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Retirement plan trends: a mixed picture in survey [charts]

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Ownership of employment-based retirement plans and individual retirement accounts was unchanged to declining in 2013, but median account balances of those families owning an individual account retirement plan increased last year.

So reports the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) in a November 2014 Issue Brief of Individual Retirement Account Plans. The paper examines a 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances, the Federal Reserve Board’s triennial survey of wealth.

The EBRI brief reveals that the percentage of families with an employment-based retirement plan from a current employer decreased to 36.2 percent in 2013 from 37.9 percent in 2010 and from 38.8 percent in 1992. In contrast, the percentage of family heads who were eligible to participate in defined contribution (DC) plans and chose to do so was essentially stable: 78.7 percent in 2013 versus 78.2 percent in 2010.

The percentage of families owning IRA/Keoghs saw only a marginal increase: 28.1 percent in 2013, as compared to 28.0 percent in 2010 at 28.0. The percentage of families with an individual account (IA) retirement plan from a current employer or a previous employer or an IRA/Keogh declined to 48.2 percent in 2013 from 50.4 percent in 2010. However, when including defined benefit (DB) retirement plans, the percentage with a retirement plan was mostly unchanged: 63.5 percent in 2013 versus 63.8 percent in 2010.

While ownership of employment-based plans and IRAs was unchanged to declining in 2013, the median account balances of those families owning an IA retirement plan increased in 2013. The value was $22,992 in 1992, $38,608 in 2001 and $59,000 in 2013.

The median percentage of families’ total financial assets comprised by IA retirement plan assets (assuming the family had any) was unchanged from 2010 to 2013 but still accounted for a clear majority of these assets:

  • The median IA retirement plan assets’ share of financial assets increased from 44.3 percent in 1992 to 70.3 percent in 2010, where it remained in 2013.
  • Across all demographic groups in 2013, these assets’ share at the median of total financial assets was at least 49.2 percent.
  • While regular IRAs account for the largest percentage of IRA ownership, rollover IRAs had a slightly larger share of assets than regular IRAs in 2013.

“The increase in IRA wealth is expected to continue in the future, as more workers will be in defined contribution plans and will be in them for a longer period of their working lives,” the EBRI brief states. “IRAs will likely be the main source of retirement income for future generations of Americans.”

The charts on the next page recap key findings on household IRA ownership and assets.