Saturday, August 01, 2015

Are You Exploiting Naïve Myopic Workers With That Employer Match?

Over the years, I’ve seen some convoluted ways to rationalize undermining the tax preferences of workplace retirement plans and substituting government tax credits — but a new one just may take the cake.

A Behavioral Contract Theory Perspective on Retirement Savings,” authored by Ryan Bubb and Patrick Corrigan from the New York University School of Law and Patrick L. Warren from Clemson University’s John E. Walker Department of Economics, starts off by assuming that workers are rational, though perhaps not rational in the way you or I might consider to be rational. However, I’ll accept as logical their assertion that rational workers will prefer saving through an employer-provided plan, rather than accepting a job that does not provide such a plan.

They also claim to provide an analysis that “provides novel explanations for the use of low default contribution rates in automatic enrollment plans, the shift away from defined benefit annuities toward lump sum distributions in defined contribution plans, and the offering of investment options with excessive fees.” Well, it’s certainly novel. More on that in a minute.

Exploit ‘Actions’

The authors claim that employers that provide qualified retirement plans provide more after-tax compensation (in the form of employer contributions not subject to FICA) to employees than employers that do not, and that if workers are rational (there’s that “rational” reference again), then competition for workers in the labor market should therefore provide incentives for employers to offer such plans. So, all other things being equal, workers would prefer to work for an employer that offers a plan than one that doesn’t. So far, so good.

Now we all know that some workers don’t save, and some don’t save enough. But the paper maintains that “if workers undersave (or make other retirement savings mistakes) due to behavioral biases,” then the labor market will give employers incentives to design plans that “cater to and exploit, rather than resolve, those behavioral biases.”

They claim that some workers undersave due to myopia — and that also results in employer plan designs that “exploit the myopic,” and that they do so specifically by — wait for it — offering matching contributions, which the study’s authors claim “naïve myopic workers overvalue.”

Moreover, they claim that this matching results in what they term “cross-subsidization” of rational workers, which, in turn, lowers myopic workers’ total compensation. Said another way, matching contributions mean that the naïve, myopic part of the workforce is not only undersaving (because they overvalue the contributions), but actually receiving less compensation (since the employer is paying them less to offset the cost of the contributions). Are you following this?

And while you may be under the impression that employers offer matching contributions either to increase NHCEs’ contribution rates or to meet one of the safe harbors so that they can provide greater tax-advantaged compensation to HCEs, according to the researchers, you would be wrong. They claim that employers offer those matches precisely because myopic workers overvalue them. Sound like a devious plot to you? Now you’re getting it…

Not only that, they also claim that matching contributions crowd out what they consider to be the superior — and non-redistributive — “commitment device” of non-elective contributions. That’s right, contributions that do not require any particular action on the part of the worker other than to exist and be eligible. Apparently it’s the reward for specific behaviors that is distorting things.

‘Over’ Matched?

Indeed, these researchers believe that the mere existence of the match means that workers will overestimate how much they will, in fact, save for retirement — and, since they think they will accumulate more than they actually will, they will save less — and employers save money, not only because they pay less (the offset for the matching contributions), the workers will choose to save less — and get less of a match.

Put simply, the paper claims that the labor market gives employers incentives to craft plan designs that cater to what biased workers perceive to be of value, and that the same behavioral biases that produce worker mistakes in saving for retirement will also typically lead workers to prefer plans that fail to correct their mistakes (apparently by encouraging them to save for retirement, but not as much as they need) and that can even exacerbate them. The result, they say, is an equilibrium set of choice architectures (plan design) that fails to effectively address the basic retirement savings policy problem of people not saving enough for retirement. Choice architecture that, in their estimation, is making things worse, not better. Because employers offer workplace retirement plans — and have the temerity to match the contributions of workers who take advantage of these programs. The horror!

Employer ‘Incentives’

The authors’ main message is that when workers undersave due to those behavioral biases, then “employers have incentives to design employer contributions in a way that fails to address the undersaving problem and indeed that can even actively exploit the undersavers.”

They not only claim that matching contributions are harmful to rational workers, but maintain that they are “unambiguously so.” How? Well, they claim that matching contributions distort the worker’s incentive to save by encouraging too much savings (which is apparently different than enough savings), and the worker would receive more “utility” from being paid this money as wages.

