benefit statement (including his or her 401(k) statement) would show his or her current account balance and an estimated lifetime income stream of payments based on that balance.

As noted in a recent EBRI Notes article[i], there appears to be little empirical evidence on the likely impact of such a lifetime income illustration on defined contribution participant behavior. In an attempt to provide some additional evidence with respect to potential defined contribution participant reaction to lifetime income illustrations similar to those proposed by EBSA, EBRI included a series of questions in the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey that would provide monthly income illustrations similar in many respects to those provided by the EBSA’s online Lifetime Income Calculator.

Of course, any such projection is necessarily required to make a number of critical assumptions—including future contribution activity, future rates of return, future asset allocation, and future annuity purchase prices. Moreover, the estimates we provided were different in several aspects, notably:

  • Rather than using normal retirement age for the calculation, we asked their expected retirement age.
  • Since the age of the spouse was not known for married respondents, only the single life annuity income illustration was used.
  • Given that the information was being provided to the respondent during a phone interview, only the projected monthly income (based on the projected account balance given the respondents’ reporting of their current balances) was provided.

What we found was that fewer than 1 in 10 (8 percent) of the defined contribution participants said the monthly amount was much less than expected, though another 1 in 5 (19 percent) said it was somewhat less than expected[ii].

However, more than half (58 percent) thought that the illustrated monthly income was in line with their expectations.

Considering those results, it is perhaps not surprising that the vast majority (81 percent) of the respondents indicated that they would continue to contribute what they do now after hearing the projected monthly income amount, while 17 percent replied that hearing this information would lead them to increase the amount they are contributing. Similarly, the vast majority (89 percent) did not believe this information would impact their expected retirement age.

They may not have been much surprised by the results, but the vast majority of respondents said the retirement income projection was useful; more than 1 in 3 (36 percent) respondents thought that it was very useful to hear an estimate of the monthly retirement income they might expect from their plan, and another 49 percent thought it was somewhat useful. Moreover, the utility of the projection appeared to transcend the results; 90 percent of those whose illustrated values were lower than expected found the estimates somewhat or very useful, and nearly as many (86 percent) of those whose values were equal to what they expected also found the estimates somewhat or very useful. Even among those who felt the values were higher than expected, 79 percent found the estimates somewhat or very useful.

I’ve heard from several in the industry since the results were released who were surprised – that the survey respondents weren’t surprised. It is, of course, possible (as the article explains) that these respondents’ current participation in employment-based plans has already provided them the education and information necessary for an appreciation both of the projected total and the monthly income estimate, and thus a greater alignment of those projections with their expectations. It could also be that, having given some thought to the subject of savings and retirement over the course of the interview, they had more realistic expectations.

Of course, whether those expectations about living on those amounts in retirement will turn out to be realistic remains to be seen.

  • Notes

[i] The EBRI March 2014 Notes article, “How Would Defined Contribution Participants React to Lifetime Income Illustrations? Evidence from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey,” is available online here.

[ii] There were some interesting differences by income level; combining the “much less” and “somewhat less” categories, we found that 42 percent of those in the lowest quartile for illustrated monthly income indicated that the value was less than expected, versus only 9 percent of the highest quartile.

 

Security “Blanket”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

“How do they expect to retire on THAT?”

In the several days since the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey(1)  hit the streets, I think I’ve heard that question more than any other. “That” in this case is the widely cited finding of the survey that 36% of respondents have less than $1,000 (aside from home equity and defined benefit plan) saved – and that’s up from 20 percent in that category in 2009 and 28 percent a year ago(2).

So, how does that group expect to retire?

We can’t know for certain, but there are several things that might offer a better understanding. First, many of those probably AREN’T expecting to retire on that, at least not any time soon; many are young (about half of the 25-34 age group are in this savings range).

Second, they may not be “expecting” to retire; about 16 percent of those with less than $15,000 set aside say they’ll “never” retire, compared with 7 percent of total respondents).

Most of the individuals in this group are, as you might expect, lower-income.  More than 60 percent reported household income of $25,000/year or less.  Little wonder that saving for retirement might be taking a back seat to other matters.

Even if they are expecting to retire some day, they may have concerns about that reality. This group of low/non-savers, for the very most part, had NO retirement account – 80 percent of the 36 percent were in that category. Respondents with no retirement account not only tended to have much lower confidence levels, they were also more likely to think they needed to be saving 50 percent of their current paycheck to achieve a financially comfortable retirement – a perception that might be a reality for this group, based on their reported savings.

