More Staff Relying on Work Retirement Plans

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More Americans are relying solely on their employer-sponsored retirement plans to fund their golden years, according to a survey by financial institution ING’s Retirement Research Institute (Stock Quote: ING).

Nearly half of the participants polled by ING admitted that if they didn’t have a retirement plan at work, they probably wouldn’t be saving for retirement at all. In fact, most respondents (58%) said their employer-sponsored retirement account, including their 401(k), 403(b) or 457 accounts, was their first investment, and more than half (52%) said their workplace plan was the main place they learned about investing for their future.

Most participants cited their employer’s offer to match their contributions as what ultimately persuaded them to open an account. Many also indicated that they have little to no confidence in the future of Social Security.

Interestingly, just more than half of the survey participants said they think it’s more likely scientists will clone dinosaurs in their lifetime than Congress will save Social Security, and 77% of those with kids at home say they believe their child is more likely to catch a foul ball at a baseball game than cash a Social Security check when reaching retirement age.

“Americans today understand that they shoulder a greater responsibility for securing their own retirement,” said Rob Leary, CEO of ING Insurance U.S., in a press release. “They also recognize that an employer-sponsored retirement plan is the cornerstone of their efforts to save for retirement.”

Unfortunately, Leary said, these plans are also underutilized. Of those participants not contributing the maximum to their retirement plan, 87% admitted they could afford to increase their annual contribution by 1% of their annual salary. Additionally, 59% said they could up their contribution by 3% of their salary, and nearly one-third, or 32%, said they could afford a 5% increase.

“The issue for many workers, made even more urgent in shaky economic times and in an era of volatile equity markets, is scrubbing household budgets, and, when possible, finding more dollars to save for retirement,” Leary said.

The survey was conducted for ING by market research company Mathew Greenwald & Associates, which interviewed 1,000 workers in an employer-sponsored 401(k), 403(b) or 457 retirement plan. The data were gathered Sept. 24-28.

According to the survey, employees are also underutilizing their plans due to a lack of understanding contribution rates and the overall lifetime value of even small increases.

When asked to estimate the lifetime value of a 2% increase in their contribution rate, only a small percentage could even come close and many people miscalculated. Forty percent of respondents underestimated by 50% or more and just about a third (32%) over-estimated by 50% or more.

Additionally, very few of those surveyed consulted outside resources in determining their contribution levels. Instead, 65% of respondents said they determined their contribution rate themselves, and one in 21% said they “go by gut feeling.”  

“For too many, participation and contribution rate elections are just another box to check,” Leary said.

The good news is, employees would like more information. More than half (55%) agreed that if their employer provided them with a more detailed education, they might contribute more to their plan. In fact, 72% wished their company customized information for them.

Need help understanding your company’s 401(k) program? Check out this MainStreet article about common 401(k) options.

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