Households Value Choice in DC Plans

There is a common notion that workers prefer the safety of defined benefit plans—but research shows the flexibility and control offered by DC accounts are also highly valued. 

Nearly all U.S. households with defined contribution (DC) retirement plan accounts agree that “it is important to have choice in, and control of, the investments in their retirement accounts,” according to a new survey released by the Investment Company Institute (ICI).

A study breaking down the survey findings, “American Views on Defined Contribution Plan Saving,” reports that U.S. households “strongly favor preserving retirement account features and flexibility.” For example, the vast majority (89%) of all households disagree with the statement that the “government should take away the tax advantages of DC accounts,” and 90% “disagree with the idea of reducing the amount that individuals can contribute to DC accounts.

“Even among households that do not own DC accounts or individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 82% reject the idea of taking away the tax treatment of DC accounts,” says ICI President and CEO Paul Schott Stevens. “Our research shows, time and again, that Americans strongly support keeping tax incentives for retirement saving because those incentives are critical in promoting plan participation and contributions.”

According to ICI data, Americans “also resist suggestions to change individual investment control in DC accounts.” Nine out of 10 agree that retirees “should be able to make their own decisions about how to manage retirement assets and income.” Nearly the same number “disagree with investing all retirement accounts in an investment option selected by a government-appointed board of experts.”

“Nearly eight out of 10 households disagree that retirees should be required to trade a portion of their retirement accounts for a fair contract promising them income for life,” the study points out.

NEXT: Once committed, savers stick to it  

“Our survey demonstrates that DC plan participants appreciate the opportunity to save from every paycheck, as well as the tax treatment for their retirement nest egg that a 401(k) plan offers,” agrees Sarah Holden, ICI’s senior director for retirement and investor research. “DC plan participants’ overall support for maintaining investment control is strong, and they typically agree that their DC plans offer a good lineup of investment options.”

The ICI research shows that among retirement account-owning households expressing an opinion, nearly all (94%) “have favorable opinions of 401(k) and similar retirement accounts.”

Related to this, 90% of DC account-owning households “agree that employer-sponsored retirement accounts help them think about the long term, not just my current needs,” and 91% agree that payroll deduction “makes it easier for me to save.”

“These top-line results are similar to previous survey results, with responses varying little across age and income groups,” ICI notes.

Other findings suggest there is some concern that DC accounts, while highly valuable, may not be totally effective as lifetime retirement income vehicles. In fact, it is only 82% of those who own DC accounts or IRAs who believe such accounts will actually “help the individual achieve their retirement goals.” This figure drops to 63% among households that do not own a DC account or IRA.

The full study is available for download here