Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Does Retirement Education Teach People to Save Pension Distributions?

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Does Retirement Education Teach People to Save Pension Distributions?

Article excerpt

Education about retirement affects how employees use distributions from their defined contribution pension plans. Retirement education substantially increases the probability that participants age 40 and under will save a distribution but decreases the probability that college graduates and women will save one. These important differentials are concealed by estimates of the effect of retirement education on participants generally.

Summary

As defined contribution pension plans have become increasingly common over the past two decades, so have lump sum distributions from those plans. Employees who elect such a distribution take the balance of their pension account with them when they leave a job. They can then choose to maintain the funds in accounts designated for retirement, invest them in other saving vehicles, or spend them. If spent pension distributions are not replaced by other savings, however, the future elderly are unlikely to be able to maintain a desirable standard of living. With employee-funded pensions expected to play an increasingly important role in financing Americans' retirement, saving these funds is essential.

This article is the first to examine the relationship between retirement education-specifically, meetings sponsored by employers or by public and private institutions-and the saving of lump sum distributions. Two definitions of saving are used: one that includes reinvestment only in tax-deferred saving vehicles, and a broader one that includes tax-deferred vehicles, general saving vehicles (stocks, bonds, savings accounts, and so on), and paying off debt. The analysis also evaluates the effects of retirement education on specific groups identified in previous research as being less likely to keep their pension distributions in tax-deferred accounts: namely, women, younger persons, and persons with less than a college education. The same groups tend to be less financially secure in retirement, making the effects of retirement education on them particularly relevant.

With an econometric model using ordinary least squares and data from the 1992 Health and Retirement Study, the analysis finds that retirement education does not affect the overall likelihood that employees will save their distributions, whether in tax-deferred or non-tax-deferred vehicles. The picture is more complicated for subgroups of employees. Attending a retirement meeting is associated with an increased likelihood of saving among persons age 40 and under but a decreased probability of saving among college graduates and women. No effect was found for men, individuals over age 40, or persons who did not graduate from college.

The finding that retirement education increases the likelihood of younger persons' saving a distribution is reassuring, for these workers are America's future retirees. However, the finding that attending a meeting does not increase saving among some of the most financially vulnerable groups is a matter of concern to policymakers. Further study of the long-term effects of spending pension distributions is needed.

Introduction

As defined contribution pension plans have become increasingly common over the past two decades, so have lump sum distributions from those plans. Employees who elect such a distribution take the balance of their pension account with them when they leave a job. They can then choose to maintain the funds in accounts designated for retirement, invest them in other savings vehicles, or spend them.

Policymakers have acknowledged the increasing availability of lump sum distributions by passing tax legislation in 1986 and again in 1992 aimed at increasing the preservation of pension assets in tax-deferred accounts. Although the legislation has been somewhat successful at lowering the number of employees spending their pensions before retirement, the majority of individuals still do not put their balances into tax-deferred savings.

Several reasons for not saving distributions can be put forth. …

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