Borrowing from the Future: 401(k) Plan Loans and Loan Defaults
Tax-qualified retirement plans seek to promote saving for retirement, yet most employers permit pre- retirement access by letting 401(k) participants borrow plan assets. This paper examines who borrows and why, and who defaults on their loans. Our administrative dataset tracks several hundred plans over 5 years, showing that 20% borrow at any given time, and almost 40% do at some point over five years. Employer policies influence borrowing behavior, in that workers are more likely to borrow and borrow more in aggregate, when a plan permits multiple loans. We estimate loan default “leakage” at $6 billion annually, more than prior studies.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Olivia S. Mitchell
Mitchell serves as an Independent Trustee for the Wells Fargo Advantage Funds and has received more than $10,000 from the TIAA-CREF Institute for research on retirement security.Stephen P. Utkus
Utkus is director of the retirement research center at Vanguard, a 401(k) recordkeeping firm and an investment manager for retirement plans.
Timothy (Jun) Lu & Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Utkus & Jean A. Young, 2017. "Borrowing From the Future? 401(K) Plan Loans and Loan Defaults," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 70(1), pages 77-110, March. citation courtesy of