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Pre-Retirement Cashouts and Foregone Retirement Saving: Implications for 401(k) Asset Accumulation

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  • James M. Poterba
  • Steven F. Venti
  • David A. Wise

Abstract

This paper presents new evidence on the potential importance of 401(K) assets in contributing to the retirement resources of future retirees. We use data on past 401(k) participation rates by age and imcome decile, along with information on average 401(k) contribution rates, to project the future 401(k) contribution trajectories of households that are currently headed by individuals between the ages of 29 and 39. We allow for the possibility of pre-retirmenet withdrawal of 401(k) assets when individuals experience employment transistion. By combining data from the Health and Retirement Survye on the likelihood of 'cashing out' a 401(k) account conditional on a job change, with data from other sources on the probability of job change, it is possible to estimate the prospective pre-retirement 'leakage' from 401(k) accounts. Our central findings are that for households reaching retirement age between 2025 and 2035, 401(k) balances are likely to be a much more important factor in financial preparation for retirement than they are today. We estimate that average 401(k) balances in 2025 will be between five and ten times as large as they are today, and would represent one-half to twice Social Security wealth (depending on investment allocation and based on current Social Security provisions). For persons retiring in 2035 we estimate that 401(k) balances will be three-quarters to two and one-half times Social Security wealth. Moreover, we find that pre-retirement withdrawals have a small effect on the balance in 401(k) accounts. We estimate that these withdrawals typically reduce average 401(k) assets at age 65 by about five percent. This is largely because most households who are eligible for a lump sum distribution when they change jobs choose to keep their accumulated 401(k) assets in the retirement saving system. These households either leave their assets in their previous employer's 401(k) plan, or they roll the assets over to another retirement saving account, such as a new 401(k) or an Individual Retirement Account. Most of those who do withdraw assets have very small accumulated balances. By comparison, the expense ratio charged by the financial institutions administering 401(k) accounts has a larger effect on retirement resources than the possibility of pre-retirement withdrawal.

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  • James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1999. "Pre-Retirement Cashouts and Foregone Retirement Saving: Implications for 401(k) Asset Accumulation," NBER Working Papers 7314, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7314
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Chang, Angela E., 1996. "Tax Policy, Lump-Sum Pension Distributions, and Household Saving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 49(2), pages 235-249, June.
    2. Chang, Angela E., 1996. "Tax Policy, Lump-Sum Pension Distributions, and Household Saving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 49(2), pages 235-49, June.
    3. Neumark, David & Polsky, Daniel & Hansen, Daniel, 1999. "Has Job Stability Declined Yet? New Evidence for the 1990s," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(4), pages 29-64, October.
    4. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 1998. "Lump-Sum Distributions from Retirement Saving Plans: Receipt and Utilization," NBER Chapters,in: Inquiries in the Economics of Aging, pages 85-108 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 1995. "Pension Incentives and Job Mobility," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number pijm, November.
    6. Bassett, William F. & Fleming, Michael J. & Rodrigues, Anthony P., 1998. "How Workers Use 401(K) Plans: The Participation, Contribution, and Withdrawal Decisions," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(2), pages 263-289, June.
    7. Sabelhaus, John & Weiner, David, 1999. "Disposition of Lump-Sum Pension Distributions: Evidence from Tax Returns," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 3), pages 593-614, September.
    8. David A. Wise, 1998. "Introduction to "Frontiers in the Economics of Aging"," NBER Chapters,in: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging, pages 1-20 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 1998. "Implications of Rising Personal Retirement Saving," NBER Chapters,in: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging, pages 125-172 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. David A. Wise, 1998. "Frontiers in the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise98-1.
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    Cited by:

    1. James Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2007. "Rise of 401(k) Plans, Lifetime Earnings, and Wealth at Retirement," NBER Working Papers 13091, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2010. "The Rise of 401(k) Plans, Lifetime Earnings, and Wealth at Retirement," NBER Chapters,in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 271-304 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Clark, Robert L. & Morrill, Melinda Sandler & Vanderweide, David, 2014. "Defined benefit pension plan distribution decisions by public sector employees," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 73-88.
    4. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 2004. "The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro- and Microevidence," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 17-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Burman, Leonard E. & Coe, Norma B. & Dworsky, Michael & Gale, William G., 2012. "Effects of Public Policies on the Disposition of Pre-Retirement Lump-Sum Distributions: Rational and Behavioral Influences," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 65(4), pages 863-887, December.
    6. Burman, Leonard E. & Coe, Norma B. & Gale, William G., 1999. "Lump Sum Distributions from Pension Plans: Recent Evidence and Issues for Policy and Research," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 3), pages 553-62, September.
    7. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2008. "New Estimates of the Future Path of 401(k) Assets," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 22, pages 43-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Amromin, Gene & Smith, Paul, 2003. "What Explains Early Withdrawals From Retirement Accounts? Evidence From a Panel of Taxpayers," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 56(3), pages 595-612, September.
    9. Warren Hrung, 2002. "Income Uncertainty and IRAs," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 9(5), pages 591-599, September.
    10. Burman, Leonard E. & Coe, Norma B. & Gale, William G., 1999. "Lump Sum Distributions From Pension Plans: Recent Evidence and Issues for Policy and Research," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(3), pages 553-562, September.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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