American households that adopt some or all of five key financial wellness behaviors are more likely to be saving more and better positioned for building wealth, but “retirement savings” is one of the most difficult behaviors to adopt, according to the findings of a new report.
Hearts & Wallets’ “Household Finance: Quest for Liquidity, the Connection to Workplace Financial Wellness and the Current Competitive Environment” reveals that so-called Peak Accumulator behaviors, first identified by the organization in 2010, allow households to amass far more assets than groups with less financially healthy behaviors.
According to the research, 67% of Peak Accumulators save 10% or more of their income, more than double the national rate of 30% for U.S. households saving 10% or more in 2022.
Peak Accumulators have a national adoption rate of being “true” for the following behaviors in 2022:
- “My insurance needs are covered (life, home, car, health)” – 66%
- “I have little or no credit card debt” – 59%
- “I have some savings in case I lose my job” – 54%
- “I generally spend less than I make” – 51%
- “I have a retirement savings plan(s) and I contribute to it/them regularly” – 43%
Nationally, only 19% of U.S. households do all five Peak Accumulator behaviors in 2022, but this is up 4 percentage points from 15% in 2011.
Of the five behaviors, however, having a retirement savings plan and contributing regularly is the most difficult behavior to adopt, but there has been some progress, according to the findings.
Over the past decade, Americans have made the most progress on “some savings” with 54% of households reporting that they have set aside some money, up 11 percentage points from 43% in 2011. “Retirement savings,” meanwhile, is up 7 percentage points to 43%, from 36% in 2011.
“Consumers are balancing multiple saving goals, and often they prioritize other goals before saving for retirement. These other goals may take on more immediacy than the longer-term goal of retirement saving, such as saving for a home, a car or a child's education,” Laura Varas, CEO and founder of Hearts & Wallets, tells NAPA.
Retirement may not even be a goal for some individuals, who may plan to continue working for as long as possible, Varas further observes. “That is especially true for many white-collar workers whose bodies don't suffer the cumulative physical strain that blue collar workers may experience.” As such, she suggests that workplace programs may want to shape messaging around saving to meet goals when older, rather than using the word “retirement” to get more participants engaged in these longer-term saving goals.
Consequently, the importance of having access to a workplace financial wellness program appears to come into play. Recalling that only 19% of households nationally do all five Peak Accumulator behaviors, participants at leading providers of institutional retirement plans are at or above national levels.
That participants in some programs are much more likely than the national level to report they do the five Peak Accumulator behaviors suggests that participant experiences at the stores may have been deliberately trying to improve basic financial wellness, the report further observes.
Savings Favoring Liquidity
Meanwhile, U.S. households are saving more nationally, but having liquid savings apparently is taking on more prominence. In what appears to be an effort to boost emergency savings post-pandemic, consumers are upping average allocations to liquid accounts, including bank savings, certificates of deposits (CDs) and taxable brokerage, the report notes.
Households who are active participants in employer-sponsored retirement plans (ESRPs) generally have higher allocation to current and former ESRPs than households who are not. In 2020, active participant households had, on average, 49% of assets in current and former ESRPs vs. 25% overall averages. Today, active participant households have on average 42% of assets in ESRPs, down from 49% in 2020, and 33% in savings/taxable brokerage, up from 29% in 2020.
What’s more, among households with any assets, average allocations to liquid accounts (saving/CDs and taxable brokerage) rose from 43% in 2020 to 49% in 2022. At the same time, average allocations to current and former ESRPs fell from 31% to 25%. In general, low- and high-asset households have more of their assets in liquid taxable registrations, while mid-asset level households have more of their asset allocations in retirement plans.
Overall, Hearts & Wallets found that more than 1 in 3 households (37%) save $5,000-plus annually, 1 in 5 save $10,000-plus, and 8% save $20,000-plus.
Additional findings show that households who are eligible and participating in workplace programs are much more likely to have life insurance than households who are ineligible or eligible but not participating. In fact, households who use resources provided through ESRPs as a source of investment information and advice “usually” or as “primary/go-to” resources are more likely to report having life insurance than households who “sometimes” or “never use resources provided by ESRPs.”
“Workplace wellness programs position participants for successful wealth building,” notes Amber Katris, Hearts & Wallets Subject Matter Expert and co-author of the report. “Such programs can also satisfy sponsor demand and bolster low recordkeeping margins with additional revenue streams.”
The report is based on a survey of 5,993 U.S. households in the latest wave (fielded Aug. 15–Sept. 15, 2022) of the Hearts & Wallets Investor Quantitative Database with over 120 million data points on saving, investing and advice behaviors from 70,000 U.S. households dating back to 2010.
 Note that this research release does not address the impact that auto-enrollment has had on retirement plan participation.
 It’s worth noting that, for this series of questions, the survey asked whether they were “true, somewhat true or not true.” When factoring in the 25% of respondents who answered “somewhat true” when asked whether they have a retirement savings plan and contribute to it regularly, the overall level rises to 68%.