Oh, and as another example of employer bad behavior in plan design (and ostensibly another reason employers can’t be relied upon in this role), the authors note that most employers choose an automatic enrollment default deferral rate of 3%. The authors concede that the use of automatic enrollment can result in retirement savings by employees who would otherwise have initially contributed nothing to the plan. However, they caveat this admission by noting that some who would have saved more than that default rate if they had had to fill out an enrollment form only save at the default rate.

The solution for this? Substituting for the current system of employer-provided pension plans a new federal defined contribution plan, designed by a federal agency and not linked to any particular job, of course. Oh, and not only do they claim that this could improve savings outcomes, but that it would do so “at little to no fiscal cost to the government.”

Except, presumably, for the part where the government trades the temporary deferral of tax revenues for the permanent forgiveness of a government tax subsidy.

FWIW, I find it hard to believe that this kind of analysis would survive serious scrutiny outside of the rarefied air of academia. But stranger notions have.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, July 11, 2015

5 Things You Should Know About Target-Date Funds

In a remarkably short period of time, target-date funds have become an integral component of the typical 401(k) menu, and a growing share of 401(k) plan assets — particularly those of newly hired 401(k) plan participants — are being directed to TDFs.

Whether you are a plan fiduciary evaluating the TDF option(s) on your plan menu — or a 401(k) plan participant being defaulted into a TDF option — here are five questions to which you should know the answers about your TDF investment.

1. What is the ‘appropriate’ asset allocation?

This is the million-dollar question for target-date funds. At a high level, this is no more complicated than deciding what is the right mix of stocks and bonds, international and domestic, alternative investments and/or cash for investors at every stage of their investing life — or than picking the firm(s) that you trust to know what that right mix is.

2. How much of what is on your glide path?

The “glide path” sounds like a complicated concept, but it is actually nothing more than how the shifts in asset allocation take place over time. It is the path that these investments take your money on throughout your investing life. Still, for some funds — particularly newer, smaller funds — the asset-allocation strategies outlined in the fund prospectus or fact sheet may still be “aspirational,” may not yet incorporate all the specific strategies that the fund manager has in mind for that time in the future when the funds achieve a certain critical mass. You need to know what the targets are — and know if those targets are part of the current strategy.

3. Are the funds composed of proprietary offerings, or are they ‘open architecture’?

The “debate” over the relative advantages of open architecture versus proprietary offerings has long been part of retirement plan administration choices, and it is part of the target-date decision as well.

Those advocating the benefits of open architecture generally tout the ability to pick “best of breed” investment solutions (while readily being able to dump those that fall short), backed by the notion that no one firm can possibly be that best choice across every asset class. Those pushing proprietary choices take issue with that latter point, while pointing to the benefits of their intimate knowledge of their own product set — not to mention the relative cost efficiencies of a proprietary product. There is no one single right answer, but the determination should be part of your evaluation.

4. How much does it cost?

Target-date funds are often constructed as a fund comprised of other funds, and — particularly when a provider incorporates other funds in their offerings, they frequently charge some kind of fee for their expertise in putting together those other funds. This is a fee generally applied as some kind of basis-point charge in addition to the other, regular fees charged by the underlying funds. You will want to know what this charge is, if any, and consider it as part of the total cost of your selection. This fee is generally smaller (sometimes there is no extra charge) for proprietary-only offerings.

Beyond the aforementioned “wrapper” fee, TDFs — particularly mutual fund TDFs — will generally have all the same kinds of fees typically associated with retirement plan investments. Bear in mind that some of the fund allocations may include some relatively exotic asset classes — and those may carry higher expenses than you are accustomed to seeing. Additionally, you may find some retail share class funds included, even in institutional share class offerings. The bottom line: Keep an eye on the bottom line.

5. How should I measure ‘success’?

It wasn’t all that long ago that there were no benchmarks to speak of in this space (other than those constructed by the firms managing those funds). These days the passage of time, and the expansion of the market, have produced several credible benchmarks against which the performance of the funds can be evaluated.