Finally, while the trend line for this particular group isn’t encouraging, it’s worth noting that Social Security was cited as a major source of income for nearly two-thirds of the current retiree respondents to the 2014 RCS (as it has been over the history of the RCS), even though current workers tended to have lower expectations for the primacy of Social Security benefits in their retirement income stream. One need only look to the replacement rates that Social Security is projected to provide to appreciate the significance of that program as a retirement income source for many, particularly low- and middle-income workers(3). In fact, a recent EBRI analysis of data from the HRS indicates that Social Security provides more than half the total household income for more than half those ages 65-74, as it does for roughly two-thirds of the households over that age (4).

Indeed, one might well wonder how people expect to live on savings of less than $1,000 in retirement. However, the data suggest that many – already are.

Notes:

(1) The 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey is available here.

(2) The RCS is, of course, a snapshot at a point in time. It’s important to keep in mind that the savings reported are not necessarily what those respondents will have a year from now, or certainly a decade hence. It’s also important that projections about future retirement security consider not just where things stand at a static point in time, but, as EBRI’s Retirement Savings Projection Model (RSPM) does, the impact of future events and changes in behavior.  More information on the RSPM is online here

(3) See “Annual Scheduled Benefit Amounts for Retired Workers With Various Pre-Retirement Earnings Patterns Based on Intermediate Assumptions, Calendar Years 1940-2090.”

(4) See “Income Composition, Income Trends, and Income Shortfalls of Older Households” online here.

”Background” Check

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

We’ve never invested in a vacation home, but for a number of years now, my family has made relatively regular trips to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And while we’ve visited many places over the years, Gettysburg remains special, both because there are places that we know, and have visited many times, and because there are (still) things to discover. Over time we’ve also shared that experience with friends and members of our extended family, and their participation adds an additional, fresh perspective, even to sites we have visited many times before.

On March 18, EBRI and Greenwald & Associates will release the results of the 24th annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS). With a perspective longer than many retirements, it’s likely to garner a lot of attention, as well it should. The focus tends to be on retirement confidence (or the lack thereof), specifically at the extremes—those “very” and “not at all” confident in their prospects for a financially comfortable retirement.

Attention will also likely be given to what can be done to improve the levels of confidence. Previous iterations point to some consistent factors: having more retirement savings is perhaps the most obvious connection to retirement confidence, as is participation in a workplace retirement savings plan (which, as you might expect, is linked to having more retirement savings). The RCS has also found that something as fundamental as having taken the time to do a calculation of retirement needs has a positive effect on confidence, even though those who had done such an assessment tend to set higher savings goals.

For this year’s RCS, as we do every year, we make it a point to ask a battery of consistent questions, to develop trend lines that allow us to see how attitudes change over time, throughout a wide variety of market and regulatory cycles, not to mention the advent of transformative technologies such as the Internet. Of course, we also include certain topical questions to get a current sense of worker—and retiree—responses to things such as prospective tax law changes, plan design features like automatic enrollment and contribution acceleration, and the use of various technologies in retirement planning. We’ve asked not only how much they have saved, but how much they think they should have saved, and—more recently—how much they think they should be saving now to provide that financially secure retirement.

Perhaps most importantly, we pose those questions to both current workers and current retirees, so as to gain a unique and informative perspective on the realities of retirement from those already living it, alongside the expectations of those for whom retirement remains a future event.

There’s a particular spot on the Gettysburg battlefield where we always try to take a family picture—the background doesn’t change, but it’s interesting to watch how much we’ve changed over the years.

Similarly, the RCS provides an invaluable and consistent background—along with a fresh and interesting perspective of today’s environment, as well as insights on future trends—that can help us all better prepare for a more financially secure retirement.

Note: The results of the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) will be available at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, March 18, at www.ebri.org.  Information and findings from prior surveys are available at www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs.

Pet “Smart?”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

I’ve had both cats and dogs in my family over the years, and while each of our individual pets has had a unique personality, there are some attributes that seem to apply to each species, regardless of the individual animal. One of the most obvious is their approach to food.  For example, you can leave your cat alone in an apartment for a weekend with a supply of food and water sufficient to last for a few days, and odds are when you return home, there will still be some left.  But leave your dog alone in the same apartment with the same additional allotment of food and water, chances are it won’t last 30 minutes.  And in those circumstances, if you have both a cat and a dog in that apartment, odds are the latter will eat the former’s food as well.

