How to Find an Old 401(k) — and What to Do With It

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are more than 25 million people with money left behind in a previous employer-sponsored retirement plan. Read this blog post from NerdWallet for information on how to find an old retirement plan and what to do with it.


There are billions of dollars sitting unclaimed in ghosted workplace retirement plans. And some of it might be yours if you’ve ever left a job and forgotten to take your vested retirement savings with you.

It happens. A lot.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that from 2004 through 2013, more than 25 million people with money in an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) left at least one account behind after their last day on the job.

But no matter how long the cobwebs have been forming on your old 401(k), that money is still yours. All you have to do is find it.

Following the money

Employers will try to track down a departed employee who left money behind in an old 401(k), but their efforts are only as good as the information they have on file. Beyond providing 30 to 60 days notice of their intentions, there are no laws that say how hard they have to look or for how long.

If it’s been a while since you’ve heard from your former company, or if you’ve moved or misplaced the notices they sent, there are three main places your money could be:

  1. Right where you left it, in the old account set up by your employer.
  2. In a new account set up by the 401(k) plan administrator.
  3. In the hands of your state’s unclaimed property division.

Here’s how to start your search:

Contact your old employer

Start with your former company’s human resources department or find an old 401(k) account statement and contact the plan administrator, the financial firm that held the account and sent you updates.

"You may be allowed to leave your money in your old plan, but you might not want to."

If there was more than $5,000 in your retirement account when you left, there’s a good chance that your money is still in your workplace account. You may be allowed to leave it there for as long as you like until you’re age 70½, when the IRS requires you to start taking distributions, but you might not want to. Here’s how to decide whether to keep your money in an old 401(k).

Plan administrators have more leeway with abandoned amounts up to $5,000. If the balance is $1,000 or less, they can simply cut a check for the total and send it to your last known address, leaving you to deal with any tax consequences. For amounts more than $1,000 up to $5,000, they’re allowed to move funds into an individual retirement account without your consent. These specialty IRAs are set up at a financial institution that has been federally authorized to manage the account.

The good news if a new IRA was opened for the rollover: Your money retains its tax-protected status. The bad: You have to find the new trustee.

Look up your money’s new address

If the old plan administrator cannot tell you where your 401(k) funds went, there are several databases that can assist:

Search unclaimed property databases

If a company terminates its retirement plan, it has more options on what it’s allowed to do with the unclaimed money, no matter what the account balance.

"If your account was cashed out, you may owe the IRS."

It might be rolled into an IRA set up on your behalf, deposited at a bank or left with the state’s unclaimed property fund. Hit up missingmoney.com, run in part by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to do a multistate search of state unclaimed property divisions.

Note that if a plan administrator cashed out and transferred your money to a bank account or the state, a portion of your savings may have been withheld to pay the IRS. That’s because this kind of transfer is considered a distribution (aka cashing out) and is subject to income taxes and penalties. Some 401(k) plan administrators withhold a portion of the balance to cover any potential taxes and send you and the IRS tax form 1099-R to report the income. Others don’t, which could leave you with a surprise IRS IOU to pay.

What to do with it

You might be able to leave your old 401(k) money where it is if it’s in your former employer’s plan. One reason to do so is if you have access to certain mutual funds that charge lower management fees available to institutional clients — like 401(k) plans — that aren’t available to individual investors. But you’re not allowed to contribute to the plan anymore since you no longer work there.

Reasons to move your money to an IRA or to roll it into a current employer’s plan include access to a broader range of investments, such as individual stocks and a wider selection of mutual funds, and more control over account fees.

If your money was moved into an IRA on your behalf, you don’t have to — and probably shouldn’t — leave it there. The GAO study of forced-transfer IRAs found that annual fees (up to $115) and low investment returns (0.01% to 2.05% in conservative investments dictated by the Department of Labor regulations) “can steadily decrease a comparatively small stagnant balance.”

Once you find your money, it’s easy to switch brokers and move your investments into a new IRA of your choosing without triggering any taxes.

Unless you enjoyed this little treasure hunt, the next time you switch jobs, take your retirement loot with you.

SOURCE: Yochim, D. (27 February 2019) "How to Find an Old 401(k) — and What to Do With It" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/how-to-find-an-old-401k-and-what-to-do-with-it/


DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures

A new rule has been proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) that is meant to encourage employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically. This rule would allow plan sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with a valid email address to receive plan disclosures electronically. Read the following blog post to learn more.