But take note: The benchmarks can be as varied in their underlying philosophy and construction as are the funds themselves. That’s why it is important to first know what you believe about the approach, glide paths, and/or asset allocation before you pick the benchmark.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

You may also want to check out the Employee Benefits Security Administration’s (EBSA) “Target Date Retirement Funds — Tips for ERISA Plan Fiduciaries” at

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Course of Human Events

It is easy, looking back, to gloss over just how remarkable was the sequence of events that made this nation’s independence a reality. The bickering and machinations of the Continental Congress in 1776 were every bit as unpleasant, and unproductive, as the worst of today’s elected officials — even though, and perhaps in some measure because, hostilities with Great Britain had officially been underway since the so-called “shot heard ‘round the world” the preceding spring.

The men who gathered in Philadelphia that summer to bring together what was not yet a “new nation” came from all walks of life. Still, it seems fair to say that most had something to lose, both financially and in terms of the personal liberty they advocated as an “unalienable” right. True, many were merchants (some wealthy, including President of Congress John Hancock) already chafing under the tax burdens imposed by British rule, and perhaps they could see a day when their actions would accrue to their economic benefit. But they could hardly have undertaken that declaration of independence without a very real concern that they might well have signed their death warrants.

Ironically, despite the celebrations on the 4th, the resolution that declared that “these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States” was approved by the Continental Congress on July 2. In fact, only President of Congress John Hancock and Charles Thomson, secretary, signed it on the 4th (the former famously in a hand “large enough for King George to read without his spectacles”). Most of the 56 delegates didn’t sign it for another month. One didn’t sign until 1781.

Of course, that “declaration” didn’t magically make it so. The winter at Valley Forge and many other disappointments still lay ahead. The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown was still more than five years off, and an official end to the hostilities would not come until two years after that, in 1783.

This week most will commemorate the declaration of this nation’s independence as a unifying experience. And yet, just “four score and seven years” later, as the nation approached another Independence Day celebration, President Abraham Lincoln would find himself in the middle of an enormously unpopular war fought to keep the nation together, even as two massive armies converged at a crossroads community called Gettysburg.

Even in 1776, historians have suggested that only about a third of the colonial citizenry actually favored independence, while a third remained loyal to Britain — and the remainder apparently just wanted to be left alone.

It seems only right then that today, as part of this “course of human events” and perhaps particularly at this time when our nation seems so deeply divided on a number of issues, that we remember not only the differences, but the sacrifices, large and small, that have made this great nation possible.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

You can read more about the Declaration of Independence here.

Friday, July 03, 2015

4 Steps Toward Financial Independence

While retirement and retirement savings may not be high on your Independence Day weekend agenda, it can be a good time to focus on things that have been pushed aside for more pressing priorities.

Here are four steps you can take this weekend that can help put you on the road to achieve financial independence.

1. Figure Out How Much You Need

Yogi Berra once famously noted that if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
Effective savings strategies start with a goal, something to aim for. For many, retirement savings goals seem impossible to set. After all, there’s no “blue book” on the cost or quality of retirement — no single answer to the question, “How much do I need?” As a result, many people fear that their estimates “aren’t even in the ballpark” of what will be required. The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey affirmed a long-standing trend — that most haven’t made even a single attempt to figure out what they might need for retirement.

There are, however, tools that can help you set a reasonable target. If your workplace retirement plan doesn’t currently provide that option, the Ballpark E$timate at is free, thorough, and won’t require much of your weekend to come up with a target based on your individual circumstances.

2. Rebalance Your Account

While a growing number of individuals take advantage of strategies like managed accounts and target-date funds — options that are regularly rebalanced by investment professionals — to invest their 401(k) balances, many workers (especially older ones) still make individual fund selections, either on their own or with the help of an advisor. The problem is, we’re often too busy to go back and review those decisions. Unfortunately, left unattended too long, market movements can leave even the best investment choices out of balance and produce results that are unintended.

If you haven’t rebalanced your account in a while (or can’t remember when you did), take advantage of the long weekend to do so.

Note: if you are using a strategy like a target-date fund, balanced fund or managed account with your workplace plan, you shouldn’t need to rebalance. And if you’re not using one of those options, this might be a good opportunity to consider making a change.

3. Bump Up That Contribution Rate

Like those investment choices, most of us make a decision about how much to save once, frequently when we first join the plan. At that time you may have chosen that rate based on the employer match, or the rate that the plan automatically enrolled you, or perhaps even just the amount that you thought you could afford at the time. Odds are you haven’t changed that rate since that very first time, however — and if you didn’t make that decision based on an assessment of how much you needed to provide a financially secure retirement (see #1 above), it may not be enough.

