The plain truth is that we as a nation are terrible savers. We know that we need to save and that in order to live comfortably in retirement, we should start saving as early as possible. But when it comes down to it, Americans are much better at spending -- and it's for this reason that many of us are looking at a bleak financial future.
According to statistics released by the Federal Reserve in early August, 19% of Americans who are near retirement (between the ages of 55 and 64) have absolutely no money saved. Expanding beyond this age range, 31% of adults claimed not to have saved a single penny toward retirement. This is a dangerous trend that has to change, and the hope is that 401(k)s could be the retirement tool that helps reduce this percentage in future generations.
The rise of the 401(k)
Nowadays, some of the best retirement plans are born from substantial 401(k) savings.
Unfortunately, to be frank, some 401(k)s downright stink and offer little to no company matching, while others are retirement plan superstars among their employees. While a 401(k) in itself may not be enough to attract an employee to a company, top-notch retirement options are great for keeping employees loyal. Companies that offer the best retirement plans often have satisfied workforces, which in turn can translate into better margins and profitability.
Bloomberg recently did some deep digging and analyzed 250 of the largest companies in the S&P 500 to determine which ones offered the best retirement plans. Bloomberg's analysis weighed seven different retirement factors, including the extent of a company's 401(k) match (which comprised about half its weighting), as well as the number of investment options offered to workers, whether automatic enrollment was offered, and the time it takes to fully vest.
The results were varied and somewhat surprising.
The 401(k) dunce cap
Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM), for example, is a champion of fair pay, with its executives' salaries capped at 19 times the average employees' salary. It's also one of Wall Street's more transparent businesses. However, Whole Foods' potential match of just $152 per year with no additional contribution ranked the company fourth from the bottom on Bloomberg's analysis (it's worth noting that 10 of the 250 companies couldn't be ranked). Of course, Whole Foods also has an exceptional health-benefits program, which it notes is where most of its employee benefit spending goes.
But Whole Foods wasn't dead-last in Bloomberg's rankings; that dubious honor went to social-media kingpin Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Though stock options may have put some pep in employees' step once Facebook went public, Facebook offers no company match or additional contribution for its employees.
Three other companies, however, stood out in a good way and took the top honors in Bloomberg's analysis of retirement benefits.
These 3 companies offer the best retirement plans
Ranking third among the companies Bloomberg analyzed was biotechnology behemoth Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN). According to Amgen's employee benefits website, the company provides a "core contribution of 5%" of its employees' income -- and that's regardless of whether employees choose to add their own funds to their retirement plans. Additionally, Amgen will match up to 5% of an employee's eligible pay. Amgen also offers access to an employee stock purchase plan (something that would have netted Amgen employees more than a 150% return over the past couple of years), as well as a supplemental retirement plan.
It's especially important for a company like Amgen to keep its researchers happy, because skilled employees in the healthcare field can be hard to come by. Because Amgen's research and development is the heartbeat of its business, these retirement tools are effectively working to keep that recruited talent in-house.
Ranking second was -- brace yourself -- tobacco products company Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM). Say what you will about the king of nicotine, but it has made many a happy retiree. Spokesman Corey Henry said, "Rewarding and investing in our employees, through career development programs, strong reward programs and benefits such as a robust retirement package for our U.S. personnel is essential to ensuring that we can attract, motivate, and retain the best global talent."
As noted by Bloomberg, Philip Morris International will match its employees' eligible contributions up to 5%. But what's truly impressive about this tobacco producer is that it also adds in an extra 15% of its employees' compensation. That's certainly one way to keep talent within the company, and a great way to get its employees prepared for retirement.
Topping Bloomberg's list, however, was oil and natural gas giant ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). ConocoPhillips offers an extremely generous 9% contribution to employees who save as little as 1% of their pay, and on top of this they'll add another 6% to 9% to a cash savings account.
We don't often think of oil and gas companies as the homes of our smartest and most talented individuals, but getting vital fossil fuels out of the ground takes just as much brains as brawn. ConocoPhillips' robust 401(k) certainly appears to be retaining talent, too: The company's trailing 12-month profit margin is higher than those of its larger integrated oil and gas peers.
A step in the right direction
The good news here is that, with the exception of Facebook, 239 of the 240 evaluable companies at least offered some form of 401(k) contribution match, though the size of that match differed wildly. For you, the working American and investor, a 401(k) match means the opportunity to bag free money from your employer. I can't guarantee that a 401(k) alone will grant you the retirement of your dreams, but there's no doubt that 401(k)s are the core of some of the best retirement plans out there.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors.The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends Facebook and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.