Deferred gratification or immediate satisfaction?
Americans appear to choose the latter. Not exactly news to anyone following the saving rates of the nation’s consumers.
Yet a new report from Hearts &Wallets finds a “thirst for liquidity is driving increases of certain account types as consumers weigh tradeoffs between tax-deferred investments versus readily accessible funds.”
Specifically, consumers are devoting less money to employer-sponsored retirement plans (like 401ks) as a percent of total investable assets, even as ownership has held steady.
“Consumers who put any funds in these retirement plans five years ago allocated 51 percent of their investable assets to current plans, as compared to only 46 percent today, a decrease of 5 percentage points,” according to the data and consulting firm
However, at the same time, consumers with taxable brokerage accounts increased ownership rates by 10 percentage points over the period, and bank checking, saving and CD accounts are up 9 percentage points over the same time.
The growth of these taxable brokerage accounts means consumers are seeking a net safety for unplanned expenses, according to the firm.
It found that building an emergency fund continues to be the No. 1 national goal (48 percent) for consumers.
Nearly 40 percent (48.7 million) have three or more months of their income saved in checking, saving or CD accounts, accounts traditionally thought of as emergency fund resources.
When taxable brokerage account assets are included in the definition, the number rises to almost half (49 percent) or 61.6 million of U.S. households.
“Many Americans have significant assets tied up in their home or retirement accounts,” Laura Varas, CEO and founder of Hearts & Wallets, said in a statement. “Those types of piggybanks aren’t easy to crack open if money is needed quickly or without strings.”
On top of that, she added, advice and guidance experiences often recommend that consumers put most of their savings into retirement accounts at the expense of other life goals.
“More and more consumers are recognizing the tension between tax deferral and accessibility, and they are balancing liquidity choices on a spectrum of checking/savings, taxable brokerage and goal-specific savings accounts, of which retirement is only one.”