Animal psychologists have a variety of explanations for why dogs and cats approach food the way they do, generally citing either a confidence of its future availability, or a concern that if it’s not consumed now, it will disappear.

Experts have long been worried about how quickly individuals would spend through their savings in retirement, whether those rates of spending would too rapidly deplete savings, and if those rates would be sufficient to sustain a reasonable post-retirement lifestyle.

A recent analysis[i] of activity within the EBRI IRA database[ii] found that just over 16 percent of traditional and Roth IRA accounts had a withdrawal in 2011, including 20.5 percent of traditional accounts.  The report notes that this percentage was largely driven by activity among traditional IRAs owned by individuals ages 70½ or older where the individuals were required by law to make withdrawals from their tax qualified accounts or pay significant tax penalties.

Significantly, for those at the RMD age, the withdrawal rates at the median appeared close to the amount required by law to be withdrawn, though some were significantly more. And while the highest 25 percent did appear to be taking out amounts in excess of those required by law, the report notes that some of these accounts could be the focus of the owners’ withdrawals instead of other accounts owned by them.

A separate EBRI analysis[iii] of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS) found that at age 61, only 22.2 percent of households with an individual retirement account (IRA) said that they took a withdrawal from that account, but that the pace slowly increased to 40.5 percent by age 69 before jumping to 77 percent at age 71.  That EBRI analysis also found that the percentage of households with an IRA making a withdrawal from that account not only increased with age, but also spiked around ages 70 and 71, a trend that, the report explains, appears to be a direct result of the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules in the Internal Revenue Code.

IRAs are, of course, a vital component of U.S. retirement savings, holding more than 25 percent of all retirement assets in the nation, according a recent EBRI report. A substantial and growing portion of these IRA assets originated in other employment-based tax-qualified retirement plans, such as defined benefit (pension) and 401(k) plans.

While the median withdrawal rates evident in the proprietary EBRI IRA database suggest that many individuals are highly likely to maintain the IRA as a source of income throughout retirement, further study is needed to see if these rates hold up over time as their owners age further into retirement, and to evaluate whether those rates, in conjunction with other resources, are adequate to provide a reasonable, if not comfortable, post-retirement lifestyle.  In the months ahead, we’ll not only be looking at this withdrawal behavior over time, but, as part of EBRI’s Center for Research on Retirement Income (CRI), we’ll be examining how IRA owners with a 401(k) plan draw down those assets across accounts, leveraging the unique ability of EBRI’s databases to link individuals’ IRAs and 401(k) accounts.

After all, it’s not just pets that consume more wisely when they have confidence in the future of that next meal.

Notes


[i] See “IRA Withdrawals, 2011” online here.

[ii] The EBRI IRA Database, an ongoing project that collects data from IRA plan administrators, contains information for2011 on 20.5 million accounts with total assets of $1.456 trillion.  In this particular analysis, only withdrawals from the accounts identified as traditional or Roth IRAs in the database are examined, a total of 15.3 million accounts with $1.11 trillion in assets.  More information on the database, and EBRI’s research centers is online here.

[iii] See “IRA Withdrawals: How Much, When, and Other Saving Behavior” online here.

Silver Linings

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

We all know people who manage to find the bright side of things, no matter how dire the situation—the folks who can spot a silver lining in every cloud. Then, of course, there are those who have an uncanny ability of discerning the cloud in every silver lining. In my experience, those in the former category know, and acknowledge, their inclination to accentuate the positive.

However, I’ve generally found that those in the latter category don’t view themselves as negative or pessimistic. Rather, they are inclined to see their perspective on the world as “realistic.”

A recent EBRI analysis[1] found that current levels of Social Security benefits, coupled with at least 30 years of 401(k) savings eligibility, could provide most workers—between 83 and 86 percent of them, in fact—with an annual income of at least 60 percent of their preretirement pay on an inflation-adjusted basis. Even at an 80 percent replacement rate, 67 percent of the lowest-income quartile would still meet that threshold. Those projections improve even more when you assume automatic enrollment and an annual contribution acceleration of 1 percent in 401(k) plans.

