Why 401(k) Default Options May Not Be Enough

I’ve been reading Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler. A point of interest is the discussion of automatic enrollment in 401k plans. Automatic enrollment may get employees started saving for retirement. But 401k default options associated with this type of sign-up (such as an investment choice of a money market fund and a savings rate of 3%) may be unlikely to help employees achieve the outcomes needed for a comfortable retirement.

According to Thaler, “Both of these default choices — the money market investment option and the 3% savings rate — were not intended by the employer to be either suggestions or advice. Instead, these options were picked to minimize the chance that the company would be sued.”

So, what’s the story about these default options?