EBRI Issue Brief

Individual Account Retirement Plans: An Analysis of the 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances

Jul 1, 2003 28  pages


  • This Issue Brief updates the work done on previous versions of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) with results from the 2001 SCF, which provides the most recent estimates of Americans' entire portfolio of wealth. The SCF not only includes levels of participation in all employment-based retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) by families, but also the amount in these accounts. In addition, it has data on families' total assets (not just retirement assets), so the level of importance that these plans represent can be determined.
  • In 2001, 41.6 percent of families included a participant in an employment-based retirement plan (either a defined benefit or defined contribution plan) from a current job. This was up from 38.8 percent in 1992, but virtually unchanged from 41.0 percent in 1998. While a significant shift in the plan type occurred from 1992 to 1998, with the percentage of families that had a plan having only a defined benefit plan decreasing from 40 percent to 20.7 percent, there was a very small change in the type of plans the families had from 1998 to 2001, with 19.5 percent of families that had a plan in 2001 having only a defined benefit plan. The percentage of families participating in a plan but with only a defined contribution plan followed the opposite trend, rising from 37.5 percent in 1992 to 57.0 percent in 1998 and to 57.7 percent in 2001.
  • In 2001, 31.4 percent of families owned either an IRA or a Keogh plan. This is an increase from 28.4 percent in 1998 and 26.1 percent in 1992. Furthermore, 58.6 percent of families had a participant in a current or previous employer's retirement plan or an IRA/Keogh, which is an increase from the 53.3 percent in 1992.
  • Among all families with a defined contribution plan in 2001, the median (mid-point) plan balance was $18,000. This is an 81.8 percent increase from the 1992 value of $9,899 (expressed in constant 2001 dollars) and a 10.2 percent increase from the 1998 value of $16,328 (2001 dollars). Among families with an IRA/Keogh plan, the median value of their plan was $27,000 in 2001, a 24 percent increase from $21,770 in 1998.
  • The most commonly owned IRA was the regular IRA, with 42.2 percent of the family heads who owned an IRA owning only that type. The next largest singly owned IRA type was the rollover, at 25.7 percent, followed by the Roth IRA at 16.4 percent. However, when broken down by assets, family heads with rollover-IRAs-only moved to the top spot, accounting for 36.0 percent of the total assets, while the owners of regular-IRAs-only accounted for 31.3 percent of the assets.