EBRI Issue Brief

Personal Account Retirement Plans: An Analysis of the Survey of Consumer Finances

Jul 1, 2000 28  pages


This report is based on data from the Federal Reserve Board's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which provides the most comprehensive data available on the wealth of American households. The most recent SCF data are for 1998, and this report tracks information from the 1992, 1995, and 1998 surveys.

  • The percentage of families with a participant in a pension plan from a current job increased from 38.8 percent to 41.0 percent over this six-year period. If one focuses exclusively on those families with a worker and in which the head is under age 65, the percentage for 1998 increases to 56.8 percent.
  • The previously documented trend toward defined contribution plans was confirmed and the significance of 401(k)-type plans for those families participating in a pension plan more than doubled, from 31.6 percent in 1992 to 64.3 percent in 1998.
  • The percentage of family heads eligible to participate in a defined contribution plan who did so increased from 73.8 percent in 1995 to 77.3 percent in 1998. Of those families choosing not to participate in a defined contribution plan, 40.3 percent were already participating in a defined benefit plan.
  • Overall, “personal account plans” represented nearly one-half (49.5 percent) of all the financial assets for those families with either a defined contribution plan account, IRA, or Keogh, in 1998. This was a significant increase from 43.6 percent in 1992. The average total account balance in personal account plans for families with a plan in 1998 was $78,417, an increase of 54 percent in real terms over the 1992 balance of $50,914 (expressed in 1998 dollars).
  • For families participating in a defined contribution plan, IRA, or Keogh in 1998, 52 percent of the overall average was attributed to IRA/Keogh balances (43 percent from IRAs alone), and 44 percent of the average was from account balances in defined contribution plans with the current employer.
  • There is a marked tendency for lower-income families to have larger percentages of their total personal account plan retirement portfolio in IRAs, although this trend appears to be fading with time.
  • The impact of rollovers on the average total account balance for all individual account balances appears to be quite large: $152,451 for those with at least one rollover, versus $78,471 for all families participating in at least one personal account plan, regardless of whether they have had a rollover. The vast majority of the rollovers would appear to be going to IRAs, as opposed to a defined contribution plan with a new employer.