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

  • James Choi
  • David Laibson
  • Brigitte Madrian

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.

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File URL: http://icfpub.som.yale.edu/publications/2519
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Paper provided by Yale School of Management in its series Yale School of Management Working Papers with number amz2519.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 2008
Date of revision: 01 Jul 2009
Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:amz2519
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://icf.som.yale.edu/

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  1. 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.
  2. Gene Amromin & Jennifer Huang & Clemens Sialm, 2006. "The Tradeoff Between Mortgage Prepayments and Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings," NBER Working Papers 12502, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Michael J. Brennan & Walter N. Torous, 1999. "Individual Decision Making and Investor Welfare," Economic Notes, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, vol. 28(2), pages 119-143, 07.
  4. 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, 06.
  5. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "The Role of Information and Social Interactions in Retirement Plan Decisions: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," NBER Working Papers 8885, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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, MIT Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1311-1346, November.
  7. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
  8. 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 S164-S187, February.
  9. 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, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 149-185, February.
  10. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "For Better or For Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," JCPR Working Papers 256, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  11. Sendhil Mullainathan & Richard H. Thaler, 2000. "Behavioral Economics," NBER Working Papers 7948, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Emmanuel Saez & Esther Duflo, 2003. "The role of information and social interactions in retirement plan decisions: Evidence from a randomized experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00141, The Field Experiments Website.
  13. 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.
  14. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  15. 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.
  16. Gene Amromin, 2003. "Household Portfolio Choices in Taxable and Tax-Deferred Accounts: Another Puzzle?," Review of Finance, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 547-582.
  17. Warshawsky, Mark, 1987. "Sensitivity to Market Incentives: The Case of Policy Loans," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(2), pages 286-95, May.
  18. Garlappi, Lorenzo & Huang, Jennifer, 2006. "Are stocks desirable in tax-deferred accounts?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(12), pages 2257-2283, December.
  19. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
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