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Individual Retirement Accounts: A Review of the Evidence

  • Jonathan Skinner

Recent legislative proposals have included restoring Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to their pre-1987 eligibility rules. Whether IRAs are simply tax windfalls with no effect on saving, or whether IRAs stimulate saving, is a crucial issue in evaluating the effectiveness of such proposals. In this paper, I review the previous literature on IRAs as well as presenting new evidence on the saving behavior of IRA contributors. In brief, IRA contributors are wealthier and older than the general population. There is no clear consensus from structural economic models on whether IRA contributions are new saving or old, shuffled, saving. Nevertheless, IRA contributors during the 1980s were remarkably active savers. For example, the typical IRA contributor was estimated to hav~ increased total financial wealth in real terms by 71 percent between 1982-86. Individual Retirement Accounts may have induced saving through psychological factors not normally present in orthodox economic models, but evidence on such factors is speculative rather than conclusive.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3938.

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Date of creation: Dec 1991
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Publication status: published as Tax Notes, 54(2), January 13, 1992, pp.201-212
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3938
Note: AG PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. 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.
  2. Robert J. Barro, 1988. "The Ricardian Approach to Budget Deficits," Working Papers 728, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
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  5. Collins, Julie H. & Wyckoff, James H., 1988. "Estimates of Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings Behavior," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 41(4), pages 561-572, December.
  6. Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Saving, Fungibility, and Mental Accounts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 193-205, Winter.
  7. Venti, Steven F & Wise, David A, 1986. "Tax-Deferred Accounts, Constrained Choice and Estimation of Individual Saving," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 53(4), pages 579-601, August.
  8. 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.
  9. Daniel Feenberg & Jonathan Skinner, 1989. "Sources of IRA Saving," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 3, pages 25-46 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. N. Gregory Mankiw & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1990. "The Consumption of Stockholders and Non-Stockholders," NBER Working Papers 3402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Long, James E., 1990. "Marginal Tax Rates and IRA Contributions," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(2), pages 143-53, June.
  12. Venti, Steven F & Wise, David A, 1990. "Have IRAs Increased U.S. Saving? Evidence from Consumer Expenditure Surveys," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(3), pages 661-98, August.
  13. Martin S. Feldstein & Daniel R. Feenberg, 1983. "Alternative Tax Rules and Personal Saving Incentives: Microeconomic Data and Behavioral Simulations," NBER Chapters, in: Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis, pages 173-210 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Horioka, Charles Yuji, 1990. "Why is Japan's household saving rate so high? A literature survey," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 49-92, March.
  15. Boskin, Michael J, 1978. "Taxation, Saving, and the Rate of Interest," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(2), pages S3-27, April.
  16. Summers, Lawrence H, 1981. "Capital Taxation and Accumulation in a Life Cycle Growth Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 533-44, September.
  17. Jane G. Gravelle, 1991. "Do Individual Retirement Accounts Increase Savings?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 133-148, Spring.
  18. Chris Carroll & Lawrence H. Summers, 1987. "Why Have Private Saving Rates in the United States and Canada Diverged?," NBER Working Papers 2319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 339-57, April.
  20. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1986. "IRAs and Saving," NBER Working Papers 1879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1987. "IRAs and Saving," NBER Chapters, in: The Effects of Taxation on Capital Accumulation, pages 7-52 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Michael J. Boskin, 1978. "Taxation, Saving, and the Rate of Interest," NBER Chapters, in: Research in Taxation, pages 3-27 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. O'Neil, Cherie J. & Thompson, G. Rodney, 1988. "Taxation and IRA Participation: A Response to Long," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 41(4), pages 591-93, December.
  23. Evans, Owen J, 1983. "Tax Policy, the Interest Elasticity of Saving, and Capital Accumulation: Numerical Analysis of Theoretical Models," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 398-410, June.
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