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How Would 401(k) ‘Rothification’ Alter Saving, Retirement Security, and Inequality?

Author

Listed:
  • Vanya Horneff
  • Raimond Maurer
  • Olivia S. Mitchell

Abstract

The US has long incentivized retirement saving in 401(k) and similar retirement accounts by permitting workers to defer taxes on contributions, levying them instead when retirees withdraw funds in retirement. This paper develops a dynamic life cycle model to show how and whether ‘Rothification’ – that is, taxing 401(k) contributions rather than payouts – would alter household saving, investment, and Social Security claiming patterns. We show that these changes differ importantly for low- versus higher-paid workers. We conclude that moving to a system that taxes pension contributions instead of withdrawals will lead to later retirement ages, particularly for the better-educated. It also would reduce work hours and lifetime tax payments and increase wealth and consumption inequality. In addition, we show how these behaviors would differ in a persistently low interest rate environment versus a more “normal” historical return world.

Suggested Citation

  • Vanya Horneff & Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2019. "How Would 401(k) ‘Rothification’ Alter Saving, Retirement Security, and Inequality?," NBER Working Papers 26437, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26437
    Note: AG LS PE
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G22 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Insurance; Insurance Companies; Actuarial Studies
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
    • G28 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • G5 - Financial Economics - - Household Finance
    • G51 - Financial Economics - - Household Finance - - - Household Savings, Borrowing, Debt, and Wealth

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