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Do Individual Retirement Accounts Increase Savings?

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  • Jane G. Gravelle

Abstract

Do IRAs increase savings or are they merely a windfall for otherwise well-off taxpayers? A major objective of universal IRAs was to encourage saving for retirement. A spirited debate has ensued over the use of IRA tax deductions as a means of promoting private savings. The crucial policy issue is not whether IRA contributions were substantial; they clearly were, representing about 30 percent of personal savings from 1982 to 1986. Rather the important question is the source of IRA contributions. IRAs can be financed out of 1) tax savings themselves; 2) shifting existing assets into IRAs; 3) borrowing; 4) diverting new savings into IRAs; or 5) reducing consumption. The key question is how much of IRA savings comes from reduced consumption. For overall savings to increase, private savings must increase by more than the tax savings. Conventional economic theory and evidence strongly suggests that IRAs were not effective savings incentives. The challenge to this view rests largely on studies which have appealed to a variety of "psychological" factors not normally incorporated in economic analysis. This paper reviews both types of analysis and concludes that the conventional view remains sound. Thus, a dollar devoted to deficit reduction is likely to be a safer bet for increasing savings than a dollar devoted to IRA benefits.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.5.2.133
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 5 (1991)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 133-148

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:5:y:1991:i:2:p:133-48

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.5.2.133
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  1. Bovenberg, A.L., 1989. "Tax policy and national savings in the United States: A survey," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-152950, Tilburg University.
  2. Bovenberg, A. Lans, 1989. "Tax Policy and National Saving in the United States: A Survey," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 42(2), pages 123-38, June.
  3. Burman, Leonard E. & Cordes, Joseph J. & Ozanne, Larry, 1990. "IRAs and National Savings," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(3), pages 259-83, September.
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Cited by:
  1. Barry Bosworth & Gary Burtless, 1992. "Effects of Tax Reform on Labor Supply, Investment, and Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 3-25, Winter.
  2. Robin Boadway & David Wildasin, 1994. "Taxation and savings: a survey," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 15(3), pages 19-63, August.
  3. Allgood, Sam, 2001. "Grade targets and teaching innovations," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 20(5), pages 485-493, October.
  4. Whitehouse, Edward, 1999. "The tax treatment of funded pensions," MPRA Paper 14173, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  5. Hrung, Warren B., 2001. "Information and IRA participation: the influence of tax preparers," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(3), pages 467-484, June.
  6. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1996. "The Effects of Tax-Based Saving Incentives On Saving and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 5759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Warren Hrung, 2002. "Income Uncertainty and IRAs," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 9(5), pages 591-599, September.
  8. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1996. "The Illusory Effects of Saving Incentives on Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 113-138, Fall.
  9. Milligan, Kevin, 2003. "How do contribution limits affect contributions to tax-preferred savings accounts?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 253-281, February.
  10. Orazio P. Attanasio & Thomas C. DeLeire, 1994. "IRAs and Household Saving Revisited: Some New Evidence," NBER Working Papers 4900, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Ayse Imrohoroglu & Selahattin Imrohoroglu & Douglas H. Joines, 1994. "The effect of tax-favored retirement accounts on capital accumulation and welfare," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 92, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  12. Jonathan Skinner, 1991. "Individual Retirement Accounts: A Review of the Evidence," NBER Working Papers 3938, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1999. "Taxation and Saving," NBER Working Papers 7061, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Malcolm Edey & Robin Foster & Ian Macfarlane, 1991. "The Role of Superannuation in the Financial Sector and in Aggregate Saving: A Review of Recent Trends," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp9112, Reserve Bank of Australia.
  15. Beverly, Sondra G. & Sherraden, Michael, 1999. "Institutional determinants of saving: implications for low-income households and public policy," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 28(4), pages 457-473.
  16. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effects of Tax-Based Saving Incentives on Government Revenue and National Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(2), pages 475-94, May.
  17. Lang, Oliver, 1995. "Steuersubventionen und Ersparnisbildung in Lebensversicherungen," ZEW Discussion Papers 95-13, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  18. William M. Gentry & Joseph Milano, 1998. "Taxes and Investment in Annuities," NBER Working Papers 6525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Giuseppe Ruggieri & Maxime Fougère, 1997. "The effect of tax-based savings incentives on government revenue," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 18(2), pages 143-159, May.
  20. Engelhardt, Gary V., 1994. "Tax Subsidies to Saving for Home Purchase: Evidence from Canadian RHOSPs," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(2), pages 363-88, June.

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