Designing Better Pension Benefits Statements

Current Status, Best Practices and Insights from the Field of Judgment and Decisionmaking

by Lauren A. Mayer, Angela A. Hung, Joanne K. Yoong, Jack Clift, Caroline Tassot

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Decisionmaking on saving for retirement requires individuals to have knowledge on fundamental issues, such as the functioning of pension systems, portfolio allocation, future expected benefits, contribution histories and risks. Currently, the information provided in pension benefits statements vary widely by plan provider as well as by the nature of benefits offered. The inconsistency could occur partly because recommended best practices for, and empirical studies that test, the design and content of statements vary widely in the literature. Furthermore, little is known on how people think about saving for retirement. Insights from the fields of behavioral economics, and judgment and decisionmaking can fill some of these literature gaps by applying psychological theories to help better inform consumers about their financial decisions and retirement status using benefits statements. In this paper, the authors provide a normative and positive review of pension benefit statement design. They begin by reviewing best practices and recommendations provided from the trade literature. Next, they describe the content and design of a cross section of statements that are currently being used by plan providers. Finally, they review the academic literature on individuals' understanding of, and information needs related to, pension benefits statements. The latter includes a description of the few studies explicitly researching pension statement design related questions, general behavioral and decisionmaking literature that can be applied to the content and presentation of information, and general literature on whether and to what extent uncertainty should be presented.

This paper series was made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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