EBRI Issue Brief

Individual Account Retirement Plans: An Analysis of the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances

Nov 20, 2014 28  pages


  • The percentage of all families with an employment-based retirement plan from a current employer decreased from 38.8 percent in 1992 to 36.2 percent in 2013, according to the most recent data from the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), the Federal Reserve Board’s triennial survey of wealth.
  • While retirement plan ownership from a current employer among families declined from 2010–2013, the percentage of family heads who were eligible for defined contribution (DC) plans and chose to participate held essentially stable at 78.2 percent in 2010 to 78.7 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of families owning individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or Keoghs was also unchanged from 2010 (28.0 percent) to 2013 (28.1 percent). Furthermore, the percentage of families with an individual account retirement plan from a current employer or a previous employer or an IRA/Keogh declined from 50.4 percent in 2010 to 48.2 percent in 2013. However, when including defined benefit (pension) retirement plans, the percentage with any retirement plan was unchanged from 63.8 percent in 2010 to 63.5 percent in 2013.
  • While ownership of employment-based plans and IRAs was unchanged to declining in 2013, the median (mid-point) account balance of those families owning an individual account retirement plan increased in 2013: The value was $22,992 in 1992, reached $38,608 in 2001, and increased to $59,000 in 2013.
  • Individual account retirement plan assets were a clear majority of families’ total financial assets (among those owning such plans): 70.3 percent in 2013 at the median, unchanged from 2010. Across all demographic groups in 2013, these assets’ share at the median of total financial assets was at least 49.2 percent (when these accounts were owned).
  • By IRA type, regular IRAs accounted for the largest percentage of IRA ownership, but rollover IRAs had a slightly larger share of assets than regular IRAs in 2013.
  • The increase in IRA wealth is expected to continue in the future, as more workers will be in defined contribution plans and will be in them for a longer period of their working lives than in the past (since defined contribution plans did not become dominant until the 1990s).
  • While the results of this study do not answer questions about what is needed for retirement, they show the continued growing importance of individual account retirement plans. Consequently, any policy that alters this system could have consequences—either positive or negative—for Americans’ ability to fund a comfortable retirement.