The Department of Labor proposed a rule Tuesday that's meant to encourage more employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically to plan participants.

The rule would allow sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with valid email addresses into receiving all their retirement plan disclosures — such as fee disclosure statements and summary plan descriptions — digitally instead of on paper, as has been the traditional route.

Participants can opt-out of e-delivery if they prefer paper notices. The proposed rule covers the roughly 700,000 retirement plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

"DOL rules have largely relied on a paper default," said Will Hansen, chief government affairs officer for the American Retirement Association. "Everything had to be paper, unless they opted into electronic default. This rule is changing the current standing."

Proponents of digital delivery believe it will save employers money and increase participants' retirement savings. The DOL also believes digital delivery will increase the effectiveness of the disclosures.

Plan sponsors are responsible for the costs associated with furnishing participant notices, and many small and large plans pass those costs on to plan participants, Mr. Hansen said. The DOL estimates its proposal will save retirement plans $2.4 billion over the next 10 years through the reduction of materials, printing and mailing costs for paper disclosures.

Opponents of digital delivery maintain that paper delivery should remain the default option. They have noted that participants are more likely to receive and open disclosures if they come by mail, and claim that print is a more readable medium for financial disclosures that helps participants better retain the information.

"We are reviewing the proposal carefully and look forward to providing comments to the Department of Labor, but we already know that in a world of information overload, many people prefer to get important financial information delivered on paper, not electronically," said Cristina Martin Firvida, vice president of financial security and consumer affairs at AARP. "The reality is missed emails, misplaced passwords and difficulties reading complex information on a screen mean that most people do not visit their retirement plan website on a regular basis."

President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order on August 2018 calling on the federal government to strengthen U.S. retirement security. In that order, Mr. Trump directed the Labor secretary to examine how the agency could improve the effectiveness of plan notices and disclosures and reduce their cost.

The DOL proposal, called Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans under ERISA, is structured as a safe harbor, which offers legal protections to employers that follow the guidelines laid out in the rule.

Retirement plans would satisfy their obligation by making the disclosure information available online and sending participants and beneficiaries a notice of internet availability of the disclosures. That notice must be sent each time a plan disclosure is posted to the website.

A digital default can't occur without first notifying participants by paper that disclosures will be sent electronically to the participant's email address.

The 30-day comment period on the proposal starts Wednesday. In addition, the DOL issued a request for information on other measures it could take to improve the effectiveness of ERISA disclosures.

SOURCE: Lacurci, G. (22 October 2019) "DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.investmentnews.com/article/20191022/FREE/191029985/dol-proposes-rule-on-digital-401-k-disclosures


How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill

Are you familiar with how 401(k) taxes work? Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, meaning that you won't pay income taxes until you withdraw the money you've put into your 401(k). Read this blog post for an overview of how these taxes work.


Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, which means you don’t pay income tax on the money you put into the account until you withdraw it. That makes the 401(k) not just a way to save for retirement; it’s also a great way to cut your tax bill. But there are a few rules about 401(k) taxes to know, as well as a few strategies that can get your tax bill even lower.

Here’s an overview of how 401(k) taxes work and how to pay less tax when the IRS asks for a cut of your retirement savings.

How do 401(k) taxes on contributions work?

Contributions to a traditional 401(k) plan come out of your paycheck before the IRS takes its cut. So if you earn $1,000 before taxes at work and you contribute $200 of it to your 401(k), that’s $200 less that you’ll be taxed on. When you file your tax return, you’d report $800 rather than $1,000.

  • If your employer offers a Roth 401(k), that means you contribute after-tax money instead of pre-tax money as with the traditional 401(k). This has a few advantages (see the section about withdrawals).
  • You still have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes on your payroll contributions to a 401(k).
  • In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 a year to a 401(k) plan, which means you can shield $19,000 a year from income taxes. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute $25,000 in 2019.
  • The annual contribution limit is per person, and it applies to all of your traditional or Roth 401(k) contributions in total.
  • Your employer will send you a W-2 in January that shows how much it paid you during the previous calendar year, as well as how much you contributed to your 401(k) and how much withholding tax you paid.

Do 401(k) taxes apply while your money is in the account?

While money is in a traditional 401(k), you pay no taxes on investment gains, interest or dividends.  This is true for a Roth 401(k), as well.

