Americans' Love Affair With Their 401k Plan -- Cherished Even More Than Losing A Few Pounds

Most say they'd think twice about taking a job without one.

Americans love their 401(k)s.

We love them so much that the growth in those investment accounts for our retirement is more important than our health.

Those are the findings in a survey by Charles Schwab of 1,000 workers with a 401k plan. Workers want a 401(k) so much in their place of employment that 90 percent say they'd think twice about taking a job if it didn't offer one. Only one in five say they're confident in saving for retirement without one.

And a whopping 73 percent say they would rather have their 401(k) balance go up by 15 percent than lose 15 pounds.

Some 68 percent say that making good 401(k) investment choices is a higher priority than staying in shape.

"That's interesting to make the conclusion that one is more important than the other," says Catherine Golladay, vice president of participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. "I really think with those approaching retirement, it's not just about being healthy enough to enjoy it, but individuals are looking at the possibility of financing retirement for 20 or 30 years. Most people realize they can't afford to do that without a healthy 401(k)."

Nearly 60 percent say their 401(k) is their only or largest source of retirement savings.

What's positive from the survey, Golladay says, is that there's a growing self-reliance among people planning for retirement. One investment trend that shows this is the emergence of 401(k) millionaires. Nine in ten say they'll rely on themselves for the money needed to retire.

People are so obsessed with their 401(k) plans that 64 percent pay attention to their plan's fees. That's more than, say, the 60 percent who pay attention to airline baggage fees, and the 49 percent who pay attention to gym sign-up fees.

Despite their love of 401(k)s, many of those surveyed admit that they can't save what they want, Golladay says. Some 35 percent say they aren't willing to sacrifice their existing lifestyle for their retirement planning.


Almost everyone surveyed (97%) believed that Americans are not saving enough for a comfortable retirement.

"The barriers that are really inhibiting people from saving more are interesting findings," Golladay says. "Some people aren't saving because they have some unexpected expenses or bills. More than one third of individuals are saying they're not saving more because they're unwilling to sacrifice things that add to their quality of life like vacations or eating out."

Other top obstacles to retirement saving include covering basic monthly bills (31%), paying off credit card debt (24%) and saving for education (22%).

One quarter of participants have taken a loan from their 401(k), mostly to pay for a down payment on a house, to make home improvements, or to cover everyday bills, the survey says.

The survey group was made up of people between 25 and 70 and said that it's crucial for the presidential candidates to make this issue priority this election. Some 69 percent said they want retirement savings addressed during the debates.

Politicians aren't getting a good grade when it comes to the issue. Some 89 percent gave politicians a "C" or less when it comes to help efforts to save for retirement. A whopping 29 percent gave politicians an "F."'

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