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Consumers, Craving Liquidity, Save Less in Retirement Plans: Study

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Investors are upping taxable accounts — and devoting less money to employer-sponsored retirement plans, according to new Hearts & Wallets research.

A new report by Hearts & Wallets finds that retail investor have a thirst for liquidity that is driving increases of certain account types as consumers weigh tradeoffs between tax-deferred investments and readily accessible funds.

The report finds an increasing desire for ready access to personal capital, as can be seen in the trend of large ownership jumps in two types of liquid accounts over the past five years.

According to the report, consumers with taxable brokerage accounts increased ownership rates by 10 percentage points over the past five years, and bank checking, saving and CD accounts are up 9 percentage points over the same period.

At the same time, the report finds that consumers are devoting less money to employer-sponsored retirement plans as a percent of total investable assets even as ownership has held steady. Consumers who put any funds in these retirement plans five years ago allocated 51% of their investable assets to current plans, compared with only 46% today, a decrease of 5 percentage points.

The report also finds that consumers are increasing their ownership of specialty liquid accounts to earmark funds for dedicated expenses.

College savings plans grew more popular, increasing in ownership as a percentage from 8% to 11% over the past five years, according to the report, although the amount of funds allotted to these plans decreased from 28% to 19% of investable assets during that time.

“Five years ago, Hearts & Wallets saw a spike in consumers increasingly wanting to build up their emergency funds,” Varas said. “Now we are seeing growth in accounts that offer liquidity, and specialty accounts that offer the ability to compartmentalize saving and defer taxes. The spotlight is now on financial services firms to offer more personalized advice by understanding consumer thirst for liquidity and diversity in spending needs.”

The report also finds that consumers are also using household wealth and real estate for liquidity.

According to the report, U.S. households have $13.9 trillion in net equity in their primary homes and additional real estate with real estate outpacing investable assets, growing at 9.8% 8-year compound annual rate vs 6.5% for investable assets.

Over the past five years, consumers have shifted toward owning investment and/or vacation properties and away from owning a primary home. The percent of households owning only investment/vacation real estate and not a primary home has increased from almost nothing to 7% over five years. The trend is more pronounced among millennials.

The desire for liquidity is also seen in data on non-mortgage debt where even consumers with substantial assets opt to carry debt, according to the report.

“From higher usage of brokerage accounts to increased ownership of investment properties, consumers are making strategic choices where they place their savings,” said Amber Katris, Hearts & Wallets subject matter expert and report author. “Consumers are considering important questions on how to manage timing to access capital and maximize flexibility.”

The report — “Income & Net Worth: Thirst for Liquidity and Other Actionable Surprises in Human Capital and Household Finance” — is drawn from the latest fielding of the Hearts & Wallets Investor Quantitative Database, which has data on retail consumer attitudes, behaviors and buying patterns of more than 40,000 U.S. households.

— Check out Assets in IRAs Top DC Plan Assets by 41%: EBRI on ThinkAdvisor.


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