Roth 401(k) vs. Traditional 401(k)

Traditional 401(k) Roth 401(k)
Tax treatment of contributions Contributions are made pre-tax, which reduces your current adjusted gross income. Contributions are made after taxes, with no effect on current adjusted gross income. Employer matching dollars must go into a pre-tax account and are taxed when distributed.
Tax treatment of withdrawals Distributions in retirement are taxed as ordinary income. No taxes on qualified distributions in retirement.
Withdrawal rules Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are taxed. Distributions may be penalized if taken before age 59½, unless you meet one of the IRS exceptions. Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are not taxed as long as the distribution is considered qualified by the IRS: The account has been held for five years or more and the distribution is:

  • Due to disability or death
  • On or after age 59½

Unlike a Roth IRA, you cannot withdraw contributions at any time.

How do 401(k) taxes apply to withdrawals?

In technical terms, your contributions and the investment growth in a traditional 401(k) are tax-deferred — that is, you don’t pay taxes on the money until you make withdrawals from the account. At that point, you’ll owe income taxes to Uncle Sam. If you’re in a Roth 401(k), in most cases you won’t owe any taxes at all when you withdraw the money because you will have already paid the taxes upfront.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money in retirement

  • For traditional 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is taxable as regular income — like income from a job — in the year you take the distribution (remember, you didn’t pay income taxes on it back when you put it in the account; now it’s time to pay the piper).
  • For Roth 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is not taxable (you already paid the income taxes on it back when you put the money in the account).
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your traditional 401(k) without penalty when you turn age 59½.
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your Roth 401(k) without penalty once you’ve held the account for at least five years and you’re at least 59½.
  • If you’ve retired, you have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account starting on April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½.
  • If you’re still working at age 70½, you can put off taking distributions from your traditional 401(k).
  • If you don’t take the required minimum distribution when you’re supposed to, the IRS can assess a penalty of 50% of the amount not distributed.
  • You can withdraw more than the minimum.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money early

For traditional 401(k)s, there are three big consequences of an early withdrawal or cashing out before age 59½:

  1. Taxes will be withheld. The IRS generally requires automatic withholding of 20% of a 401(k) early withdrawal for taxes. So if you withdraw the $10,000 in your 401(k) at age 40, you may get only about $8,000.
  2. The IRS will penalize you. If you withdraw money from your 401(k) before you’re 59½, the IRS usually assesses a 10% penalty when you file your tax return. That could mean giving the government another $1,000 of that $10,000 withdrawal.
  3. You may have less money for later, especially if the market is down when you start making withdrawals. That could have long-term consequences.

There are a lot of exceptions. This article has more details, but in a nutshell, you might be able to escape the IRS’s 10% penalty for early withdrawals from a traditional 401(k) if you:

  • Receive the payout over time.
  • Qualify for a hardship distribution with the plan administrator.
  • Leave your job and are over a certain age.
  • Are getting divorced.
  • Are or become disabled.
  • Put the money in another retirement account.
  • Use the money to pay an IRS levy.
  • Use the money to pay certain medical expenses.
  • Were a disaster victim.
  • Overcontributed to your 401(k).
  • Were in the military.
  • Die.

You can withdraw money from a Roth 401(k) early if you’ve held the account for at least five years and need the money due to disability or death.

7 quick tips to minimize 401(k) taxes

  1. Wait as long as you can to take money out of your account. Withdrawals are what can trigger taxes.
  2. If you must make an early withdrawal from a 401(k), see if you qualify for an exception that will help you avoid paying an early withdrawal penalty.
  3. See if you qualify for the Saver’s Credit on your contributions.
  4. Be careful with how you roll over your account. Rolling an old 401(k) account into another 401(k) or into an IRA usually won’t trigger taxes — if you get the money into the new account within 60 days. Otherwise, the IRS might consider the move a distribution, triggering taxes and maybe even a penalty.
  5. Borrow from your 401(k) instead of making an early withdrawal. Not all 401(k) plans offer loans, though. Also, in most circumstances you’ll need to repay the loan within five years and make regular payments. Check with your plan administrator for the rules.
  6. Use tax-loss harvesting. You might be able to offset the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal by selling underperforming securities at a loss in some other regular investment account you might have. Those losses can offset some or all of the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal.
  7. See a tax professional. There are other ways to minimize your 401(k) taxes, too, so find a qualified tax pro and discuss your options.

SOURCE: Orem, T. (19 September 2019) "How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/401k-taxes/


SIMPLE IRA vs. 401(k): How to Pick the Right Plan

Should you choose a SIMPLE IRA or a 401(k) for retirement saving? There are pros and cons to both types for employers. Read this blog post from NerdWallet for more on these two plan types and how to choose the right one for you.


