Fifth Annual Plan Participant Study Results

American Century Investments® Releases Fifth Annual Plan Participant Study Results

December 11, 2017 - Kansas City, Mo.

Some nine out of 10 plan participants feel at least some regret about saving for their future, according to a national survey conducted by American Century Investments.

The fifth annual study, containing responses from 1,500 full-time workers (grouped by ages 55-65 and 25-54) who currently participate in their employer's retirement plan, looked at their thoughts and perspectives on retirement savings. The survey focused on employee regrets about saving, the value they place on their retirement plans and their reliance on employers' influence and guidance, according to American Century Investments Vice President, Client Marketing Diane Gallagher.

"Not saving for retirement was cited as the most common personal regret—more than not being a better person or having better personal relationships," Gallagher said. "People recognize the importance of saving but lack that general direction or push to get started."

Key study findings include:

  • Regret continues to be the prevailing sentiment that employees express about their retirement savings habits.
  • Retirement plans continue to be highly regarded by participants.
  • Reliance on employers to help participants start early and save more continues to be a theme among participants.


Pre-retirees (age 55 to 65) who report having a great deal of regret has risen five percent in the past two years, according to the survey.

Other survey learnings include:

  • More than four out of 10 see retirement as their biggest financial goal.
  • Participants point to the first five years of their working lives as the period of time for which they have the most regret.
  • Common barriers to saving remained consistent with previous surveys and included not earning enough, having to pay off debts and incurring unexpected expenses.
  • More than 90 percent said it would be "at least somewhat important to tell their younger selves to save more."
  • However, about 75 percent said their early career self would only be "somewhat or very likely" to listen to that advice.
  • Participants gave themselves a "C" when asked to grade the job they did in putting money away for retirement, given their resources and circumstances.

"We continue to see this disconnect in people knowing what they 'should do' against what they actually do with respect to saving. Although participants recognize that responsibility and gravity, they still struggle with overcoming inertia to move forward," Gallagher said.

Employee Benefits

The influence of employers on participants saving for retirement cannot be overstated, according to the study:

  • Despite giving themselves a "C" on saving for retirement, participants awarded a "B-" grade on the help offered by their employers.
  • Nearly half—four out of 10—of participants credit their employer with playing a critical role in getting them to save for retirement.
  • When offered the option of receiving either a 100 percent match on 3 percent of their retirement plan contributions or a 3 percent higher salary, 77 percent of pre-retirees chose the match over the higher salary; 75% of participants ages 25-54 would take the match.
  • When asked the same question substituting 6 percent for 3 percent, 78 percent of pre-retirees and 69 percent of younger participants chose the match.
  • Eight out of 10 believe the defined contribution plan is one of the most important benefits.
  • Two out of three participants feel positive about a company that offers auto enrollment, automatic increases and target-date funds.
  • When asked about state-run retirement plans where employers automatically enroll employees if they do not offer a plan of their own, the vast majority—57 percent of pre-retirees and 58 percent of younger participants—would prefer an employer-run plan.

"The idea that employees would accept a higher match over higher salary may have implications for plan sponsors and their consultants in structuring compensation and benefit programs," Gallagher said. "It is certainly a perspective that is worth examining within a particular organization."

Reliance on Employer

Automatic plan features are increasingly important to participants, according to the research.

  • Eight out of 10 employees want at least a "slight nudge" from their employers in helping to save and invest for retirement.
  • One out of 10 want "a kick in the pants" to encourage them to save more.
  • Participants overwhelmingly support automatic features.
  • When asked if the company they worked for should offer automatic features, the vast majority agree.
  • Some 75 percent believe automatic enrollment at six percent is something the company should do.
  • More than 60 percent feel automatic enrollment should be implemented retroactively.
  • Eight in 10 show at least some interest in a regular, incremental automatic increase.
  • The same number (80 percent) support plan investment re-enrollment into target-date solutions.

"Participants are really looking to employers to establish defaults around saving rates and investments to help them get started," Gallagher said.

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted during the third quarter of 2017 among a total of 1,500 full-time workers between ages 25 and 65, participating in their employer's retirement plan, intending to retire at some point, and not working for the government. The data were weighted to reflect the makeup of key demographics (gender, income and education) among all American private sector plan participants between the ages of 25 and 65 (according to estimates from the 2012 U.S. Consumer Population Survey). Data collection and analysis were completed by Mathew Greenwald and Associates of Washington, D.C.

About American Century Investments

American Century Investments is a leading privately held investment management firm, committed to delivering superior investment performance and building long-term client relationships since its founding in 1958. Serving investment professionals, institutions, corporations and individual investors, American Century Investments offers a variety of actively managed investment disciplines through an array of products including mutual funds, institutional separate accounts, commingled trusts and sub-advisory accounts. The company's 1,300 employees serve clients from offices in New York; London; Hong Kong; Mountain View, Calif.; and Kansas City, Mo. Jonathan S. Thomas is president and chief executive officer, and Victor Zhang and David MacEwen serve as co-chief investment officers. Delivering investment results to clients enables American Century Investments to distribute over 40 percent of its dividends to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a 500-person, non-profit basic biomedical research organization. The Institute is the primary owner of American Century Investments and has received dividend payments totaling over $1.2 billion since 2000. For more information about American Century Investments, visit

The opinions expressed are those of American Century Investments (or the portfolio manager) and are no guarantee of the future performance of any American Century Investments' portfolio. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.

American Century Investment Services, Inc., Distributor