The 401(k), Social Security and Role of Individuals

About half of all Americans surveyed view the 401(k) as the best retirement savings vehicle when asked to select from a list of options (52% among affluent; 49% among those with less than $250,000 in assets). Not surprisingly, affluent Americans contribute a higher percentage of their salary (median=12%) to their 401k plan than those with less than $250,000 in assets (median=7%).

Additionally, affluent Americans expect Social Security to play a smaller role in their retirement than those with less than $250,000 in assets , who expect Social Security to cover a higher median percentage of their monthly retirement income (median=20% compared to 25%). However, both groups have similar expectations on the following:
  • When asked to assign a proportion of responsibility for funding their retirement, the majority (50%) assigned responsibility to the individual through saving and investment, followed by the employer though a pension (25%) and by the government through Social Security (20% by the affluent and 25% for those with less than $250,000 in assets).
  • They expect to begin taking Social Security payments at the median age of 65.
  • Similarly among those not retired, majorities of affluent (78%) and those with less than $250,000 in assets, (71%) believe they will have the option of delaying the age at which they begin taking Social Security so that they’ll receive higher payments.
  • Majorities of the affluent (54%) and those with less than $250,000 in assets (61%) are not willing to take a reduction in their Social Security and/or Medicare benefits even if it would help the country head towards a path to reduce its debt burden.
    • Affluent women (45%) are more likely to be willing to take a reduction in their Social Security and/or Medicare benefits than women with less than $250,000 in assets (30%), but there is no such difference among the men in both groups (36/37%).

For help understanding how to prepare for and live in retirement, visit Wells Fargo’s retirement site at https://www.wellsfargo.com/investing/retirement/ or visit the blog Beyond Today at https://www.wellsfargo.com/beyondtoday/.

About the Survey

On behalf of Wells Fargo, Harris Interactive Inc. conducted 1,800 telephone interviews among those aged 25-75 focusing on attitudes and behaviors around planning, saving and investing for retirement. Harris conducted 400 interviews among those with $250,000 or more in investable assets and 400 interviews among those with $100,000 to less than $250,000 in investable assets. The remaining 1,000 interviews were conducted among those who fell within specific income and wealth brackets (those aged 25 to 29 had 2011 household income of $25,000 to $99,999 and household investable assets of $99,999 or less and those aged 30 to 75 had 2011 household income of $50,000 to $99,999 or household investable assets of $25,000 to $99,999). Among the working affluent close to two-thirds (61%) had 2011 household income of less than $150,000. In comparison, 92% of those with less than $250,000 in investable assets who are not retired had 2011 household incomes of less than $150,000. The survey was conducted July 9 – Sept. 7, 2012.

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