The decision between a SIMPLE IRA and a 401(k) is, at its core, a choice between simplicity and flexibility for employers.

The aptly named SIMPLE IRA, which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, is the more straightforward of the two options. It’s quick to set up, and ongoing maintenance is easy and inexpensive. But if you have employees, you are required to provide contributions to their accounts. (See our SIMPLE IRA explainer.)

Although a 401(k) plan can be more complex to establish and maintain, it provides higher contribution limits and gives you more flexibility to decide if and how you want to contribute to employee accounts. Another big difference is that you can opt for a Roth version of the plan, whereas the SIMPLE IRA allows no Roth provision.

SIMPLE IRA vs. 401(k)

Here are the need-to-know differences between SIMPLE IRAs and 401(k)s:

SIMPLE IRA

401(k)

Employer eligibility Employers with 100 or fewer employees Any employer with one or more employees
Employee eligibility All employees who have compensation of at
least $5,000 in any prior 2 years, and are reasonably expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year
All employees at least 21 years old who worked at least 1,000 hours in a previous year
Employer contribution rules
  • Mandatory employer contribution: Either matching contribution of up to 3% of employee's pay or contribution equal to 2% of employee’s compensation, even if employee does not contribute.
  • All contributions vest immediately.
  • Employer contributions deductible on business tax return.
  • Employer contributions are optional.
  • Employee contributions vest immediately. Employer sets vesting schedule for employer contributions.
  • Required proportional contributions for each eligible employee if you contribute for yourself.
  • Employer contributions deductible up to IRS limits.
Contribution limits
  • Employee contribution limit: $13,000; $16,000 for those age 50 or older.
  • No limit on employer matching contribution; if using the 2% contribution based on compensation, employer match allowed on up to $280,000 of salary.
  • Employee contribution limit: $19,000; $25,000 for those age 50 or older.
  • Combined contributions of employee and employer are limited to the lesser of 100% of compensation or $56,000 ($62,000 if age 50 or older).
Administrative responsibilities No annual tax filing requirements; annual plan details must be sent to employees Subject to annual compliance testing to ensure plan does not favor highly compensated employees
Fees Minimal account fees Varies by plan
Investment options Any investments available through the financial institution that holds accounts Investment selection curated by employer and plan administrator
Pros
  • Requires minimal administrative management.
  • Lower setup and maintenance costs.
  • Participants may be allowed to choose account provider.
  • Higher contribution limits.
  • Roth 401(k) option available.
  • Employer contribution is optional.
  • Vesting schedule set by employer.
  • Plan may permit loans.
Cons
  • Mandatory employer contribution.
  • No Roth option.
  • Lower contribution limits.
  • 25% penalty on distributions made before age 59½ and within the first two years of participation in the plan.
  • No loans allowed.
  • Employer cannot maintain any other type of retirement plan.
  • Higher setup costs and administrative requirements.
  • Plan fees can be high, especially for small businesses.
More details What Is a SIMPLE IRA? What Is a 401(k)?

SOURCE: IRS.gov

SIMPLE IRA or 401(k): How to decide

Startup costs and ease of setup often dictate the choice between retirement savings plans. But there are other factors to consider as well. To help decide which plan is best, answer the following questions:

Why are you setting up a retirement plan?

For many small-business owners, the answer is that they’re trying to maximize their own retirement savings dollars. If that’s the case, contribution limits should weigh heavily in your decision. For high earners especially, the higher contribution limit of the 401(k) makes it a more attractive choice than a SIMPLE IRA.

How important is it to offer the Roth option?

As mentioned earlier, the IRS allows employers to offer a Roth 401(k). (Quick reminder: A Roth 401(k) is funded with after-tax contributions in exchange for tax-free distributions in retirement.) There is no Roth version of the SIMPLE IRA. The account is subject to many of the same rules as a traditional IRA: Contributions reduce your taxable income for the year, but distributions in retirement are taxed as ordinary income. That said, the IRS allows participants to save in both a SIMPLE IRA and a Roth IRA at the same time.
Will you need to adjust employer contributions?
Although a nice perk to attract potential employees, employer contributions are not required of companies that offer 401(k) plans. You also have the freedom to set vesting terms, which allows you to require employees remain employed by you for a set time before taking ownership of your contributions to their accounts. Employer contributions to employee SIMPLE IRA accounts are mandatory, though you can choose between two matching arrangements dictated by the IRS. Contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are immediately 100% vested.