A more recent analysis[2] using EBRI’s Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM) found that, due to the increase in financial market and housing values during 2013, the probability that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers would NOT run short of money in retirement improved—slightly (between 0.5 and 1.6 percentage points, based on the EBRI Retirement Readiness Ratings (RRRs). For early Boomers (those on the brink of retirement), the analysis found that more than half (56.7 percent) were projected not to run short of the funds they need to cover projected retirement expenses. On the other hand, nearly half are projected to run short (though not “out” of money, since Social Security benefits would continue to be paid).

In 2012, EBRI estimated that the national aggregate retirement income deficit number, taking into account current Social Security retirement benefits and the assumption that net housing equity is utilized “as needed,” was $4.3 trillion for all Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.[3]

Now, certainly compared with some of the figures[4] one hears bandied about these days, those might be considered relatively encouraging numbers. Some might even consider them optimistic, a “silver lining” in a looming retirement “crisis”5 cloud.

What the EBRI data show is that, based on current trends and savings patterns, many individuals will fare better financially in retirement than the headlines suggest—and a large number will not. Despite the clarion calls for action, and some shifts in the underlying dynamics, this is not a new issue for America. If a crisis looms, it is surely one of the most widely anticipated, long-standing, and debated issues of the past half-century.

EBRI data and modeling have previously quantified the kinds of plan design and policy changes that can help—and hinder—those results. The true “silver lining” is that there is yet time for many of those currently at risk of running short of funds to remedy that situation[6].

Notes


[4] See “Whether Forecasts” online here.

5 For some perspective on the existence of a retirement “crisis,” see Dallas Salisbury’s keynote address at the Pensions&Investments West Coast Defined Contribution Conference online here.  

6 Particularly those who Chooseto$ave®org for your future!  Check out the resources at www.choosetosave.org, including the Ballpark E$timate.    

“Off” Putting

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

I’ve never been very keen on going to the dentist.  As important as I believe dental hygiene to be, I’ve come to associate my visits with the dentist with bad things: some level of discomfort, perhaps even pain, a flossing lecture from the hygienist, at the very least.  Most of which is readily avoided by doing the things I know I should be doing regularly – brushing, flossing, a better diet.  And knowing that I haven’t done what I should have been doing, I have good reason to believe that my visit to the dentist will be a negative experience – and so I put it off.

However, it’s not as though the postponement makes the situation any better; if anything, the delay makes the eventual “confrontation” with reality worse.  That’s what retirement planning is like for many: They know they should be saving, know that they should be saving more, but they hesitate to go through the process of a retirement needs calculation because they are leery of the “pain” of going through the exercise itself, or perhaps even afraid that their checkup will confirm their lack of attentiveness to their fiscal health.  And, like the postponed dental visit, putting it off not only does nothing to rectify the situation, the passage of time (without action) may even allow the situation to worsen.

Indeed, the Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS)[i] has previously found that workers who have done a retirement needs calculation tend to be considerably more confident about their ability to save the amount needed for a financially comfortable retirement than those who have not done so, despite the fact that those doing a calculation tend to cite higher retirement savings goals.  In the 2013 RCS, 31 percent who have done a calculation, compared with 14 percent who have not, say they are very confident that they will be able to accumulate the amount they need, while 12 percent who have not done a calculation, compared with 3 percent who have, report they are not at all confident in their ability to save the amount needed for a financially comfortable retirement.

Next week we’ll commemorate America Saves Week[ii], an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior[iii] and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.  Not because saving is something you should do once a year, or that reconsidering your financial goals and progress is well-suited to a particular week on the calendar, but because it IS something that should be done regularly in order to be effective.

Over time, I have found that when I make (and keep) regular dentist appointments, those visits are much less painful, and considerably less stressful than the times when I have gone “too long” between appointments.

Similarly, regular savings checkups – like those inspired by events like America Saves Week – can be a lot less “painful” than you might think.

Notes

You can assess your savings plan here.

For a list of six reasons why you—or those you care about—should save, and specifically save for retirement now, see “Sooner or Later“:


[i] Information from the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) is available online here. Organizations interested in underwriting the 2014 RCS can contact Nevin Adams at nadams@ebri.org.  

[ii] America Saves Week is an annual event where hundreds of national and local organizations promote good savings behavior and individuals are encouraged to assess their own saving status. Coordinated by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council, America Saves Week is February 24–March 1, 2014, a nationwide effort to help people save more successfully and take financial action. More information is available at www.americasavesweek.org.

