“Encouraging or enabling people to spend down retirement money in anything other than the most severe circumstances is a terrible mistake,” said David C. John, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who studies retirement policy.
But millions of Americans, caught between flat wages and high expenses for everything from sending children to college to making home repairs, feel as though they have little choice. The withdrawals have grown substantially in the wake of the financial crisis.
With federal policymakers eyeing cuts to Social Security benefits and Medicare to rein in soaring federal deficits, and traditional pensions in a long decline, retirement savings experts say the drain from the accounts has dire implications for future retirees.
“We’re going from bad to worse,” said Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security. “Already, fewer private-sector workers have access to stable pension plans. And the savings in individual retirement savings accounts like 401(k) plans — which already are severely underfunded — continue to leak out at a high rate.”
A report due out this week from the financial advisory firm HelloWallet found that more than one in four workers dip into retirement funds to pay their mortgages, credit card debt or other bills. Those in their 40s have been the most likely culprits — one-third are turning to such accounts for relief. Read more...