You have other choices

If you are self-employed or a small-business owner, SIMPLE IRAs and 401(k) plans aren’t your only options. There are a variety of retirement plans at your disposal.

For example, if you run a business with no employees, a solo 401(k) is worth considering. As the employer and (your own) employee, you’re allowed to contribute a total of up to $56,000 in 2019 (or $62,000 if you’re age 50 or older).

A SEP IRA also has a high contribution limit for business owners and self-employed individuals, though there is no catch-up contribution for savers 50 or older. The drawbacks: Like the SIMPLE IRA, a SEP requires employers to contribute to eligible employee accounts, and no Roth version is allowed.

We’ve laid out the pros and cons for these and other retirement plan options for the self-employed.

SOURCE: Yochim, D. (8 June 2019) "SIMPLE IRA vs. 401(k): How to Pick the Right Plan" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/simple-ira-vs-401k-comparison-how-to-pick-the-right-plan/


3 Tips for Maxing Out Your 401(k)

Using a 401(k) is a great way to save for retirement, but many people with access to a 401(k) struggle to max out their yearly contribution limits. Read this post for tips on how to max out your 401(k).


Saving in a 401(k) is a great way to build a solid nest egg for retirement -- which you'll definitely need since Social Security won't provide enough income for you to live on by itself. But many people with access to a 401(k) struggle to max out because the annual contribution limits are so high.

For 2019, workers under 50 can sock away up to $19,000 in a 401(k). Those 50 and older, meanwhile, can set aside up to $25,000. That's far more than this year's IRA contribution limits of $6,000 and $7,000, respectively.

See Also: At Saxon, we understand that you need to feel confident in your future. 

Still, maxing out a 401(k) could be your ticket to an extremely comfortable retirement. If you were to max out your 401(k) at today's limits between ages 35 and 65, you'd wind up with $1.95 million if your investments were to generate an average annual return of 7% during those 30 years, which is more than doable with a stock-heavy portfolio. As such, it pays to push yourself to max out, and you'll be more likely to hit that goal if you do the following things.

1. Bank your bonus cash

Many of us come into extra money during the year, whether it's a performance bonus at work, a tax refund, or even a cash gift. If you pledge to put any funds that fall into that category into your 401(k), you'll boost your contribution rate without having to worry about slashing expenses.

2. Cut back on spending

Unless you get a really generous bonus, gift, or tax refund, you'll need to work on spending less if you're looking to max out a 401(k). But if you're willing to make some sacrifices, you can increase your contributions to the point where you save enough for your dream retirement. Comb through your budget and aim to cut back on smaller expenses, like your cable or cellphone bill. But if you're serious about maxing out a 401(k), you may need to think big -- like downsizing to a smaller home that slashes your mortgage and property tax payments by $1,000 a month.

3. Get a second job

You can only cut back on so many expenses before seriously impacting your quality of life. If you're not willing or able to go on an all-out expense-slashing spree, but you're eager to max out your 401(k), try getting yourself a second job. If you do, you'll be in good company. Of the millions of Americans who currently hold down a side hustle, an estimated 14% do so for the express purpose of funding a retirement plan.

Imagine you're able to work a lucrative side gig that puts an extra $1,000 in your pocket every month. Assuming you're under 50, if you were to put that money right into your 401(k), you'd only have to come up with another $7,000 over the course of a year to max out. That's a far easier notion than cutting expenses to the tune of $19,000.

Even if you don't manage to max out your 401(k) every year, doing it even a few years over the course of your career could really help. Remember, too, that when you fund a traditional 401(k), the money you contribute is income the IRS can't tax you on. This means that if your tax rate is 24%, and you manage to stick $19,000 in a traditional 401(k), you'll save yourself $4,560 right off the bat. And that's reason enough to work your hardest to contribute the maximum amount you can to your 401(k).

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

SOURCE: Backman, M. (20 June 2019) "3 Tips for Maxing Out Your 401(k)" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.fool.com/retirement/2019/06/20/3-tips-for-maxing-out-your-401k.aspx


Sidecar accounts can help plug 401(k) leakage — to an extent

Many 401(k) participants often dip into their retirement savings to help fund emergency expenses. In fact, the number 1 financial concern for Millennials and Generation X members is not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses. Read on to learn more.


