Fewer people blow 401(k) money after job change

Fewer Americans are blowing their 401(k) savings on cars, clothes and other frivolities when they change jobs.

Only 7.5 percent of U.S. workers last year cashed out their retirement money to spend on purchases when they left a job, according to data released Wednesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

That’s half the 15.1 percent level from a decade ago, and one-third the 22.7 percent of 20 years ago, according to EBRI.

When workers leave a job — often for a new position elsewhere — they have several options with their 401(k) savings. That includes rolling the money into an individual retirement account or cashing out and spending it.

Depending on the amounts involved and the policies of the new employer, workers also can leave the money in the old company’s retirement plan or roll it into a plan at the new employer.

The decrease in consumption-related cash-outs is a sign that Americans — at least those who are disciplined enough to contribute to work-based plans in the first place — are getting the message about the importance of saving for retirement and aren’t squandering those savings on unnecessary purchases.

Almost half of people (45.2 percent) rolled their money into tax-preferred retirement-related vehicles, primarily an IRA or another employer’s savings plan, according to EBRI.

That’s up slightly from 43.4 percent 10 years ago and up sharply from earlier years. It was 35.4 percent in 1998 and 19.3 percent in 1993.

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