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Employers adopt auto-escalation to boost 401(k) savings

"Auto-Escalation Adoption"
“Auto-Escalation Adoption”

Many employers offering 401(k) plans are embracing “auto-escalation,” a growing strategy designed to increase employees’ savings rate incrementally. This approach, grounded in behavioral finance theory, starts with an initial savings rate, typically around 3% of an employee’s income, escalating it yearly by about 1%.

Auto-escalation, research shows, motivates employees to save more for retirement, effectively overcoming savings inertia. This gradual increase intuitively makes it easier for employees to adjust to their savings, minimizing any immediate financial stress that might stem from drastic changes to their spending habits.

The rising popularity of this strategy comes as it offers employers a key tool in attracting and retaining top talent. By assuring a yearly push to the savings rate, it helps individuals struggling with savings management and fosters a positive impact on financial planning.

Ellen Lander, founder of Renaissance Benefit Advisors Group, suggests that employees are likely to quickly adjust to the smaller take-home pay resulting from these increased savings. Lander favours auto-escalation, advising a 15% annual 401(k) plan contribution, based on the employee’s age and other savings. She stresses the importance of early savings and encourages consultations with financial advisors to find the best strategy for individual needs.

Auto-escalation and auto-enrollment complement each other, with the latter implying a portion of the employee’s salary is automatically contributed to a 401(k) plan unless they opt out.

Employers leverage auto-escalation for 401(k) enhancement

Although effective, these strategies could discourage proactive retirement savings, leading to possible pitfalls. Therefore, employers should promote financial literacy and encourage employees to manage their retirement accounts actively.

A recent report indicates that in 2022, about 64% of companies with a 401(k) plan have implemented automatic worker enrollment. Companies using auto-escalation have impressively increased from 65% in 2013 to 78%. The report also indicated significant growth in companies utilizing automatic rebalancing and providing investment advice to their employees. The number of workers opting out of these company-facilitated 401(k) plans has also experienced a substantial decrease over the past decade.

In summary, the growth in automatic 401(k) enrollment, auto-escalation, automatic rebalancing, and investment advice provision symbolizes a shift towards a more employer-driven approach to retirement plans. These strategies appear significantly promising for employees lacking retirement planning knowledge, potentially being the key to their secure financial future.

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