So, take that rate and consider increasing it — by at least 1%, or more if you can.
And make a point of increasing that savings rate annually.

4. Give Your Plan an Annual Check Up

It may seem obvious, but once you have figured out how much you’ll need to live on in retirement, you need to see if you are on track to achieve that goal. So pull out those retirement plan statements, take a look at your current rate of savings, how you’re invested, the amount of the employer match, and your remaining years of saving/investing, and see how far that takes you in achieving the goal you set above.

If your current approach leaves you short of that goal, consider alternatives — saving more, for instance, or in a way that allows you to maximize your employer match. The tool you used to forecast your needs should also be able to help you see the impact that changes in your current savings strategy can make.

Then remember that things change. Whether it’s your health, your family, your income, or your place of residence, your plan needs to keep up with your needs and expectations.

While you don’t need to constantly reassess, even if there aren’t major changes it’s a good idea to check it out at least once a year — and why not on a long weekend?

Regardless, always consider seeking the help of a qualified expert advisor to help you make the decisions that will allow you to celebrate your own financial independence!

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, June 27, 2015

6 Questions to Ask at Your Next Investment Committee Meeting

Every plan, and every investment committee, is unique — and yet, conducted properly, there are inevitably areas of commonality.

As the quarter draws to a close and preparations for these meetings get underway, here are some questions that could enhance the discussion, if not the outcome, of your next meeting.

1. Do we really need to have all these funds on the menu?

We know that participants tend to hold four or five funds on average, regardless of how many choices are on the menu. And for years we’ve known that the more choices participants have, the more difficult it is for them to make choices. (Remember the famous study about jam choices?) Sure, it can be hard to let go of a fund, especially if some participants have invested money in that option. But what tends to happen over time is a kind of fund menu inflation, where new funds get added but old ones never leave.

The funds on your menu should have a purpose. If they don’t — even if they once did — you aren’t doing anyone a favor by cluttering up the menu. And you could be leaving in place a non-performing ticking time bomb that could lead to problems later on.

2. Are there less expensive share classes available for the funds on our investment menu?

Arguably, this is the question that the defendants in Tibble v. Edison should have asked, and spared themselves a lot of time and litigation. The bottom line is, if there’s no difference in a fund choice (particularly when it’s just a different share class of the same fund) other than price, why is the more expensive one on your menu?

3. How much are our participants paying for this plan?

Odds are that most of the fees paid by the plan are investment-related, and with all the additional fee disclosures floating around, you’d like to believe that the committee already knows the answer to this question.

In my experience, however, it’s one thing to invoke a sterile “x basis points” assessment and another thing altogether to stop and do the math to put a gross dollar figure on the total cost to the plan. Or maybe even how much the average participant in the plan is paying in dollars and cents.

4. What services are we buying with those fees?

There’s been a lot of focus on fees lately — but fiduciaries are charged with ensuring that the fees and services rendered are reasonable. And I’ve never understood how you can figure out if fees are “reasonable” if you don’t know what you are paying them for.

5. Do we all need to be on this committee?

Over time, committees have a tendency to expand, sometimes based more on factors like internal organizational politics than on valuable perspectives or expertise. But human dynamics are such that the larger the group, the more diffused (and sometimes deferred) the decision-making.

As for how to trim the “fat” from the committee, sometimes all you have to do is remind committee members that plan fiduciaries have personal liability (see “5 Things Plan Sponsors Should Know”).

6. Who’s taking notes?

Finally, if you’re having a committee meeting, you’ll want to document all decisions that are made and the rationale behind each one. Prudence is process, after all — and it often starts with asking the right questions.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Preference on ‘Preferences’?

A research paper finds that introducing a Roth 401(k) option doesn’t have much impact on current plan savings rates — but what does that have to do with their preference for tax preferences?

Well, according to “Does Front-Loading Taxation Increase Savings? Evidence from Roth 401(k) Introductions,” governments could actually increase private savings by taxing savings up front, rather than in retirement. This conclusion basically suggests that taking away the current 401(k) pre-tax contribution and replacing it with a Roth assumption would not only not decrease, but it might actually increase, retirement savings, and with no additional cost to the government.

