2015 Update of the EBRI IRA Database: IRA Balances, Contributions, Rollovers, Withdrawals, and Asset Allocation

September 2017
EBRI Issue Brief #437
Paperback, 44 pp.
PDF, 2,171 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2017

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Executive Summary

This Issue Brief is the seventh annual cross-sectional analysis update of the EBRI IRA Database. It includes results on the distribution of individual retirement account (IRA) types and account balances, contributions, rollovers, withdrawals, and asset allocation in IRAs for 2015, the latest data available.

The EBRI IRA Database is an ongoing project of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) that collects data from IRA-plan administrators across the nation. For year-end 2015, it contains information on 27.9 million accounts owned by 22.1 million individuals, with total assets of $2.76 trillion. For accounts in the database, the IRA type, account balance, contributions made, rollovers transferred, and withdrawals taken during the year (if any), the asset allocation, and certain demographic characteristics of the account owner are included (among other items).

This update shows the importance of being able to measure not only the unique IRA account balances, but also the combination of all IRAs an individual owns to determine the potential total retirement savings the individual has by aggregating their multiple IRA accounts. Indeed, the overall, cumulative IRA average balance per individual is 26 percent larger than the IRA balance per account. Thus, databases that are not able to link separate accounts owned by the same individual within and across data providers are likely to understate the total IRA assets owned by individuals, and thus the total retirement accumulations held by individuals.

Here are the key findings in this annual update:

  • The average IRA account balance in the database was $99,017 at year-end 2015 and the average IRA individual balance (combining all accounts owned by the individual) was $125,045.
  • Average IRA account balances differed significantly by the IRA type: Roth IRAs had the lowest average balance, while Traditional IRAs originating from rollovers had the highest average balance.
  • Just less than 12 percent of all accounts in the database received a contribution in 2015, but Roth IRAs were more likely to receive a contribution than Traditional IRAs (26.0 percent vs. 6.5 percent).
  • Rollovers to IRAs in 2015, regardless of the source, amounted to nearly 15 times more than the total contributions in the database, with the average and median rollover to a Traditional IRA in 2015 were $101,919 and $26,143, respectively.
  • Almost 24 percent of individuals owning a Traditional or Roth IRA took a withdrawal in 2015, including 27.5 percent of Traditional IRA owners.
  • The overall IRA withdrawal percentage was largely driven by activity among individuals ages 70-½ or older owning a Traditional IRA—the group required to make withdrawals under the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules. In contrast, among owners under age 60, fewer than 12 percent of any age group had a withdrawal. Withdrawals from Traditional IRAs are more likely to occur than from Roth IRAs, regardless of age.
  • Just over one-quarter of owners ages 71 or older was found to have withdrawn an amount from their Traditional IRA in excess of their RMD.
  • More than half of all IRA assets were allocated to equities, although this varied with owner age, account balance, and IRA type. There were minimal differences in asset allocations trends by gender.
  • Those owning a Traditional IRA had, on average, lower allocations to equities. Furthermore, Traditional IRAs owned by those 55 or older had lower equity allocations than younger owners, while Roth IRAs owned by those not ages 45–54 had lower equity allocations than the 45–54 year old owners. IRAs with the largest balances had the lowest combined exposure to equities (including the equity share of balanced funds added to the pure equity funds).
  • Overall in 2015, 26.1 percent of IRAs had less than 10 percent in equities and 29.2 percent had more than 90 percent in equities, so called “extreme allocations” in a particular asset category. Furthermore, just short of 1 in 5 IRAs (18.6 percent) had more than 90 percent of their assets in bonds and money.