Although Americans did withdraw money from retirement accounts amid the pandemic toward the end of 2020, the increase was modest. This according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
Even though Congress allowed penalty-free withdrawals of as much as $100K from individual retirement accounts last year, the article reports that few took the option.
Rob Austin, research director at Alight, said that given the hike in unemployment rates, some in the industry expected as many as half of 401(k) participants to raid their accounts. But his firm found that only about 6% of those with 401(k) accounts tapped into them. The article also reports data from Vanguard Group showing a similar percentage—5.7% of eligible participants took penalty-free withdrawals due to the pandemic crisis. T. Rowe Price Group reported that 8% took at least one withdrawal.
According to Brigham Young University economist Brigitte Madrian, the primary reason withdrawal rates are lower than expected is that the unemployment crisis has disproportionately hit lower-income workers, who are less likely to even have a 401(k) plan—the article notes that about one-third of private-sector workers do not have access to a retirement savings plan.
The article concludes, “The move by Congress to loosen withdrawal rules in 2020 underscores a growing acceptance of the idea that retirement accounts, which hold trillions in wealth, do double duty as emergency funds.”