For years a key education element touted about 401(k) plan participation has been the ability of the individual to put off paying taxes on their contributions and on the earnings attributable to those contributions (and those of their employer, if any) until retirement, at which point they would ostensibly find themselves in a lower income tax bracket. Moreover, by saving on a tax-deferred basis, the theory went that you could get more bang for your buck in leveraging the taxes deferred.

A Preference for Roths

The researchers look at that scenario a little differently — gauging that paying taxes upfront on the contributions and foregoing paying taxes on the accumulated earnings amounts to a better deal. They then anticipate that participants would shift their 401(k) contributions to Roths.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers drew on administrative 401(k) plan data from 11 companies that introduced a Roth 401(k) option between 2006 and 2010 to analyze the impact of a Roth option on savings plan contributions. They found no evidence of a change in total contribution rates between employees hired after a Roth option is introduced and employees hired before. In fact, they note that if anything, contributions rise slightly when a Roth option is available.

Having found no evidence of the anticipated shift to Roths, they seek to explain it.

To do so, they turn from actual data to a survey of participants who are asked to provide a savings recommendation to a couple of fictional participants — basically to come up with a recommended savings rate for a pre-tax 401(k) option versus one that allows for both a pre-tax 401(k) deferral and a Roth 401(k) contribution. Despite what the researchers see as obvious advantages with the Roth, the contribution recommendations (in terms of a total contribution) are almost identical.

No ‘Wonder’

While considering several possible explanations for why this occurs, they settle on one that seems fairly obvious: “ignorance and/or neglect of the 401(k) tax rules.” But since the introduction of the Roth 401(k) option didn’t lead to any major shift in contribution rates, the researchers conclude that this suggests that governments may be able to increase after-tax private savings (because participants will have more savings accumulated with the Roth) while holding the present value of taxes collected roughly constant (the government gets less money, but gets it upfront, rather than waiting for the individual to retire) by making savings non-deductible up front but tax exempt in retirement, rather than vice versa.

In other words, since the addition of the Roth option didn’t lead to any significant changes in contribution behaviors, policymakers could consider shifting those current tax preferences to a post-tax savings assumption without being worried that individuals would react negatively, and perhaps save less, in response.

What If?

While acknowledging that a Roth-focused savings design could be advantageous to some, perhaps many workers (especially younger workers who may currently be paying the lowest tax rates of their working lives), I’d like to posit an alternative perspective.

What if those workers didn’t shift to Roth just because they liked the notion of putting off paying taxes — that they appreciated the logic of getting a dollar’s worth of savings for 85 cents worth of paycheck (that might, however, even account for the small uptick in contributions for the Roth — trying to make up for that “gap”)? Or that, having contributed on a pre-tax basis for some period of time, they were simply disinclined to make a change. After all, if plan sponsors simply added a Roth contribution type to the play, without changing default assumptions or matching formulas, simply presenting it as an additional option, I think it’s fair to say that, under those circumstances, most participants wouldn’t have any reaction or response to the new option. Indeed, considering normal behavioral inertia, it would be surprising if they did.

Let’s face it — they didn’t save more, they didn’t save less. They pretty much held the status quo.

So, what does this non-response of participants to the addition of a Roth option tell us about their likely response to the elimination the ability to defer paying taxes on income they haven’t received?

Well, Newton’s First Law of Motion is that objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted on by an external force. If you wanted to really test the reaction of participants to losing their pre-tax deferral choice — their “preference” for tax “preferences” — it seems to me that you’d need to actually take that option away from them. And then perhaps consider Newton’s Third Law of Motion: that for every action there is an equal — and opposite — reaction.

There is, it seems to me, a big difference between participants ignoring an additional choice and having an existing choice taken away. And policymakers who ignore that distinction in effecting tax law changes for retirement plans do so at their peril.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, June 13, 2015

5 Things You Need to Know About Retirement Readiness

Recently the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled with its conclusion: “Most Households Approaching Retirement Have Low Savings.”

The title was no surprise — though the definitions of “most” and “low” bear further understanding.

The GAO Analysis
The GAO based most of its conclusions on findings from the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finance (SCF), conducted by the Federal Reserve every three years. It is a reputable and well-regarded source of consumer information, drawn from a sampling of about 6,000 households (different ones every cycle). That said, the information contained is “self-reported,” which is to say that it tells you what the individual thinks they have (or perhaps wishes they had), but not necessarily what they actually have. More on that in a minute.

