People More Concerned About Retirement Than Health

Participants view their 401(k) as an essential workplace benefit.

A Schwab Retirement Plan Services survey found that people consider retirement savings more important than their health. 

Sixty-eight percent of workers agree making the best 401(k) investment choices is a key priority, trumping the 59% who cite staying in shape. Seventy-three percent said they would rather have their 401(k) balance grow by 15% this year than lose 15 pounds.

Ninety percent said they would think twice about taking a job if the company did not offer a 401(k) plan. Sixty-four percent said they pay attention to their 401(k) investment fees, while 60% look into their ATM fees, 50% airline baggage fees, and 49% gym sign-up fees.

“When it comes to retirement, there’s been a significant shift of responsibility from employer to employee over the past 30 years, making the 401(k) a critical part of the retirement system,” says Steve Anderson, head of Schwab Retirement Plan Services. “Our survey found only one in five participants would be confident in their ability to save for retirement without a 401(k) plan. In fact, participants worry as much about having enough money to enjoy retirement as they do about being healthy enough to enjoy retirement.”

However, participants face a number of obstacles that are making it hard for them to save for retirement. Just over a third (35%) say they don’t want to sacrifice small indulgences like dinners out and vacations. Thirty-one percent say they get hit with unexpected expenses, 31% say paying basic monthly bills gets in the way, 24% are burdened with paying off credit card debt, and 22% say they are saving for education.

Although 90% know what their ideal credit score should be, but only 58% know how much they should save for a comfortable retirement. Nearly half (47%) say that the educational materials explaining their 401(k) investments are more confusing than the materials explaining their health and medical benefits. Twenty-nine percent have either decreased or not made any changes to their 401(k) savings rate in the past two years.

NEXT: What employers can do to improve outcomes

“Today, many employers are designing their 401(k) plans to better address savings obstacles and help their employees take more control of their investments,” Anderson says. “These employers are at the forefront, using automatic enrollment, automatic savings rate increases and automatic investment advice to help their employees prepare for retirement. The industry needs to focus more on plan design features like these if we are to further our goal of improving participant outcomes.”

Two-thirds of participants (67%) want personalized advice for their 401(k), and 79% say they are likely to seek out professional help to make the best 401(k) investment choices. If they were to get advice, 73% say they would be confident in their ability to make the right investment decisions, versus 44% who would share that level of confidence going on their own. In reality, only 12% are getting professional advice for their 401(k), even though 49% expect they would see higher returns if they worked with an adviser.

“Most participants want 401(k) advice, but whether because of inertia or discomfort, many don’t take that first step of asking for help,” says Catherine Golladay, vice president of participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. “We’ve observed that when advice in built into the plan so that participants start off with it and are free to opt out if they wish, nearly 86% stick with it. That can make a big difference.” Golladay points to Morningstar research that shows participants who work with an adviser can end up with nearly 40% more income in retirement.

NEXT: Participants’ retirement outlook

Ninety percent said they will need to rely on themselves for the money needed to retire, but 97% believe Americans are not saving enough for a comfortable retirement. When asked to grade politicians on their efforts to help Americans save for retirement, 89% gave them a C or less, and among this group, 29% gave them an F.

Sixty-nine percent say that helping Americans save for retirement should be a major public policy focus, and 69% want the subject to be raised in the upcoming presidential debates.

Sixty percent say their 401(k) is their only or largest source of retirement savings, yet 25% have taken out a loan from their 401(k). Ninety-one percent receive a company match, and 87% contribute enough to get the full company match.

Koski Research conducted the survey of 1,000 Americans for Schwab.