Our industry pays a lot of attention to the investment choices that retirement plan participants make; we fret about the type and number of choices on their investment menu, the efficacy of target-date funds, the utilization of active versus passive investment strategies, and the prudence of the asset allocation choices that individuals make—with or without the benefit of tools and/or professional guidance. Unfortunately, once they leave that part of our private retirement system, not so much.
EBRI Issue Brief. But there remains a limited amount of knowledge about the investment behavior of individuals who own IRAs, alone or in combination with employment-based retirement plans.
In order to fill this gap, EBRI has undertaken an initiative to study in depth this connection between DC plans and IRAs, and created the EBRI IRA Database,(1) which links individuals (both within and across data providers) in this IRA database and with participants in DC plans. The asset allocation across ages within each IRA type(2) had some minor differences, but, in general, the percentages allocated to equities and balanced funds declined as the owner became older, and the percentage allocated to bonds and other assets increased. Additionally, as the account balances increased, the percentages of assets in equities and balanced funds combined decreased, while bond and “other” assets’ shares increased.
While gender differences abound in many walks of life, male and female IRA owners had virtually identical allocations in bonds, equities, and money in the EBRI IRA database, though males were slightly more likely to have assets in the “other”(3) category, and females had a higher percentage of assets in balanced funds.
Among IRA categories, Roth IRAs had the highest share of assets in equities (59.1 percent) and balanced funds (15.5 percent). Of course, Roth owners are younger, on average, than rollover owners, and Roth IRAs tend to be supplemental savings funded by individual contributions only, whereas rollovers tend to be the main or primary retirement savings for workers nearing retirement or retirees.
Indeed, the most significant difference among IRA types is that Roth owners were much more likely to have 90 percent or more of their accounts invested in equities than in other asset types, and were correspondingly likely to have less than 10 percent of their assets in bonds and money combined. Once again, the likelihood of these “extreme” allocations was very similar across genders.
When comparing the overall percentage of 401(k) assets held in equities (equities, equity share in balanced funds, and company stock) from the EBRI/ICI 401(k) database, the number is relatively close to that found in the IRA accounts (60.0 percent in 401(k) plans and 52.1 percent in IRAs), although the bond and money percentages are higher for IRAs than 401(k) plans (19.9 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, for bonds and 8.9 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively, for money), while balanced funds constitute more of the assets in 401(k) plans than in IRAs. In sum, while it wasn’t the focus on the study, the average asset allocation found for IRAs was similar to that in 401(k) plans.
Of course, those IRA balances likely aren’t the totality of the retirement savings for these individuals, and thus, whether that particular allocation—looked at in isolation—is “good” news or not, remains to be seen.(4)
- Nevin E. Adams, JD
(1) The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s retirement databases (the EBRI/ICI Participant-Directed Retirement Plan Database, the EBRI IRA Database, and the EBRI Integrated Defined Contribution/IRA Database) have been the subject of multiple independent security audits and have been certified to be fully compliant with the ISO-27002 Information Security Audit standard. Moreover, EBRI has obtained a legal opinion that the methodology used meets the privacy standards of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. At no time has any nonpublic, personal information that is personally identifiable, such as Social Security number, been transferred to or shared with EBRI. None of the three databases allows identification of any individuals or plan sponsors.
(2) The report considered four types of IRAs: traditional-contributions (traditional IRAs originating from contributions, in which distributions are taxable); Roth (in which contributions are nondeductible and distributions are tax free); SEP (Simplified Employee Pension)/SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees); and traditional-rollovers (traditional IRAs originating from assets rolled over from other tax-qualified plans, such as an employment-based pension or DC plans, in which distributions are taxable)
(3) “Other” assets includes assets that do not fit into the categories of equities, bonds, money/cash equivalents, or balanced funds. This could include stable-value funds, real estate (both from investment trusts and directly purchased), fixed and variable annuities, etc.
(4) As the EBRI IRA Database expands, more elaborate studies are being conducted. Linked with defined contribution account data, the tracking of movements of money between multiple retirement saving accounts (DC plans and IRAs) is being studied to see what, if any, asset allocation changes are being made when assets are moved between accounts. Furthermore, once individuals have reached retirement, the withdrawal or “spend-down” of those assets over time can be studied based on the longitudinal data that will be available, offering the potential of a far greater understanding of the retirement preparation and post-retirement behavior of Americans as these databases mature.