“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.

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.

“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).

“Believe” Able

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

Nevin Adams

In that holiday classic “Miracle on 34th Street,” a man named Kris Kringle (who claims to be “the one and only” Santa Claus) winds up having his sanity challenged in court. Ultimately, the judge dismisses charges that would have resulted in Kringle’s institutionalization—not because he actually is persuaded to believe by the evidence that Kris is the REAL Santa Claus, but because he finds it convenient to demur to the determinations of a higher authority (in this case, the US Postal Service).

While belief may not always be a portent of reality, it can be a powerful force, as any parent who has ever nurtured Santa’s existence well knows.

The 2013 EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey¹ (WBS) reveals that most workers believe their employers or unions will continue to provide health care insurance— although there have been employer surveys indicating that, at some point in the future, some may not. Not that workers fail to appreciate future uncertainties: While 46 percent of worker respondents to the WBS indicate they are extremely or very confident about their ability to get the treatments they need today, only 28 percent are confident about their ability to get needed treatments during the next 10 years.

Similarly, when it comes to retirement, the Retirement Confidence Survey² has, for nearly a quarter century now, shown a remarkable resilience in worker confidence regarding their financial future in retirement, belying the aggregate savings levels indicated in that same survey. Over the course of that survey, we’ve seen confidence wax stronger and then wane―and while we’ve seen distressingly low levels of preparation, more recently we’ve also seen a growing awareness of the need for those preparations. The RCS has also documented a consistent trend in workers believing they will be able to work, and to work for pay, longer than the experience of retiree respondents suggests will be a viable option.

Next month we’ll field the 24th annual version of that Retirement Confidence Survey, where we will (among other things) seek to gain a sense of American workers’ preparation for (and confidence about) retirement, as well as some idea as to how those already retired view the adequacy of their own preparations. Is a lack of worker confidence about retirement finances a troubling indicator? Or does it suggest that they have a greater appreciation for the need to prepare?

Later in the year the WBS will, as it has since 1998, probe sentiments about health care and voluntary benefits: Will workers sense a continued commitment by their employers and unions to provide health care coverage? If not, how might that affect their commitment to their work and their workplace? How might concerns about health coverage affect and influence retirement preparations?

In the cinematic “Miracle,” there seems to be a connection between believing something will happen and its reality. Little Susan Walker goes so far as to intone “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe!” even as she stumbles upon the home of her dreams.

In the real world, the linkage between belief and reality isn’t generally so convenient. And employers, providers, and policy makers alike, know that being able to anticipate those potential gaps between belief and a future reality can be critical.

In addition to providing financial support to two of the industry’s most highly regarded employee benefit surveys, underwriters of the RCS and WBS have access to special early briefings on the findings, in addition to a number of other benefits. If you’d like to know more, email Nevin Adams at nadams@ebri.org

You can find additional information about the RCS online here and information about the WBS (previously called the Health Confidence Survey) online here.

Notes

¹ See “2013 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey: Nearly 90% of Workers Satisfied With Their Own Health Plan, But 55% Give Low Ratings to Health Care System,” online here.

² See “The 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey: Perceived Savings Needs Outpace Reality for Many,” online here.

Sooner or Later?

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

AdamsLast week more than a hundred professionals gathered at the Fall 2013 ASEC Partners’ Meeting to discuss the obstacles to, and possible solutions for, retirement savings.  National Save for Retirement Week is upon us, and America Saves Week will be here before we know it.  So too, retirement – which seems far away to many, and IS far away for some – often seems to be a far off goal, something that can wait for another day, a more “convenient” time, when we have more free time, and perhaps fewer financial demands.

Indeed, it’s easy, in the normal press of life, to put off thinking about retirement, much less thinking about saving for a period of life many can hardly imagine. We all know we should do it—but some figure that it will take more time and energy than they can afford just now, some assume the process will provide a depressing, perhaps even insurmountable target, and others  – well many don’t even know how to get started.

Here are six reasons why you—or those you care about—should save – and specifically save for retirement – now:

Because you don’t want to work forever.

No matter how much you love your job – or love your job today – that might not always be the case, and you might want the flexibility to make a change on your terms; if not to retire, to cut back on your hours, or maybe even to pursue other interests.  The sooner you’ve made those financial preparations, the sooner that decision can be your choice, rather than one forced upon you.

Because living in retirement isn’t free – and it might cost more than you think.