[iii] Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find free resources at www.asec.org  including videos, savings tips, and the Ballpark E$stimate® retirement savings calculator, courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC).

Model “Hones”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

After a winter filled with predictions of winter weather that never quite measured up to the forecasts, the nation’s capital (and the Southeast) finally got a taste of what those in the Midwest and Northeast have been contending with for weeks.  Not that there haven’t been close calls here, but up until this week, the multitude of factors that have to come together to produce a significant snowfall here—hadn’t.  Much to the discomfiture of those who ply their trade making such predictions, it should be noted.

While Mother Nature can be notoriously fickle, technologies like Doppler radar are able to discern with greater precision real-time activity which can be fed into sophisticated computer models that draw on the experience of the past to extrapolate a series of potential outcomes—some deemed more likely than others.  Projected outcomes that, despite the recent experience here, do an increasingly accurate job of helping each of us plan our daily commute or that vacation a couple of weeks hence.

Arguably, predictions about retirement readiness are even more complicated than weather forecasting, though there are certain similarities.  Done properly, they require a foundation in knowing the actual resources available to individuals—and an ability, through the use of sophisticated computer models, to forecast the impact of current behaviors on future outcomes.  Those models must also consider the likelihood and timing of certain external factors, and their impact on resources, and to project if (or when) those resources will run short against lifespans and circumstances as unique and variable as the American population.

Of course, those computer models require updating on a regular basis to properly account for changes in assumptions (and realities).  A recent EBRI Issue Brief[1] noted that, due to the increase in financial market and housing values during 2013, the probability that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers would NOT run short of money in retirement increased between 0.5 and 1.6 percentage points (when aggregated by age cohort), based on the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) Retirement Readiness Ratings (RRRs).[2]

EBRI’s analysis, which analyzes the major factors that cause retirement outcomes to differ, and their impact, found that, among other things, eligibility for participation in an employer-sponsored 401(k)-type plan remains one of the most important factors for retirement income adequacy.  In fact, Gen Xers in the lowest-income quartile with 20 or more years of future eligibility in a defined contribution plan are half as likely to run short of money as those with no years of future eligibility.

Not surprisingly, the report also noted that the risks of a long life and high long term-care costs drive huge variations in retirement income adequacy—and suggested that annuities and long-term care insurance could mitigate much of the variability in retirement income adequacy at or near retirement age.

Of course, while a broad-based forecast is sufficient for the local weather, and a broad-based sense of the nation’s retirement readiness is powerful fodder for purposes of setting public policy goals, individual forecasts—in order to be accurate—require more customized inputs.[3]  

Notes


[1] “What Causes EBRI Retirement Readiness Ratings™ to Vary: Results from the 2014 Retirement Security Projection Model®” is available online here.

[2] EBRI’s proprietary Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM), unlike many other models, takes into account a combination of deterministic expenses from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (as a function of age and income) as well as health insurance and out-of-pocket, health-related expenses, plus stochastic expenses from nursing home and home-health care (at least until the point such expenses are covered by Medicaid).  A chronology of the EBRI Retirement Security Projection Model® is available online here.  

[3] Fortunately, individuals who want a sense of their retirement readiness can check out EBRI’s BallparkE$timate,® along with the other materials available at www.choosetosave.org

“Common” Sense?

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

Nevin Adams

At a time when the nation’s legislative wheels seem mired in partisanship, the last week of January turned out to be a busy one for retirement plan proposals.

First the president unveiled his myRA concept in the State of the Union (along with a reference to an automatic IRA proposal previously included in the White House’s annual budget), followed a day later by introduction of the Retirement Security Act of 2014, a bipartisan proposal by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME). A day after that, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, formally introduced the Universal, Secure, and Adaptable (USA) Retirement Funds Act of 2014, an updated version of his 2012 proposal.

All three were intended to expand and improve the retirement savings of Americans—although, as you might expect, the three take quite different approaches. Consider that the myRA calls for the development of a “new retirement savings security” to encourage savings in a kind of Roth IRA, while Sen. Harkin’s proposal would require employers above a certain size to offer a whole new type of retirement savings plan (and would impose some new threshold enrollment and withdrawal requirements on existing 401(k)s, as well). As for the Nelson/Collins proposal, it seems to be largely focused on lowering or removing certain current regulatory and administrative barriers to smaller employers offering retirement plans.

