Thinking About Retirement? Yep, Millennials Are Doing Just That

January 9, 2020

Perhaps contrary to what some might believe, millennials are thinking about retirement—and in particular, their retirement security. In fact, according to a Willis Towers Watson survey of more than 5,000 workers, 60% of those 18 to 34 said they would forgo some of their pay if it meant a more secure retirement. And that's not all, folks: In a 2016 national survey of public workers, most of whom were under 40, The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 85% said that a fixed, lifetime monthly benefit upon retirement was a top or pretty big priority.

Could this value placed on retirement security be due to millennials' growing anxiety about their retirement prospects (a Colorado-based survey conducted by the National Institute on Retirement Security found that younger Coloradans are actually more nervous about the security of their retirement than those closer to retirement)? It's entirely possible.

If only there was a secure retirement plan we could bank on being there for our lifetime when it's our time to retire (oh, and even better: that would also give us back everything we put in—and more)…

(That's our hint for you to read on.)

Did you know that Colorado PERA's defined benefit plan (the fancy term for what most call a "pension") is a substitute for Social Security? That means PERA employees don't pay into the federal retirement system while working for a PERA employer; instead, they pay into PERA.

But this isn't your grandpa's pension plan. What makes the PERA retirement plan unique is the fact that it blends the best of two worlds: a traditional pension plan and a defined contribution plan (what you probably know better as a 401(k)). Thanks to this unique design, PERA's plan benefits short-term public employees as well as those who spend their entire career in public service. And that's not just according to PERA—that's what an independent, third-party firm commissioned by the Colorado General Assembly found.

According to that firm's report, PERA’s hybrid defined benefit plan provides the most income replacement at retirement at the lowest cost (compared to other types of retirement plans in use today, including 401(k)-type defined contribution plans). Regardless of someone's age or length of service, no plan "provides a more effective level of benefits than the PERA hybrid plan." [Cue mic drop.]

The image below shows exactly how PERA's level of income replacement at retirement stacks up against the competition. If you're someone who cares about your retirement security and aren't convinced that Social Security will be there to support you, having the PERA hybrid plan option in your retirement arsenal—whether you end up working in public service for three years or 30 years—will pay off (or more specifically, pay you) in the long run.

How PERA Compares to Other Retirement Plans

So, how exactly does the PERA hybrid plan accommodate short-term employees? It does so through a component known as the Money Purchase Benefit; here's how it works:

  • Every dollar contributed by a PERA member (currently 8%, although that may increase if the PERA Board's recommended package of reforms passes this year), is placed in an individual account for that member.
  • The member's contributions are credited with interest at a set annual rate that, by law, can't exceed 5% (it's currently at 3%).
  • When/if the member leaves public service (a.k.a. PERA employment), so long as he or she hasn't refunded or taken out money from the individual account before retirement eligibility is reached, he or she is eligible to receive the Money Purchase Benefit.
  • The Money Purchase Benefit that he or she receives is calculated by taking the individual account balance (total member contributions plus interest), adding a 100% match to that balance, and then determining the monthly amount that can be paid out for life using PERA's current long-term assumptions.

Even if a member decides to withdraw his or her money upon leaving PERA employment, that member is able to take all member contributions made plus interest—and, if he or she has worked in the system for five or more years, that becomes all member contributions made, plus a 50% match on the employer's contributions, plus interest.

No matter how you slice it, every PERA member receives more money than he or she puts in—regardless of length of employment. By our account, it would seem the PERA hybrid plan is a good bet for even us "flighty" millennials.