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Building Emergency Savings Through Employer-Sponsored Rainy-day Savings Accounts

John Beshears, James J. Choi, Mark Iwry, David John, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian

NBER Working Paper No. 26498
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Economics of Aging, Labor Studies

Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, carry revolving credit balances, and have little liquidity to absorb financial shocks. One consequence of this financial vulnerability is that many individuals use a portion of their retirement savings during their working years. For every $1 that flows into 401(k)s and similar accounts, between 30¢ and 40¢ leaks out before retirement (Argento, Bryant, and Sabelhaus 2015). We explore the practical considerations and challenges associated with helping households accumulate liquid savings that can be deployed when urgent pre-retirement needs arise. Automatically enrolling workers into an employer-sponsored “rainy-day” or “emergency” savings account—terms that we use interchangeably in this paper—funded by payroll deduction could be a cost-effective way to achieve this goal. We explore three specific implementation options: (a) after-tax employee 401(k) accounts; (b) deemed Roth IRAs under a 401(k) plan; and (c) depository institution accounts. We evaluate the pros and cons of each approach and conclude that all three approaches merit exploration and field testing.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26498

Forthcoming: Building Emergency Savings through Employer-Sponsored Rainy-Day Savings Accounts, John Beshears, James J. Choi, J. Mark Iwry, David C. John, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian. in Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 34, Moffitt. 2020

 
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