Lump-Sum Distributions from Retirement Saving Plans: Receipt and Utilization
One of the central issues in evaluating the ongoing shift from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) pension plans is the degree to which assets in DC plans will be withdrawn before plan participants reach retirement age. The annual flow of withdrawals from such plans, which are known as lump sum distributions and which are frequently but not always associated with employment changes, has exceeded $100 billion in recent years. This flow is substantially greater than the flow of new contributions to IRAs and other targeted retirement saving programs. This paper draws on data from the 1993 Current Population Survey and the Health and Retirement Survey to summarize the incidence and disposition of lump sum distributions. We find that while less than half of all lump sum distributions are rolled over into IRAs or other retirement saving plans, large distributions are substantially more likely to be saved than smaller ones are. Consequently, more than half of the dollars paid out as lump sum distributions are reinvested. We also explore the correlation between various individual characteristics and the probability of rolling over a lump sum distribution. This is a first step toward developing a model that can be used to evaluate the long- term effects of lump sum distributions, or policies that might affect them, on the financial status of elderly households.