What Would Americans Change About Their 401(k)s?

A new consumer survey finds that American workers aren’t interested in changes to the control they have of their 401(k) plans, much less requirements on retirement income, or changes in tax treatment.

The survey by the Investment Company Institute (ICI) found that American workers disagreed that the government should:

  • 89% – take away the tax advantages of DC accounts
  • 90% – reduce the amounts that individuals can contribute to DC accounts
  • 90% – reduce the amount that employers can contribute to DC accounts for their employees
  • 87% – not allow individuals to make their own investment decisions in DC accounts
  • 84% – invest all retirement accounts in an investment option selected by a government-appointed board of experts

In fall 2016, even 82% of households without DC accounts or IRAs rejected the idea of taking away the tax treatment of DC accounts.

Tax Treatments

Eight in ten respondents said that the tax treatment of my retirement plan is a big incentive to contribute, though that fell to 70% among those making $30,000 or less, and rose to 86% among those making $100,000 or more.

In the fall of 2016, 70% of US households had “very” or “somewhat” favorable impressions of DC plan accounts, similar to the 72% in fall 2015. Among households expressing an opinion, 89% had favorable impressions of 401(k) plans, with 38% agreeing that they had a “very favorable” impression. Households owning DC accounts or IRAs were more likely to express an opinion of DC account investing and 84% of households owning DC accounts or IRAs indicated a favorable impression of such saving. Nevertheless, even among the non-owning respondents, 77% of those who expressed an opinion had a favorable view (compared with 94% with favorable opinions among account owners with opinions).

However, just 44% of households with DC accounts agreed with the statement: “I probably wouldn’t save for retirement if I didn’t have a retirement plan at work,” with agreement highest (55%) among households with incomes of less than $50,000. That level of concurrence slipped to 47% for households with incomes between $50,000 and $99,999, and was the weakest (33%) among households with incomes of $100,000 or more.

The survey consists of answers to questions included in a series of national surveys that the GfK Group fielded using the KnowledgePanel® in December 2016, covering a total sample of 2,027 adults in the United States.

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