401(k) Auto-Enrollment Connected to Early Withdrawals, With Housing Implications

With Social Security trust fund reserves waning—predicted to be depleted by 2034, leaving Social Security unable to maintain full scheduled benefits—and the number of retirees expecting to receive benefits increasing, more and more Americans are relying on 401(k) savings to support their retirement living. In fact, Statista estimates there are 41.2 million households who presently own a 401(k) plan in the U.S.

How does auto-enrollment fit in with these tax-advantaged savings accounts? There’s a clear benefit, as recently determined by 401(k) record-keeper Alight Solutions LLC in its 2017 Trends & Experience in Defined Contributions Plans report. Far more individuals contribute to a 401(k) with an auto-enrollment feature (85 percent) than to plans without it (63 percent).

While that should lead to higher savings rates and stronger financial health for future retirees, there is a glaring concern: Increases in auto-enrollment are leading to more early withdrawals. According to Retirement Clearinghouse LLC, over 60 percent of 401(k) participants with balances below $10,000 liquidate their accounts after leaving a company, reports the Wall Street Journal.

What’s causing this increase in withdrawals (also known as leakage)? Job changes lead to low 401(k) balances, which are largely cashed out due to company payout checks that can easily be deposited. The alternative? Having to fill out burdensome paperwork to transfer the funds into a tax-advantaged account. Others use their funds as a type of loan regardless of penalties incurred.

Although small loans or early withdrawals may not seem like much in the grand scheme of funds necessary to support retirement living, these can add up to a costly dip in long-term…