Young Americans need additional workplace education on IRAs

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Employers have more of an impact on employees’ retirement savings habits than they realize, especially when it comes to adding IRAs into the mix.

In its 2017 IRA Survey, TIAA found that many Americans, especially younger savers, need additional education about IRAs before they decide to contribute to one. They cited lack of knowledge about IRAs and feeling that the accounts are too complicated as reasons for not participating in one.

“For Gen Y, the knowledge gap is more pronounced, with 37% feeling like they don’t know enough. Additionally, many (46%) don’t think they have enough money to save any more than they currently do,” according to TIAA.

But, retirement plan sponsors can help close this gap by educating employees about the advantages of contributing to an IRA, including its tax benefits.

Dan Keady, CFP and senior director with the advice and planning strategy group at TIAA, says that having a workplace plan is very important, especially if it offers access to financial advice about investment and savings decisions. Many investors feel more comfortable opening an IRA at the same plan provider that hosts their workplace defined contribution plan. That also means they will have access to both plans in one place, which makes it easier to keep track of their complete retirement savings picture.

“We see that 91% of current IRA contributors feel confident about their retirement savings compared to 64% of people who are not contributing to an IRA. It is pretty empowering for people to have an IRA. I think it is unfortunate that 17% of those who don’t have an IRA say it is too complicated,” Keady says.

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Having a financial adviser is one of the key elements that helped survey respondents navigate the IRA maze and 25% of survey respondents say that general financial information also plays a role. Most people get their general financial information through their workplace. Many companies offer financial wellness programs that encompass many different aspects of savings, including budgeting and paying down debt.

Seven out of 10 respondents say they know that an IRA has some potential benefit for them, but only 54% say they know what those benefits are, according to TIAA. Another 44% say they don’t understand IRAs or the benefits they offer. The clear message from the survey is that people “could use some help in education related to IRAs,” Keady says.

“The nice thing about an IRA, in addition to having a workplace plan, is it gives that additional layer of potential spending in retirement for things you want to do, in addition to getting a regular income from other plans,” Keady says. “It gives you the ability to look at it from a different standpoint and choose different investment choices than the workplace plan. The two marry up well.”

Keady says that people should never feel they don’t have enough money to set aside in an IRA.

“You can always start small. Put in $250,” he says. Keady adds that many people spend $5,000 on a vacation rather than putting that money into an IRA.

Only one-third of Americans hold an IRA and only 19% actively contribute to those accounts, he says.

“At TIAA, if people take advice from our online advice offering, they take a look at their workplace plan, it opens up their thinking about making more contributions to their workplace plan or IRA,” Keady says. “It gets people thinking about the power of increasing the amount they are putting away.”

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