What Nobel Winner Thaler Thinks of 401k Cuts?

'I knew this would be unpopular'

Thaler, 401k, retirementWe have no problem telling a Nobel laureate he's wrong.

Richard Thaler likes a contrarian view; it’s probably what won him this year’s Nobel Prize.

The University of Chicago academic weighed in with a surprising take last week on the industry uproar over the potential for 401k contribution limit cuts.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, Thaler wrote:

“Unpopular observation: reducing the limit on 401k contributions is massively progressive.”

Noting the predictable outrage that followed, the behavioral economist followed up a day later with:

“I knew this would be unpopular. The tax shelter helps the rich two ways: they save more and get a bigger tax subsidy. Very few max out.”

Thaler has been widely praised for his work specifically related to 401ks and retirement savings, with many crediting him as a driving force behind auto-enrollment and auto-escalation now prevalent in plan design.

As a strong advocate for “making it easy” for participants, many were surprised by his view.

It all started when The Hill reported recently that “the potential change that people following the tax bill are hearing about would lower the maximum annual contribution to $2,400. Amounts over $2,400 could be put into Roth 401(k)s, where the money is taxed upfront but not when it’s withdrawn.”

One day earlier, the Internal Revenue Service announced contribution limits for employees who participate in 401k, 403b, most 457 plans, as well as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, will increase from it’s current $18,000 to $18,500 in 2018, barring any cuts as part of a potential tax reform deal.

“It’s unclear how seriously lawmakers are considering reducing the cap on pre-tax contributions to 401(ks),” The Hill added. “But industry groups are worried that dramatically lowering the cap on pre-tax contributions would reduce the amount that people save for their retirement.”

About 55 million Americans participate in 401k plans, which now hold more than $5 trillion in assets, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Investors with 401ks and similar defined contribution (DC) plan accounts value the control and choice of investment options offered in their plans, ICI notes.

7 Comments on "What Nobel Winner Thaler Thinks of 401k Cuts?"

  1. I have to disagree with Mr. Thaler and who am I to argue with a nobel prize winner. It’s sad to hear that the thesis of his argument is more tax breaks for the wealthy. If we have a $2,400 limit as suggested with anything over that being taxed immediately and placed into a Roth 401K, this is contrary to his argument. By contributing larger amounts to a Roth account, a wealthy individual only pays taxes on the contribution and has larger gains come out tax free. A much better “benefit” than the current tax deferred version, which eventually taxes both contributions and gains.

    I think a better approach is to recognize that too many people are not prepared for retirement and Social Security alone won’t be enough. People need retirement savings vehicles where they can save as much as they can so they have a chance at being self-sufficient at retirement. Let’s leave the class envy and class warfare out of the discussion. It simply divides groups against each other rather than coming together to create solutions. Let’s educate people on how to plan and save for retirement and then provide them with vehicles that have top quality investments. Results not rhetoric.

  2. Says the professor with the defined benefit plan.

  3. I’m near maxing out in my early 40’s, and I’m scared s**t-less I’ll be collecting cans for extra income in retirement. However, I get why they targeted “me”. Although, a lot of this was just bad marketing. I would have taken this a bit better, if they sold this with a big increase Roth limits, and did something to help those that have trouble squirreling away $2,400 to begin with.

  4. One has to really wonder that given our ever increasing deficits that our Government would allow large holdings in Roth accounts to remain tax free at the time of distribution. Given past history I sure wouldn’t trust this premise.

  5. An idiot. I am by no means whatsoever rich. I work 2 jobs, 60-something hours a week so that I can save the maximum. Hopefully, so that one day I can quit one if not both jobs. His warped view might or might not “hurt the rich”. But that is the new view, isn’t it? Lump everyone that works hard to better themselves and has the ability to save, as “rich”.

  6. An absolutely imbecilic position; but exactly what is expected of a Noble Laureate. Another attempt by the post-modern intelligentsia to impose social justice, i.e. “equality”. There are numerous problems with lowering qualified contribution…yes Thaler, even though poorer people can’t do as much. All retirement savings should be tax deferred; I think the IRA limit should coterminous with the 401k limit and let people maximize their match and put the balance of their annual limit in an IRA. In any event, this appears to be another idiot professor justifying a social justice agenda. There a manifold issues and even greater inequities that will be created immediately, and when the affected population is retiring. It won’t happen, at least under Trump, but it’s useful to know this fools names. Sorry Chicago, your professor just guaranteed that you are another school that won’t get my children or my money!

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