Despite their varied approaches to the commonly-stated goal of expanding retirement savings, all three do have one other key commonality: All look to leverage the success of the work place and systematic payroll deductions in fostering retirement savings. Of course, that’s a foundation whose worth previous EBRI research has documented:¹ the impact that eligibility for a work place retirement plan can have on retirement readiness,² as well as the additional help that automatic-enrollment designs can provide.

It remains to be seen whether the legislative proposals will go anywhere—and the potential impact of myRA on motivating new savers is also uncertain. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a proposal on defined benefit pension smoothing—not to provide any kind of help for retirement, but as a way to pay for a three-month extension of unemployment benefits.

But as America Saves Week nears, the activity on Capitol Hill serves as an additional reminder that a good place to start—any time, with or without the incentives of legislative change—is to Choose to Save. ®³

Notes

¹ The January EBRI Notes, “The Role of Social Security, Defined Benefits, and Private Retirement Accounts in the Face of the Retirement Crisis,” is available online here.

² See “The Impact of Automatic Enrollment in 401(k) Plans on Future Retirement Accumulations: A Simulation Study Based on Plan Design Modifications of Large Plan Sponsors,” online here, and “Increasing Default Deferral Rates in Automatic Enrollment 401(k) Plans: The Impact on Retirement Savings Success in Plans With Automatic Escalation,” online here.

³ You can find a wide variety of tools and resources—including the popular and widely recommended Ballpark E$timate—at http://www.choosetosave.org/

Safety “Net”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

Nevin Adams

I’m one of those travelers who absolutely dreads cutting it to the last minute. Not that I haven’t been forced to do so, from time to time, but I’m generally the one chomping at the bit to get to the airport, or to hit the highway an hour before anyone else. In my defense, on more than one occasion that “cushion” has been the difference between catching a flight or not. Planning that only considers a “best” or “normal” scenario too often overlooks the unexpected—and sometimes that margin of error is all you have.

For over a decade EBRI has modeled the nation’s potential retirement savings shortfall, and the EBRI Retirement Readiness Ratings™ provide an assessment of how many Americans are at risk of running short of money for needed expenses in retirement. In contemplating expenses, that model considers the regular expenses of living in retirement, as well as uninsured medical expenses, and the potential costs of nursing home care.

However, we have also documented and quantified the role of Social Security, defined benefit and private retirement accounts on retirement income adequacy for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers with an eye toward replacing their preretirement wages and income. While this more traditional focus on income replacement may misstate an individual’s actual post-retirement financial situation, many financial planners work with this goal as a starting point, and it can provide valuable insights particularly when—as is the case with EBRI’s projections—it is able to leverage actual 401(k) data from the unique EBRI/ICI 401(k) database, the largest such repository in the world.

Indeed, based on a recent EBRI analysis, between 83 and 86 percent of workers with more than 30 years of eligibility in a voluntary enrollment 401(k) plan are simulated to have sufficient 401(k) accumulations that, combined with current levels of Social Security retirement benefits, will be able to replace at least 60 percent of their age-64 wages and salary on an inflation-adjusted basis. When the threshold for a financially successful retirement is increased to 70 percent replacement of age-64 income, 73–76 percent of these workers will still meet that threshold, relying only on 401(k) and Social Security combined. At an 80 percent replacement rate, 67 percent of the lowest-income quartile will still meet the threshold; however the percentage of those in the highest-income quartile deemed to be “successful” relying on just these two retirement components slips to 59 percent, reflecting the progressive nature of Social Security.

As positive a result as that seems for many, when the same analysis is conducted for automatic enrollment 401(k) plans (with an annual 1 percent automatic escalation provision and empirically derived opt-outs), the probability of success increases substantially: 88–94 percent at a 60 percent threshold; 81–90 percent at a 70 percent replacement threshold; and 73–85 percent at an 80 percent threshold.

That’s not quite the doomsday crisis scenario portrayed by many of the headlines in vogue today, though EBRI’s projections still show that a large number of Americans—even among those eligible for a 401(k) plan for 30 years—won’t be able to replace that pre-65 salary even at the various levels modeled, based on current savings patterns.

It does, however, illustrate the impact that changes in those current savings behaviors can have—and it underscores the significant role of Social Security as a vital safety net for the nation’s retirement security.

Note

“The Role of Social Security, Defined Benefits, and Private Retirement Accounts in the Face of the Retirement Crisis” is available online here.