It may not come as a surprise that higher contribution rates lead to greater wealth accumulation for retirement plan participants. But a recent study found that the size of the difference a few percentage points can make over time is dramatic.
A study by the Putnam Institute, “Defined Contribution Plans: Missing the forest for the trees?” contends that while a number of variables, such as fund selection, asset allocation, portfolio rebalancing, and deferral rates all contribute to a defined contribution plan’s effectiveness — or lack thereof — it is deferral rates – in other words how much you save by contributing each month (my emphasis and clarification) – that should be placed near the top of the hierarchy when considering ways to boost retirement saving success.1
As part of its analysis, the research team created a hypothetical scenario in which an individual’s contribution rate increased from 3% of income to 4%, 6%, and 8%. After 29 years, the final balance jumped from $138,000, to $181,000, $272,000, and $334,000, respectively.
Even with a just a 1% increase — to a 4% deferral rate — the participant’s final accumulation would have been 30% greater than it would have been using a fund selection strategy defined as the “Crystal Ball” strategy, in which the plan sponsor uses a predefined formula to predict which funds may potentially perform well for the next three-year period. Further, the 1% boost in income deferral would have had a wealth accumulation effect nearly 100% larger than a growth asset allocation strategy, and 2,000% greater than rebalancing. Of course these results are hypothetical and past performance does not guarantee future results.
One key takeaway of the study was for plan sponsors to find ways to communicate the benefits of higher deferral rates to employees, and to help them find ways to do so.
Retirement Savings Tips
The Employee Benefit Research Institute reported in 2014 that 44% of American workers have tried to figure out how much money they will need to accumulate for retirement, and one-third admit they are not doing a good job in their financial planning for retirement.2 Are you? If so, these strategies may help you to better identify and pursue your retirement savings goals:
Double-check your assumptions. When do you plan to retire? How much money will you need each year? Where and when do you plan to get your retirement income? Are your investment expectations in line with the performance potential of the investments you own?
Use a proper “calculator.” The best way to calculate your goal is by using one of the many interactive worksheets now available free of charge online and in print. Each type features questions about your financial situation as well as blank spaces for you to provide answers. But remember, your ultimate goal is to save as much money as possible for retirement regardless of what any calculator might suggest.
Contribute more. At the very least, try to contribute enough to receive the full amount of any employer’s matching contribution. It’s also a good idea to increase contributions annually, such as after a pay raise.
Retirement will likely be one of the biggest expenses in your life, so it’s important to maintain an accurate cost estimate and financial plan. Make it a priority to calculate your savings goal at least once a year.
1Putnam Institute, Defined Contribution Plans: Missing the forest for the trees?, May 2014.
2Ruth Helman, Nevin Adams, Craig Copeland, and Jack VanDerhei. “The 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey: Confidence Rebounds–for Those With Retirement Plans,” EBRI Issue Brief, no. 397, March 2014.
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