Many people assume that expenses will go down in retirement, and for some they may.  On the other hand, retirement often brings with it changes in how we spend, and on what – and that’s not necessarily less.  For example, research by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) has found that health-related expenses are the second-largest component in the budget of older Americans, and a component that steadily increases with age.  Note also that long-term care (LTC) insurance is a growing area of concern for retirees and, according to government estimates, 12 million older Americans will need LTC by 2020. However, in most cases LTC is not covered by Medicare, and this care is expensive and can be indefinitely long or even permanent.

Because you may not be able to work as long as you think.

The Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) has, over its 23 year history, consistently found that a large percentage of retirees leave the work force earlier than planned—47 percent in the 2013 RCS, in fact—and many retirees who retired earlier than planned cite negative reasons for doing so, including health problems or disabilities (55 percent); changes at their companies, such as downsizing or closure (20 percent); having to care for spouses or other family members (23 percent).

Some retirees do mention positive reasons for retiring early, such as being able to afford an earlier retirement (32 percent) or wanting to do something else (19 percent), but just 7 percent offer only positive reasons.

Because working longer may not be enough.

One of the more recent alternatives proposed is that of continuing to work longer which, if possible, would serve to both postpone the depletion of retirement income resources, and to provide additional time to save.  As noted above, this assumption might not prove to be a viable option for all, and even for those who can and do, EBRI research has found that even working until 70 by itself may not be sufficient for some individuals.

Because you don’t know how long you will live.

People are living longer and the longer your life, the longer your retirement could last, particularly if, as noted above, it begins sooner than you planned. Retiring at age 65 today? How big a chance do you want to take of outliving your money in old age?

Because the sooner you start, the easier it will be.

What are you waiting for? Sooner or later, you know you need to.  And the later you start, the harder it can be.

A good place to start – any time –  is the BallparkE$timate,® and with the other materials available at www.choosetosave.org, as well as www.americasavesweek.org.

For more information on retirement saving and spending, see also:

Income Composition, Income Trends, and Income Shortfalls of Older Households

How Does Household Income Change in the Ten Years Around Age 65?

Spending Adjustments Made By Older Americans to Save Money

Expenditure Patterns of Older Americans, 2001-2009

Thinking “Caps”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Adams

In this era of “reality” TV, where the “antics” (and worse) of the formerly rich and infamous are on display in ways that could not even have been imagined a decade ago, I seem to find myself increasingly shaking my head and muttering “what were they thinking?” The answer, as often as not, seems to be “they weren’t.”

And some, looking at the retirement savings behaviors and expectations of the American workforce over the years, might well wonder—and perhaps respond—the same way.

Whether you are an employer trying to motivate workers to avail themselves of a new benefit (or to better utilize an existing one), an advisor looking to improve their portfolio diversification, a provider interested in expanding acceptance of your product set, or a regulator trying to fine-tune (or overhaul) the current legal boundaries, sooner or later you find yourself wanting (perhaps NEEDING) to know “what are ‘they’ thinking?”

In just a few weeks, we’ll begin development of the 24th Retirement Confidence Survey, the longest-running annual retirement survey of its kind in the nation. As you might expect, the survey contains a core set of questions that is asked annually, allowing key attitudes and self-reported behavior patterns to be tracked over time. We ask both workers and retirees about their confidence in their retirement income prospects, including Social Security and Medicare; how much money have they saved for their future and where they are putting their money; who they turn to for retirement investment information and advice; and seek insights on why they are not saving more and what would motivate them to do so. The survey also allows us to gain the perspective on those issues from those already in retirement, providing an invaluable reality “check” between active workers and current retirees on expectations such as retirement age, spending, and retirement financial needs.

We’ve also asked forward-looking questions, tried to gauge worker interest in using technology, social media, and various investment products to manage their retirement accounts, and gotten valuable insights on how specific regulatory and legislative changes might affect their future savings behavior—insights that we’ve been able to incorporate with our extensive databases and modeling capabilities to quantify the potential impact on overall retirement savings and security.

In a very real sense, the Retirement Confidence Survey provides a unique window through which we can both examine long-term trends and sentiments, and still glean a sense of the future—an appreciation both for what has been, and for what might yet be.

It’s a chance to find out not only “what are they thinking?” but uncover the actions that could influence, if not drive better behaviors in the future.

If your organization would like to participate in the design of the 2014 Retirement Confidence as an underwriter, please contact me at nadams@ebri.org  Underwriters not only provide input on the survey questions, but have access to the raw data, are briefed on its findings prior to publication; have the ability to utilize the survey materials and findings for research, marketing, communications, and product-development purposes; and are acknowledged as underwriters in the final survey report.

More information about the Retirement Confidence Survey, as well as links to previous iterations of the RCS, are available at http://www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs/