Our proprietary data reveals how individuals in the U.S. have changed their savings behaviors over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as business and travel restrictions disrupted our economy. Not surprisingly, we saw notable shifts in savings plan contributions and withdrawals in the first few months of the outbreak. Over the course of the summer and early fall months, we continued to note volatility in employer contributions to retirement plans and in COBRA qualifying events, which can signal employment status changes. However, we’ve also seen encouraging signs of resilience and an appreciation for the importance of continued savings, both from employers and employees.
- Since March, employer retirement plan contribution activity has been fairly volatile. Overall, employer contribution amounts have remained steadily below projections, with the most dramatic drops in March and April and an uptick in May through July. As of the end of September, employer contribution amounts have been 6.4% lower than projected.
- Positively, 14.1% of employers have restarted their plan matching contributions after some match interruption during March through August.
- We’ve seen moderate to low employer adoption of CARES Act distribution and loan options relative to early industry projections. However, larger plans (100+ savers) are adopting at more than 4 times the rate of the smallest plans (25 or fewer savers).
- In January through September, only 1.4% of savers stopped their deferrals entirely, and another 1.7% of savers are no longer receiving contributions to their retirement account, most likely due to furlough or termination. This small population of savers that is no longer receiving contributions is concentrated in the smallest retirement plans.
- Eligible savers continued to take CRDs and CARES loans at a consistently low rate through August, with even lower utilization in September. Savers taking CRDs share some characteristics: 42.5% were between the ages of 45 and 54 and 62.3% had annual salaries between $30,000 and $50,000.
- One-time contribution amounts to 529 accounts showed a small improvement in August and September, approaching 2019 levels. However, the cumulative amount of one-time contributions is still 12.5% below projections for the 2020 year.
- The total amount of dollars taken through qualified 529 withdrawals is 13.6% below projections for the year. This drop in the amount of dollars withdrawn from 529s may be tied to a 15% reduction in qualified withdrawals during 2020 “tuition season.” Tuition season typically kicks off in late June and wraps in late September. However, this year, we saw tuition season withdrawal activity start two weeks later and end one week earlier than prior years.
Health and Benefits
- According to data from Chard Snyder, an Ascensus company, there was a 4.6% increase in the number of COBRA qualifying events in March through September, with the most significant increase in March through May. We saw a temporary recovery, with qualifying events dropping below 2019 levels in July; yet that was followed by a sharp increase to above-2019 levels in August and September. This latest increase may signal a second wave of business hardships.
- Debit card activity linked to healthcare accounts (including HSAs, HRAs, and FSAs) was above projected levels in September, with the number of transactions 5.9% higher and the average amount per transaction 6.9% higher than expected.
View and download the complete State of Savings report here.