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When it comes to wealth and health, individuals are apparently more concerned about their money than staying in shape. To that point, 73 percent of individuals would rather have their 401(k) plan balance grow by 15 percent this year than lose 15 pounds, according to a nationwide survey from Charles Schwab.
Additionally, 68 percent of those surveyed said that making the best 401(k) plan investment choices was more of a priority than staying in shape. The survey illustrated the vital role of 401(k) plans in helping workers save for retirement. It also showed obstacles to saving effectively and a strong desire among participants for professional help in choosing the right investments.
While people clearly value their 401(k) plans, many employees are reticent to save due to their lack of confidence in their investment decisions. The survey revealed that just 44 percent of respondents are confident in their ability to make the right 401(k) investment decisions on their own. Meanwhile, 73 percent say they would be very or extremely confident in their ability to make the right investment decisions with the help of a financial professional.
The survey also found that 47 percent of workers say materials explaining their 401(k) plans are harder to decipher than complex materials explaining their medical benefits. And even though employees know they should be saving for retirement, saving comes at an opportunity cost to other experiences like dining out and vacations. The survey also found that 35 percent of those polled say they are not willing to sacrifice quality of life expenditures to save for retirement.
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"Most of the participants want 401(k) plan advice but, whether because of inertia or discomfort, many don't take that first step of asking for help," explained Catherine Golladay, vice president of participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services.
Participants are still focused on their retirement despite their lack of confidence and believe the retirement system is a national priority that politicians should discuss in the upcoming election cycle.
Almost 70 percent want the presidential candidates to address retirement savings during future debates. Currently, 89 percent of workers give politicians a "C" grade for their efforts to help Americans save for retirement. Twenty-nine percent even give them an "F."
"When it comes to retirement, there's been a significant shift of responsibility from employer to employee over the past 30 years, making the 401(k) plan a critical part of the retirement system," said Steve Anderson, head of Schwab Retirement Plan Services. "Our survey found only one in five participants would be confident in their ability to save for retirement without a 401(k) plan.
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"In fact, participants worry as much about having enough money to enjoy retirement as they do about being healthy enough to enjoy retirement," he said.
This online survey of U.S. 401(k) participants was conducted by Koski Research for Schwab Retirement Plan Services. The survey is based on 1,000 interviews and has a 3 percent margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level.
—By Krysia Lenzo, special to CNBC.com