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Employees Aren’t Grabbing Access To Retirement Plans

By Zach Halper - June 24, 2013

Even as more nonprofits are offering retirement plans to their employees, participation rates remain relatively low. But at the same time, studies show nonprofit employees are worried about their retirement nest egg.

According to three-year trending data from The NonProfit Times and Bluewater Nonprofit Solution’s annual Nonprofit Organizations Salary and Benefits Reports,

401(k)s and 403(b)s are the two most popular types of retirement plans that employers offer their employees.

While participation numbers are consistent, they are less than you might expect. Participation rates for 403(b)s during 2010, 2011 and 2012 were 58.15 percent, 66.59 percent, and 60.52 percent respectively. For 401(k)s the rates were 67.42 percent, 67.97 percent and 66.09 percent respectively.

While there was no data that explained how organizations enrolled their employees, the numbers suggest that many of them did not auto-enroll. Participation rates are between 60 and 90 percent when auto-enroll is used, according to benefits experts.

Julie Gallion, senior human resources consultant at Nonprofit HR Solutions in Washington, D.C., noted that most organizations choose 403(b)s instead of 401(k)s since they are specific to nonprofits. Prior to 2009, they did not have to be monitored or managed by their plan sponsors, and did not have any of the other regulations such as 401(k)s.

The plans that were specifically asked about by The NonProfit Times for the purposes of the study were 401(k)s and 403(b)s. Over three years – 2010, 2011, and 2012 – the nonprofits that offered these types of plans and the number of employees participating remained relatively consistent. It is curious more don’t sign up. As Gallion explained, it’s not that they don’t want to do it. “They’re scared of it and it doesn’t affect them now,” said Gallion. “A lot of these employees are young so they aren’t even thinking of retirement now.”

People’s main priority these days “is to pay their bills,” said Christine Sivak, a partner at Cedar Book Financial Partners, LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio. “Retirement is way down on the list for most workers now.”

Gallion said that when she explained to her clients the money they would end up getting for the retirement if they enrolled immediately rather than waiting, it “shocked” them into action.

Sivak said in her studies, she found that only “9 percent of employees are financially literate. It’s hard to take it upon themselves to sign up for a plan,” she explained. That’s why she believes most employers should consider auto-enrollment. When asked why she thought some still preferred to keep it in the hands of their employees, she chalked it up to a misreading of the situation.

“Sometimes there’s a misconception between what executives think employees want and what they actually want,” she explained. “Some employers think auto-enrollment is taking too much control.” Sivak said that 70 percent of employees want to be auto-enrolled into retirement plans, citing data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

A study by advocacy organization Independent Sector in Washington, D.C., backs up the notion that there is great frustration among nonprofit employees about their retirement plans. According to its study, “Financial Security and Careers in the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector,” while many workers have access to some type of retirement plan, 45 percent of them are not satisfied with their ability to prepare financially to retire. Those in the late-stages of their career (age 50+) are more likely to feel some satisfaction (around 63 percent), while those in the early- and mid-stages (21-34; 35-39) have the least amount of confidence (49 percent and 48 percent, respectively).

That same study indicated that workers are not sure how much they need to save for retirement. Most employees are saving some money, but only 18 percent are very or extremely confident that they are saving the right amount. On the other hand, 42 percent are not too or not at all confident about their savings. Much like satisfaction with retirement plans, late-stage career workers are slightly more confident about savings but even so, over one-third (38 percent) are not confident.

Another key data point from The NonProfit Times’ research was related to organizational contributions to both 401(k)s and 403(b)s. The 401(k)s peaked at 7.72 percent in 2011, bottoming out at 7.38 percent in 2012. The number was for 2010 was 7.53 percent. Contributions for 403(b)s reached a high of 8.35 percent in 2010, but fell to 6.73 percent in 2011. The rate recovered slightly in 2012 at 7.19 percent.

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