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A lot of Americans are leaving their IRAs when they leave their jobs

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If you’re having trouble keeping track of your IRA or retirement plans, it could be that you’ve forgotten you had one.

One-third of Americans have left a retirement plan behind when they left a job, according to Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA). That figure jumps highest for Gen Xers, with 43 percent leaving one behind, while 35 percent of millennials and 23 percent of baby boomers did the same.

“Many Americans think IRA rollovers are complicated or out of reach. But the industry has made great progress in streamlining the process,” says Kathie Andrade, CEO of TIAA’s Retail Financial Services business. “Most people can get a rollover started in the time it takes to make coffee.”

Confusion and misunderstanding are the main reasons why IRA and retirement contributions are lacking. According to the TIAA survey, nearly half of respondents say they don’t have enough money to save. But of those who do have IRAs, 20 percent of them contribute less than $250 a year.

“With so many competing financial priorities, it’s not surprising to find that Americans focus on their current needs,” says Andrade. “But by learning about the tax benefits of contributing to an IRA, they may find they can take the sting out of saving for their long-term goals.”

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What we’re doing right

The good news: 91 percent of IRA contributors are positive about their retirement futures — compared to 64 percent of non-IRA contributors who aren’t confident. TIAA says how those contributors came to be so successful varies, including:

  • personal support from a financial adviser (40 percent),
  • general educational information about IRAs (25 percent), and
  • a clear and simple process to open an IRA (10 percent).

Help with starting and maintaining IRAs has longstanding positive effects, including great tax benefits. But even those with IRAs may not be using them efficiently, as more than half have IRAs at different institutions and 37 percent admit to having more than one.

What’s we’re doing wrong

Unfortunately, even those with IRAs may not be using them to their full potential. Even worse, those who don’t have or contribute to IRAs don’t do so because they don’t know enough about them. Half of millennials would get one after hearing about the benefits. But who they hear the benefits from matters: One-third admit learning the benefits from family and friends would jump-start their IRA investments. Nearly 80 percent of millennials don’t have an IRA right now.

“While people at every age can leverage the advantages of IRAs, younger adults stand to benefit the most,” the report says. “Not only do they have more years to make contributions, but they also can use IRAs for other financial goals, such as putting a down payment on a house.”

Broken down even further, women experience more setbacks than men when it comes to stocking away savings. Fifty-one percent of women, compared to 41 percent of men, say they don’t have any additional money to save — which is a major reason why they either don’t have IRAs or aren’t contributing to one.

Tell a millennial about starting an IRA. We all need to save, and it’s getting easier.

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About the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn is a full-time freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She’s president of Blossomers Media, Inc., a web development and online media consulting company. Along with her work on, she’s been a longtime freelancer for Money Talks News — a personal and consumer finance website — and South Florida Gay News — the largest weekly LGBT newspaper in the South. Zinn has written for a variety of other publications, including Huffington Post, The Week, Quartz, Fort Lauderdale Magazine, Indulge, and

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