Not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses is the No. 1 financial concern for millennials and members of Generation X, and the No. 2 financial concern among baby boomers, after retirement security. These findings from a PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey released last year shouldn’t surprise members of the retirement services industry, since too many defined contribution plan participants dip into their 401(k) savings —through loans, hardship withdrawals or cash-outs upon changing jobs — to fund emergency expenses.

While 48% of households faced at least one expense related to an unexpected emergency over the past year, according to CIT Bank, a recent GoBankingRates survey has found that a staggering 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in a savings account. The frequency of unexpected emergency expenses, and the lack of savings to fund them, work in tandem to create a situation where many Americans are forced to withdraw hard-earned retirement savings from 401(k) accounts in defined contribution plans, where they are safely incubated in the U.S. retirement system for future enjoyment. In fact, according to a Boston Research Technologies survey of 5,000 401(k) plan participants, slightly more than one-third of all 401(k) cash-outs upon job change are for emergencies, while the rest end up being used for discretionary spending.

The development of “sidecar” accounts, also known as “rainy day” funds, is a positive trend because these instruments can help plan participants avoid tapping into their retirement savings to pay emergency expenses. Sidecar accounts are set up alongside 401(k) savings accounts in defined contribution plans, and if an employee chooses to set one up, they can allocate after-tax contributions to the fund in order to reach a targeted amount of savings. When a sidecar fund reaches the desired amount, future contributions can be directed to the plan participant’s pre-tax retirement savings. If a participant dips into a sidecar fund, the targeted balance can be automatically replenished over time with future after-tax contributions.

Sidecar accounts can serve as a valuable tool for preserving retirement savings, and fortunately, our elected officials are attempting to make it easier for plan sponsors to offer them for participants. The Strengthening Financial Security Through Short-Term Savings Accounts Act of 2018, a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.), would allow sponsors to automatically enroll participants in sidecar or standalone accounts for emergency expenses. The bill would also enable the U.S. Department of the Treasury to create a pilot program giving employers incentives to set up these accounts. The bill hasn’t yet become law, but the fact that it’s been proposed is positive for the U.S. retirement system as a whole.

Vast majority of leakage is from cash-outs

Although a sidecar account could be a useful tool in the ongoing struggle to curtail leakage of savings from defined contribution plans, they won’t plug the biggest hole in the retirement system’s proverbial bucket. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 89% of leakage is the result of premature cash-outs of 401(k) accounts. Loans, hardship withdrawals and other factors contribute to the remaining 11%. As mentioned above, with an estimated one-third of cash-outs taken to cover emergencies, two-thirds of cash-outs are for non-emergency expenses.

Unfortunately, the lack of widespread, seamless plan-to-plan portability causes too many participants to cash out, or simply leave their savings behind in a former employer’s plan, because doing so is easier than consolidating their 401(k) accounts in their current-employer plans.

Thankfully, there is a solution to address the 89% of leakage caused by cash-outs — auto-portability, which has been live for more than a year. Auto-portability is the routine, standardized and automated movement of a retirement plan participant’s 401(k) savings from their former employer’s plan to an active account in their current employer’s plan, and is specifically designed for accounts with less than $5,000. Key components of the auto-portability solution are the paired “locate” and “match” technologies for tracking down and identifying participants who have stranded 401(k) accounts in former-employer plans, which in turn enable the process of consolidating a participant’s savings in their current-employer plans.

Plugging the biggest hole in the U.S. retirement system bucket would help millions of Americans improve their retirement outcomes. The Employee Benefit Research Institute forecasts that, if auto-portability were implemented across the country, up to $1.5 trillion, measured in today’s dollars, would be preserved in the retirement system.

Fortunately for plan participants and sponsors alike, the White House and government agencies also realize the benefits of widespread auto-portability. The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued guidance on auto-portability through an advisory opinion as well as a prohibited transaction exemption clarifying fiduciary liability for sponsors who adopt auto-portability as a new feature of their automatic rollover service.

This crucial DOL guidance helps to clear the way for the nationwide implementation of auto-portability — helping all Americans, and especially women and minorities, save more for retirement. In his remarks at the White House in December (during the signing ceremony for the executive order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council), Robert L. Johnson noted that 60% of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans cash out their 401(k) accounts — and the nationwide adoption of auto portability “will put close to $800 billion back in the retirement pockets of minority Americans.”

Now that an innovative solution has been created to address the root cause of the majority of leakage (cash-outs), it’s good to see that a creative tool like the sidecar account has also been developed to help participants avoid making choices (i.e. dipping into their retirement savings to pay emergency expenses) that cause the remaining asset leakage.

