Diversification is a strategy that helps manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.
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Each year, the Plan Sponsor Council of America (PSCA) surveys employers to gauge trends in retirement plan features and participation. Results are used by employers and plan participants to benchmark their plans against overall averages. How does your plan compare to the most recent survey results, released at the end of 2018?1
Participation and savings rates
Plan participation (that is, the percentage of participants contributing to the plan) was on the rise, increasing from 77% in 2010 to 85% in 2017. Employees in the financial, insurance and real estate, manufacturing, and technology and telecommunications sectors were most likely to contribute (more than 85% of eligible employees), while those in the transportation, utility, and energy sectors (75.6%) and wholesale distribution and retail trade sectors (59.7%) were least likely.
The average amount participants contributed to their plans rose from 6.2% of salary in 2010 to 7.1% in 2017. Participants in the health-care sector contributed the most (8.7%), while those in durable goods manufacturing contributed the least (6.3%).
Roth option on the rise
Roth contributions are growing in popularity among 401(k) plans. Unlike traditional pre-tax contributions that are deducted from a paycheck before income taxes are assessed, Roth contributions are made in after-tax dollars. The primary benefit is that “qualified” withdrawals from a Roth account are tax-free. A withdrawal is qualified if the account has been held for at least five years and it has been made after the participant reaches age 59½, dies, or becomes disabled.
The percentage of plans allowing participants to make Roth contributions rose from 45.5% in 2010 to nearly 70% in 2017. Almost 20% of eligible employees made Roth contributions.
Nearly all employers surveyed contributed to their employees’ plans through matching contributions, non-matching contributions, or a combination of both. And it appears that employers have become more generous over time, as the average company contribution rose from 3.5% in 2010 to 5.1% in 2017. Moreover, many employers impose a vesting schedule on their contributions through which plan participants earn the right to keep the company contributions over time. In 2017, less than 40% of companies allowed their employees to become immediately vested in the company contributions.
When it comes to your retirement plan, how many options would you prefer on your investment menu? Too few funds could limit the opportunity for an appropriate level of diversification, while too many funds might cause an overwhelming decision-making process. So what’s the “right” number?
According to an article in InvestmentNews, an appropriate number of investment options (typically mutual funds) is 15 to 20.2 And according to the PSCA, employers seem to be following this guideline, as the average number of funds offered among survey respondents was 20.
The most common types of funds offered were indexed domestic equity funds (84.6% of plans), followed by actively managed domestic equity funds (83.6%), actively managed domestic bond funds (78.9%), and actively managed international/global equity funds (77.9%). Target-date funds — those that offer a diversified mix of different types of investments based on a participant’s target retirement date — were offered in 70.6% of plans.
Overall, the two most popular types of funds, based on percentage of assets invested, were target-date funds and actively managed domestic equity funds.3
1PSCA, 61st Annual Survey
2 InvestmentNews, February 16, 2018
3The return and principal value of mutual funds fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. A bond fund is a mutual fund that comprises mostly bonds and other debt instruments. The mix of bonds depends on each fund’s focus and stated objectives. Bond funds are subject to the same inflation, interest rate, and credit risks as their underlying bonds. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall, which can adversely affect a bond fund’s performance. Investing internationally carries additional risks such as differences in financial reporting, currency exchange risk, as well as economic and political risk unique to the specific country; this may result in greater share price volatility. The target date is the approximate date when an investor plans to withdraw money. The mix of investments in the target-date fund becomes more conservative as the date grows closer. The further away the date, the greater the risks the fund usually takes. The principal value is not guaranteed at any time, including on or after the target date. There is no guarantee that a target-date fund will meet its stated objectives. It is important to note that no two target-date funds with the same target date are alike. Typically, they won’t have the same asset allocation, investment holdings, turnover rate, or glide path.
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