Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Stop Me Before I Spend Again

U.S. Savings bonds were once a popular
payroll savings choice. Buying them was
patriotic because it helped with the national debt.
A 2015 study shows why many people like to save via paycheck withholdings and put them into accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, that restrict and/or penalize withdrawals:
If individuals have self-control problems, they may take up commitment contracts that restrict their spending.
The subjects of the experiment were given a choice of accounts in which to invest; the accounts had different withdrawal penalties and different rates of return. The desire for restrictions was surprisingly powerful: [bold added]
the amount of money they allocated increased with the level of restrictiveness. They even allocated money to the restricted account when it offered a lower interest rate than the unrestricted one.
Their finding is consistent with the behavior of taxpayers who like to get refunds, though it really means that the government has been getting an interest-free loan. They would much rather collect zero interest on their over-withholding than run the risk of having to make a painful payment on April 15th. Irrational, say the economists, but understandable to those of us in the real world (for the record I like to get refunds, too).

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