SOURCE: Williams, S. (23 January 2019) "Sidecar accounts can help plug 401(k) leakage — to an extent" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/sidecar-accounts-can-help-plug-401k-retirement-leakage?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


10 Retirement Lessons for 2019

There are lessons to be learned from recent decisions and settlements about the best ways to protect yourself in 2019. Here are some important takeaways from recent litigation activity.

1. Your Process Matters.

New York University recently got a lawsuit dismissed by a district court because it provided evidence that it followed a prudent process when selecting investments. If a case goes to trial, you will also need to demonstrate that you made prudent decisions in order to prevail.

2. Put It in Writing.

It’s hard to prove that you followed a prudent process if you don’t write down what you did. People change jobs, die or simply forget the details of what was done if there are not minutes explaining the reasons for decisions. Have clear written policies showing what you will consider when selecting or replacing investments and reviewing fees, and make sure to follow those policies.

3. Know and Review Your Options.

Complaints have alleged that fiduciaries failed to consider alternatives to common investments, such as collective trusts as an alternative to mutual funds and stable value funds as alternatives to money market funds. Employees of investment giants such as Fidelity have sued because they claimed that these companies filled their plans with their own in-house investments even though better performing alternatives with lower fees were available. Even if you don’t select these options, you should investigate them and record the reasons for your decisions. Be especially careful about choosing your vendor’s proprietary funds without investigation.

4. Understand Target Date Funds.

They have different risk profiles, performance history, fees and glide paths. Don’t take the easy way out and automatically choose your vendor’s funds. In fact, you need to have a prudent process to select these.

5. Benchmark Plan Fees.

Be able to demonstrate that your fees are reasonable for plans of your size. But don’t compare apples to oranges. Select an appropriate peer group. Remember, though, that it is not a violation of ERISA to pay higher fees for better service, so long as the fees are reasonable.

6. Retain an Expert to Help You.

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. If you don’t have internal investment expertise, hire an outside fiduciary to assist you. Insist on written reports of recommendations if the fiduciary is a co-adviser, and that the fiduciary attend committee meetings to answer questions and explain the recommendations.

7. Consult Outside Counsel When Necessary.

See No. 6. Don’t try to guess what the law requires, and listen to counsel’s recommendations about best practices. While both advisers and ERISA counsel are available to provide fiduciary education, your ERISA counsel can give you a better handle on your legal responsibilities as ERISA fiduciaries.

8. Hold Regular Committee Meetings.

The days when committees met once a year are over. Many committees now meet quarterly. These should be formal meetings where committee members sit down together with the plan adviser and, where appropriate, with ERISA counsel.

A secretary should take formal minutes. Plan fiduciaries shouldn’t be meeting over the water cooler or making decisions by exchanging emails without face-to-face discussion in a misguided effort to save time.

9. Review Your Providers.

At least once a year, review whether your vendors are performing in accordance with their proposals and their services agreements, and survey your committee members to determine whether they are happy with the provider’s performance. Follow up to request changes or start an RFP to find a new vendor if necessary.

10. Schedule Regular RFPs.

Even if you are happy with your current providers, new RFPs will give you the opportunity to renegotiate your services agreements and fees and will also let you know whether additional services are available in the marketplace.

content resource: https://401kspecialistmag.com


Financial shocks could disrupt tomorrow’s retirees

While today’s retirees, dependent as they are on Social Security and traditional pensions rather than 401(k)s, are better able to withstand financial shocks, tomorrow’s retirees won’t have it so easy.

They will be more in danger of being forced to downsize or spend down their assets to meet unexpected expenses such as a spike in medical bills or a loss of income through being widowed.

So says a brief from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which investigated the financial fragility of the elderly to see how well they might be able to deal with financial shocks.

The reason the elderly are seen as financially fragile, the brief says, stems from the fact that, “once retired, they have little ability to increase their income compared to working households.”

And with future retirees becoming ever more dependent on their own retirement savings, and receiving less of their retirement income from Social Security and defined benefit plans, those financial shocks will get harder and harder to deal with.

To see how that will play out, the study looked at the share of expenditures a typical elderly household devotes to basic needs. Next, it looked at how well today’s elderly can absorb those aforementioned major financial shocks. And finally, it examined the increased dependence of tomorrow’s elderly on financial assets, whether those assets are sufficient, and how well those assets do at absorbing shocks.

