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$100 Bills on the Sidewalk: Suboptimal Investment in 401(K) Plans

Author

Listed:
  • James Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte Madrian

Abstract

It is typically difficult to determine whether households invest optimally. But sometimes, investment incentives are strong enough to create sharp normative restrictions. We identify employees at seven companies who are eligible to receive employer matching contributions in their 401(k) and can make penalty-free withdrawals for any reason. For these employees, contributing less than the match threshold is a dominated action that violates the no-arbitrage condition. Nevertheless, between 20% and 60% contribute below the threshold, losing as much as 6% of their annual pay. Providing employees with information about the free lunch they are foregoing fails to raise contribution rates.

Suggested Citation

  • James Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte Madrian, 2008. "$100 Bills on the Sidewalk: Suboptimal Investment in 401(K) Plans," Yale School of Management Working Papers amz2519, Yale School of Management, revised 01 Jul 2009.
  • Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:amz2519
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    File URL: http://icfpub.som.yale.edu/publications/2519
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2005. "Reducing the Complexity Costs of 401(k) Participation Through Quick Enrollment(TM)," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000966, UCLA Department of Economics.
    2. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages 164-187, February.
    3. Esther Duflo & William Gale & Jeffrey Liebman & Peter Orszag & Emmanuel Saez, 2006. "Saving Incentives for Low- and Middle-Income Families: Evidence from a Field Experiment with H&R Block," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1311-1346.
    4. Garlappi, Lorenzo & Huang, Jennifer, 2006. "Are stocks desirable in tax-deferred accounts?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(12), pages 2257-2283, December.
    5. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "For Better or for Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 81-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    7. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "The Role of Information and Social Interactions in Retirement Plan Decisions: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 815-842.
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    9. Amromin, Gene & Huang, Jennifer & Sialm, Clemens, 2007. "The tradeoff between mortgage prepayments and tax-deferred retirement savings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 2014-2040, November.
    10. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Choices, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 16, pages 67-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Sendhil Mullainathan & Richard H. Thaler, 2000. "Behavioral Economics," NBER Working Papers 7948, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    13. Robert M. Dammon & Chester S. Spatt & Harold H. Zhang, 2004. "Optimal Asset Location and Allocation with Taxable and Tax-Deferred Investing," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 59(3), pages 999-1037, June.
    14. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2002. "Do Liquidity Constraints and Interest Rates Matter for Consumer Behavior? Evidence from Credit Card Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 149-185.
    15. Gene Amromin, 2003. "Household Portfolio Choices in Taxable and Tax-Deferred Accounts: Another Puzzle?," Review of Finance, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 547-582.
    16. Warshawsky, Mark, 1987. "Sensitivity to Market Incentives: The Case of Policy Loans," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(2), pages 286-295, May.
    17. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2001. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Decisions, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Working Papers 8655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard Thaler, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    suboptimal investment; 401(k) plans; household investment; arbitrage Working Paper Series;

    JEL classification:

    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets

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