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An Update on 401(k) Plans: Insights from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finance

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  • Alicia H. Munnell
  • Richard W. Kopcke
  • Francesca Golub-Sass
  • Dan Muldoon

Abstract

The maturation of the 401(k) system and the enactment of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which made 401(k) plans easier and more automatic, were expected to enhance the role that 401(k)s played in the provision of retirement income. So, originally, the release of the Federal Reserve’s 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) seemed like a great opportunity to reassess 401(k)s. But the 2007 SCF reflects a world that no longer exists. Interviews were conducted between May and December, when the Dow Jones was at 14,000 (the peak was October 9, 2007) and housing prices were only slightly off their peak. Given the collapse of the financial markets and the economy, this paper uses the 2007 SCF data as a starting point in evaluating the condition of 401(k)s and the factors that affect participation and contributions, and relies on more recent data and estimates to paint a full and current picture. The analysis proceeds as follows. The first section describes the evolution of 401(k) plans and how the Pension Protection Act of 2006 would be expected to improve the performance of these plans. The second section uses data from the 2007 SCF and other sources to update previous findings on participation, contribution levels, investments, and withdrawals. The third section explores in more depth how individual characteristics and plan design affect participation and contributions in 401(k) plans. The fourth section then projects how the events of 2008 have affected various aspects of 401(k) plans. The final section concludes that whereas 401(k) plans were showing some improvement in 2007 and the analysis of participation and contribution decisions confirmed the trend toward auto-enrollment and the maturation of the system, the events of 2008 highlight the limitations of 401(k) plans in serving as the only supplement to Social Security.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Retirement Research in its series Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College with number wp2009-26.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2009
Date of revision: Nov 2009
Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2009-26

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  1. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "For Better or For Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," JCPR Working Papers 256, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  2. Papke, Leslie E. & Poterba, James M., 1995. "Survey evidence on employer match rates and employee saving behavior in 401(k) plans," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 313-317, September.
  3. John B. Taylor, 2009. "The Financial Crisis and the Policy Responses: An Empirical Analysis of What Went Wrong," NBER Working Papers 14631, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(k) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 275-98, June.
  5. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. William F. Bassett & Michael J. Fleming & Anthony P. Rodrigues, 1998. "How workers use 401(k) plans: the participation, contribution, and withdrawal decisions," Staff Reports 38, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  7. Arthur B. Kennickell & Martha Starr-McCluer & Brian J. Surette, 2000. "Recent changes in U. S. family finances: results from the 1998 Survey of Consumer Finances," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Jan, pages 1-29.
  8. Hurd, Michael & Panis, Constantijn, 2006. "The choice to cash out pension rights at job change or retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(12), pages 2213-2227, December.
  9. Alicia H. Munnell & Dan Muldoon, 2008. "Are Retirement Savings Too Exposed to Market Risk?," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-16, Center for Retirement Research, revised Oct 2008.
  10. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
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