The rationale for the “most” in the headline appears to come from its focus on households age 55 and older, where the GAO noted that (only) 48% had some retirement savings, and thus one might reasonably assume that the remaining 52% had no retirement savings — and that would seem to be the case. However, 23% of that 52% said they had a defined benefit plan. Now, that assessment may be inaccurate (see above), but if they do, in fact, have a DB plan, that plus Social Security might well be sufficient. So, “most” have no savings, but about half of that “most” might not need savings. Admittedly, that distinction makes for a clumsy headline.

What about the 29% who were age 55 or older, and who had neither a DB plan nor retirement savings? Well, the median annual income of that group was (just) $18,932. It’s not hard to imagine why that income bracket might not have set aside any savings for retirement. On the other hand, that group is probably well served by Social Security. Despite that income level, more than a third (35%) of those in this group say they own a home with no debt. Assuming that is the case (see “self-reported” above), that could make a big difference in their post-retirement expenses and/or represent an additional resource they could draw on for retirement income.

The GAO conclusions notwithstanding, here are five things you need to know about retirement readiness (and retirement readiness projections):

1. Social Security matters — especially for lower-income individuals.
Social Security remains the largest component of household income in retirement. In fact, GAO noted that for households age 65-74 with no retirement savings, Social Security makes up 57% of their household income on average. In fact, a quarter of this group rely on Social Security for more than 90% of their income.

For all households age 65-74, median annual income is about $47,000, and Social Security makes up on average 44% of income for households in this age group, larger than any other income source. About 90% of all households in this age range receive some Social Security income, and the median amount they receive is approximately $19,000.

The median income for households age 75 and older is about $27,000, and the median Social Security income is approximately $17,000. In fact, when compared to younger households age 65-74, Social Security makes up a larger share of household income for retirees age 75 and older, with 62% of these households relying on Social Security for more than 50%, and more than one-in-five (22%) relying on Social Security for more than 90% of their income.

2. Average or even median savings amount in the abstract tell you very little about retirement income adequacy at an individual level.

People live in different places and have different lifestyles and lifestyle expectations. They may have resources available beyond that reported in surveys such as the SCF, and individual health circumstances can make a huge difference in the adequacy of reported income sources vis-à-vis actual retirement spending requirements.

3. Pre-retirement income (or a percentage thereof) may not be a reliable proxy for post-retirement needs.

Many of these studies — and those cited by the GAO were no exception — use a “replacement rate” standard which, while it may be a convenient metric to use to convey retirement targets to individuals, has some serious shortcomings when applied to these large-scale policy models for determining whether an individual will run short of money in retirement.

The reality is that what and how we spend money pre-retirement often has little to do with our actual financial needs post-retirement.

As EBRI’s Research Director Jack VanDerhei points out, “…simply setting a target replacement rate at retirement age and suggesting that anyone above that threshold will have a ‘successful’ retirement completely ignores longevity risk, post-retirement investment risk, and long-term care risk.”

4. Many retirement projection models assume a 50% probability of success.
Aside from the shortcomings inherent in relying on a replacement rate for these projections, if you try to factor in longevity risk (the risk of running out of money in retirement), and post-retirement investment risk, VanDerhei notes that if you use a replacement rate threshold based on average longevity and average rate of return, you will, in essence, have a savings target that will prove to be insufficient… about 50% of the time.

Of course, when it comes to their retirement security, individuals tend to prefer something much closer to 100%.

5. Those who have a retirement plan are much better off than those who don’t.
Those with no retirement savings had a median income of approximately $29,000, while those in the same age range who have some retirement savings have a median income of $76,000. Among those age 55-64 with no retirement savings, the median net worth was $21,000 (about half of these had no wage or salary income), while among those in the same age bracket with any retirement savings, their median net worth was $337,000. In that group, the median income of those with no retirement savings was $26,000; among those with some retirement savings, the median income was $88,000.

Compared to those with retirement savings, these households (those aged 55-64 with no retirement savings) have about one-third of the median income and about one-fifteenth of the median net worth, and are less likely to be covered by a DB plan.

All of which suggests that it would probably be more meaningful to examine the retirement readiness of those without access to a retirement plan separately from those who do.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD