Automatic 401(k)s are designed to encourage high participation rates among employees. Therefore, employers can attempt to enroll non-participants as often as once per year, requiring those non-participants to opt out each time if they do not want to participate. Employers can also choose to escalate participants' default contribution rate, encouraging them to save more.
Even if we assume that most Americans will get Social Security income, where the average benefit is roughly $16,000 per year (as of November 2016, see here), and that the median balance at retirement is $130,000, this article suggests this is reasonable, the math doesn’t look good. With a 4% withdrawal rate over 30 years, this gives our average American retiree $21,200 a year to live off. Now this is better than living off of dog food, but I doubt $1,766 a month will be a “comfortable” retirement for most Americans.
“A direct transfer going from your 401(k) to your IRA is the best and easiest option. You can get a check and then use the 60-day period to put the money into a qualified account but use caution. Some states require a tax to be withheld. You can only do one rollover per year when doing it this way. Most plans allow a direct transfer at age 59 1/2 even if you are still working, which can allow you to move the bulk of your retirement dollars to an IRA and still contribute to a 401(k).” — Mark Henry, CEO, Alloy Wealth Management
In the early 1970s, a group of high-earning individuals from Kodak approached Congress to allow a part of their salary to be invested in the stock market and thus be exempt from income taxes. This resulted in section 401(k) being inserted in the then-current taxation regulations that allowed this to be done. The section of the Internal Revenue Code that made such 401(k) plans possible was enacted into law in 1978. It was intended to allow taxpayers a break on taxes on deferred income. In 1980, a benefits consultant and attorney named Ted Benna took note of the previously obscure provision and figured out that it could be used to create a simple, tax-advantaged way to save for retirement. The client for whom he was working at the time chose not to create a 401(k) plan. He later went on to install the first 401(k) plan at his own employer, the Johnson Companies (today doing business as Johnson Kendall & Johnson). At the time, employees could contribute 25% of their salary, up to $30,000 per year, to their employer's 401(k) plan.
Americans have an unbridled sense of hope for their futures despite economic realities that seem much more grim. An article published by the Atlantic in 2015 (see here) illustrated the optimism of Americans, which is higher than any other developed nation. While I do tend to fall into this line of thinking myself (I am an American optimist), I am somewhat concerned with the retirement situation in America given the data.
“The ability to rollover retirement assets can lead to a simpler retirement strategy with more control over investment choices. If an individual has had multiple employers throughout their working career, he or she most likely have multiple retirement accounts. It can become easy to lose track of those accounts. Rolling those accounts over to another IRA or potentially even a Roth IRA can drastically simplify an overall portfolio. While funds are in a 401(k)/403(b), investment options are limited to what the company has approved. Once a rollover is completed, a client has access to a much larger pool of investment options.” — Ben Koval, Financial Planner, Decker Retirement Planning