The Adequacy of Investment Choices Offered By 401K Plans


Defined-contribution plans represent a major organizational form for investors’ retirement savings. Today more than one third of all workers are enrolled in 401K plans. In a 401K plan, participants select assets from a set of choices designated by an employer. For over half of 401K-plan participants, retirement savings represent their sole financial asset. Yet to date there has been no study of the adequacy of the choices offered by 401K plans. This paper analyzes the adequacy and characteristics of the choices offered to 401K-plan participants for over 400 plans. We find that, for 62% of the plans, the types of choices offered are inadequate, and that over a 20-year period this makes a difference in terminal wealth of over 300%. We find that funds included in the plans are riskier than the general population of funds in the same categories. We study the characteristics of plans that are associated with adequate investment choices, including an analysis of the use of company stock, plan size, and the use of outside consultants. When we examine one category of investment choices, S&P 500 index funds, we find that the index funds chosen by 401K-plan administrators are on average inferior to the S&P 500 index funds selected by the aggregate of all investors

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