TIAA-CREF Survey Finds One-Third of Americans Have Never Increased Their Retirement Plan Contribution Rate

Millennials are most likely to raise their contribution rate after a raise
New York, August 12, 2014 — A new TIAA-CREF survey reveals that more than one-third of Americans who contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan (36 percent) have never increased the percentage of their salary they contribute to their company's plan. An additional 26 percent of workers have not increased their contribution in more than one year. Considering that 44 percent of American employees save 10 percent or less of their annual income each yeari, these findings indicate that many employees have the opportunity to improve their retirement readiness by increasing their plan contributions regularly.
The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and polled a random sample of more than 1,000 adults nationwide on their retirement plans.

Getting employees engaged in retirement saving

The survey found that more than half (53 percent) of employees with company retirement plans were not automatically enrolled in their companies' plans. Those not automatically enrolled lost precious time saving for retirement, with 37 percent of respondents who were not automatically enrolled in a plan reporting that they waited six months or longer to enroll, and one in four employees (24 percent) waiting a year or more.
The survey also found 57 percent of workers did not increase their plan contribution after their last raise. The most common reason cited for not increasing contributions after a raise was an immediate need to pay expenses. One-quarter (25 percent) of respondents say they did not increase their contributions after their last raise because they were already contributing the maximum amount to their retirement plan, although men (33 percent) were nearly twice as likely as women (17 percent) to be contributing the maximum amount allowed.
Millennials (age 18-34) were more likely than any other age group to increase savings after a raise (52 percent) and of those Millennials who did not increase savings after a raise, 23 percent did not do so because they were already contributing the maximum amount allowed.
"Plan sponsors should have ongoing interactions with employees over the course of their careers around three critical actions: enroll in the plan, increase contributions every year and check asset allocations every year to rebalance if necessary," said Teresa Hassara, executive vice president of TIAA-CREF's Institutional Business. "Auto-enrollment and auto-escalation options offer great benefit to overcoming employee inertia around retirement planning, but they are not universal, and they are not a substitute for employee engagement."

Investing in the future

The survey found that many respondents are not taking the steps necessary to make sure they have the right investments at each stage of their lives. One-quarter (25 percent) of workers have never made changes to how their money is invested, and an additional 28 percent have not made changes to how their money is invested in more than one year.
Millennials again were significantly more likely to have changed how their money was invested in the past year compared to those 35 years or older (59 percent vs. 42 percent).
One-third (34 percent) of those age 55 or older say they have never made a change to the way their money is invested, which means they are less likely to have taken the steps necessary to transition from saving for retirement to creating income to last for a lifetime.
"Plan sponsors should be proactively looking for opportunities to engage directly with employees about their retirement savings, especially during pivotal times such as benefits enrollment season and after an employee receives a raise," said Hassara. "Reaching employees at the right time with the right messaging can have a profound effect on retirement readiness."
For more information about the survey, read the executive summary . TIAA-CREF also has prepared articles for plan sponsors and individuals that discuss how to help employees invest in their retirement security through prompt plan enrollment and regular increases in their plan contributions.


TIAA-CREF ( is a national financial services organization with $613 billion in total assets under management (as of 6.30.14) and is the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields.

Survey Methodology

The findings come from TIAA-CREF’s Investing in You Survey, which was conducted among a sample of 1,000 adults currently contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, conducted by an independent research firm between May 19, 2014, and May 28, 2014.
The survey was conducted by KRC Research online among a sample of 1,000 employed adults, age 18 years and older, currently contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Data was weighted by key demographic variables to ensure the sample is representative of the employed population contributing to defined-contribution plans.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to, sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options.
iTIAA-CREF Lifetime Income Survey, January 2014
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