How Much Do Respondents in the Health and Retirement Study Know About Their Tax-deferred Contribution Plans? A Crosscohort Comparison
We use information from Social Security earnings records to examine the accuracy of employee reports of annual contributions to tax-deferred pension plans. As employer defined benefit pensions are replaced by voluntary contribution plans, employee understanding of the link between annual contribution decisions and post-retirement wealth is becoming increasingly important. We compare the accuracy of employee reports of annual contributions in a sample of respondents in the original HRS cohort and in a sample of two younger cohorts, the War Babies and Early Baby Boomers. Tax-deferred plans are more common among the younger cohorts and we expected that they would be better informed about their annual contributions. We find that, among respondents for whom SSA administrative records are available, those in the younger cohorts were more likely to report accurately that they were included in a tax-deferred plan. Contrary to our expectation, identical proportions (70 percent) of respondents in both the older and the younger cohorts accurately reported whether they made a contribution during the interview year. Furthermore, we find no significant difference between the older and younger cohorts in the degree of reporting accuracy of contribution amounts, with approximately one-half of respondents in each cohort reporting contributions within plus/minus 25 percent of the true value. Both cohorts’ self-reported contributions are systematically larger than the true values. Finally, both self-reported and W-2 contributions are significantly larger among respondents in the WB/EBB cohort.
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