Fewer people blow 401(k) retirement money on meaningless purchases

Fewer Americans are cashing out their 401(k) savings to buy cars, clothes and other goods when they change jobs.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Fewer Americans are blowing their 401(k) savings on cars, clothes and other frivolities when they change jobs.

Only 7.5% of U.S. workers last year cashed out their retirement money to spend on purchases when they left a job, according to data released Wednesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

That’s half the 15.1% level from a decade ago, and one-third the 22.7% of 20 years ago, according to EBRI.


When workers leave a job -- often for a new position elsewhere -- they have several options with their 401(k) savings. That includes rolling the money into an individual retirement account or cashing out and spending it.

(Depending on the amounts involved and the policies of the new employer, workers also can leave the money in the old company’s retirement plan or roll it into a plan at the new employer.)

The decrease in consumption-related cashouts is a sign that Americans -- at least those who are disciplined enough to contribute to work-based plans in the first place -- are getting the message about the importance of saving for retirement and not squandering it on unnecessary purchases.

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More than 4 in 10 people (45.2%) rolled their money into tax-preferred retirement-related vehicles, primarily an IRA or another employer’s savings plan, according to EBRI.

That’s up slightly from 43.4 % 10 years ago and up sharply from earlier years. It was 35.4% in 1998 and 19.3% in 1993.


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