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80 percent of adults don't have IRAs | BenefitsPro

80 percent of adults don't have IRAs

A high percentage of individuals do not contribute to an IRA.

According to a new study by TIAA-CREF, 80 percent of people overlook IRAs as a retirement savings vehicle, up 4 percent from last year. Close to half of all people surveyed also lack basic understanding of what IRAs are and how they are used.

More than 1,000 adults were surveyed nationwide from Feb. 21-24. They were asked about their attitudes, preferences and behaviors regarding Individual Retirement Accounts. The phone survey was conducted by KRC Research, a third-party research firm, over a landline and cell phone sample.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of the maximum contribution amounts they could put into an IRA.

“Many individuals are still missing out on the long-term savings benefits of IRAs, simply because they don’t understand what they are and how they work,” says Dan Keady, CFP and director of financial planning for TIAA-CREF. “By allowing savings to grow on a tax-deferred basis, an IRA can help give your current retirement savings a boost no matter what stage of life you’re in. Even if you’re on a tight budget or just starting to save, if you start small and invest wisely, that amount should grow over time.”

Despite low participation and awareness of how IRAs work, the study shows people are open to the potential benefits that come with an IRA, with 57 percent of those who did not have an IRA saying they would consider one. This includes almost three-quarters of Gen X (ages 35-44), two-thirds of Gen Y (ages 18-34) and half of late baby boomer (ages 45-54) respondents who currently don’t have an IRA.

“We are all responsible for our own financial future, so the fact that individuals see the value in having an IRA – even if they don’t have one yet – is encouraging,” Keady added. “Through financial education and increased awareness, people can take the next step toward reaching their long-term financial goals.” 

In addition to education and awareness programs, the survey results also highlight the need for personalized advice to help individuals make the best financial decisions at all life stages. For example, the findings show individuals are missing out on opportunities to use an IRA to help save for other financial goals. Among those who currently have an IRA, only 11 percent of respondents said they plan to use it to help pay for higher education, and only 5 percent plan to use one to help with a down payment on a new home.

Gen Y respondents, in particular, demonstrated a clear need for advice and education, with 67 percent saying they would consider opening an IRA. However, of those who are disregarding IRAs, nearly half said the reason is they don’t know enough about them. 

The survey also found differences based on gender. Men are more likely to contribute to an IRA than women, and men who have an IRA are also more likely to contribute up to the maximum amount.

“When it comes to making decisions such as how to maximize your tax benefit through an IRA, individuals need to find the right advisor to help them navigate through vast amounts of information. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another,” Keady said.

TIAA-CREF offers a variety of educational resources on IRAs. In addition, the company provides workshops across the country on the advantages of having an IRA as part of a long-term retirement savings plan.

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