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Valuing Assets in Retirement Saving Accounts

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  • James Poterba

Abstract

Many studies compare household balances in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans with financial assets held outside these accounts, but these different asset components are not directly comparable. Taxes and in some cases penalties are due when assets are withdrawn from some retirement saving plans. These factors imply that a dollar held inside a retirement account may be less valuable in supporting retirement income than a dollar held in a similar asset outside these accounts. This is particularly important for households that are considering withdrawing assets from the tax-deferred accounts in the near future. For households with long deferral horizons, the opportunity for tax-free compound returns in retirement accounts can permit a dollar inside such an account to support more retirement consumption than a dollar outside such accounts, even though the account principal will be taxed on distribution. This paper illustrates the potential differences in the retirement support value of a dollar of invested in a bond, or in corporate stock, inside and outside tax-deferred accounts. It draws on a range of data sources to calibrate the value of the tax burden, and the benefit of compound growth, for assets held in retirement accounts, and describes the differences in relative valuation for households of different ages.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10395.

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Date of creation: Mar 2004
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Publication status: published as Poterba, James. "Valuing Assets In Retirement Saving Accounts," National Tax Journal, 2004, v57(2,Jun), 489-512.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10395

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  1. Burman, Leonard E. & Gale, William G. & Weiner, David, 2001. "The Taxation of Retirement Saving: Choosing Between Front-Loaded and Back-Loaded Options," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 3), pages 689-702, September.
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Cited by:
  1. Garlappi, Lorenzo & Huang, Jennifer, 2006. "Are stocks desirable in tax-deferred accounts?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(12), pages 2257-2283, December.
  2. Daniel Bergstresser & James Poterba, 2002. "Asset Allocation and Asset Location: Household Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," NBER Working Papers 9268, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Auerbach, Alan J., 2006. "The Choice between Income and Consumption Taxes: A Primer," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt9q85f6qz, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  4. Edward N. Wolff, 2011. "Pensions in the 2000s: the Lost Decade?," NBER Working Papers 16991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Auerbach, Alan J., 2006. "Tax Reform in the 21st Century," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt444479wh, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  6. Edward N. Wolff, 2005. "Is the Equalizing Effect of Retirement Wealth Wearing Off?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_420, Levy Economics Institute.

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