Nearly 80 percent of the spending of a typical elderly household, the report finds, is used to secure five “basic” needs: housing, health care, food, clothing, and transportation. In lower-income households or the homes of single individuals and in households that rent or have a mortgage, those basic needs make up even more of a household’s spending.

And while there are areas in which a household can cut back—such as entertainment, gifts or perhaps cable TV—as well as potential cutbacks on basic needs, typical retirees can’t cut by more than 20 percent “without experiencing hardship.” And among those lower-income and single households, as well as those with rent or mortgages to pay, the margin is even slimmer.

The need for medical care is so important to those who need it, says the report, that the question becomes whether medical expenditures crowd out spending on other basic items.

And while a widow is estimated by federal poverty thresholds to need 79 percent of the couple’s income to maintain her standard of living, other studies indicate that widows get substantially less than that from Social Security and a pension—estimates, depending on the study, range from 62 percent to 55 percent. And that likely does not leave a widow enough to meet basic expenses.

Among current retirees, only 10 percent report having to cut back on necessary food or medications because of lack of money over the past 2 years.

However, retirees tomorrow, if they have failed to save enough to see them through retirement, are likely to experience income declines of from 6 to 21 percent for GenXers—and that’s assuming that GenXers “annuitize most of their savings at an actuarially fair rate…” despite the fact that very few actually annuitize, and cannot get actuarially fair rates even if they do.

And since the brief also finds that the greater dependency of tomorrow’s retirees on whatever they’ve managed to save in 401(k)s means that they’re exposed to new sources of risk—“that households accumulate too little and draw out too little to cushion shocks and that their finances are increasingly exposed to market downturns”—that means that future retirees will be subjected to a reduced cushion between income and fixed expenses.

To compensate, they will need to downsize and cut their fixed expenses. Neither one bodes well for a comfortable retirement.

Read the article.

Source:
Satter M. (1 March 2018). "Financial shocks could disrupt tomorrow’s retirees" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/financial-shocks-could-disrupt-tomorrows-retirees/


Tax Cut Spurs Employers to Boost 401(k) Contributions


Following one after the other, large employers including Wal-Mart, Aflac and SunTrust have announced significant compensation and benefits changes and attributed them to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

Experts expect hundreds of other employers to join suit.

A new study from global consulting and advisory firm Willis Towers Watson found that about half of 333 large and mid-sized companies polled plan on making changes to their employee benefits, compensation, total rewards and executive pay programs within the next year.

All told, 66% of employers surveyed have either made changes to their benefits packages or are considering making changes. The most common changes are expanding personal finance planning (34%), increasing 401(k) contributions (26%) and increasing or accelerated pension plan contributions (19%), according to WTW.

About 22% of employers say they plan on addressing pay gap issues — a hot topic in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the public firings of top CEOs, editors and TV anchors, politicians and chefs — as part of a broad-based approach to compensation, according to the report.

tax-cut-401(k) 

“The tax reform law is creating economic opportunity to invest in their people programs,” says John Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “While a significant number have already announced changes to some of their programs, the majority of employers are proceeding to determine which changes will have the highest impact and generate the greatest value.”

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%, one expert says the decision of where to place those extra savings is going to vary by employer.

“Clearly you have that situation where there has been a tremendous amount of activity,” says Jack Towarnicky, executive director for Plan Sponsor Council of America. “I haven’t seen a comparable situation in the past where somebody announced a particular change and so many others have moved in the same direction. I think it would be as varied as the enterprises themselves where they deploy any corporate reduction.”

Some companies, such as Boeing, Disney and MidWestOne Bank, announced one-time bonuses and student loan repayment contributions, respectively, but said those decisions were not made with consideration to the tax reform.

The heavy lift of raising retirement benefits

Any changes to a company’s employee benefits plan require analysis and strategy to determine the predicted costs, which is more time-consuming than giving every employee a one-time bonus, Towarnicky says.

“There have been a handful of employers that have announced changes in 401(k) savings plans, but it’s clearly dwarfed by the number of employers that announced one-time bonus payments,” he says. “There is a difference between a one-time action and a change to your 401(k) match. It is reasonably predictable if you’ve got a match and you’re going to increase it.”

Employers may also apply those extra savings to voluntary or employer-sponsored benefits, a growing trend for 2018, and wellness initiatives that transcend the benefits package.

Companies with larger, campus-like office buildings are beginning to invest in bike trails around the area and ergonomic work stations, says Catherine O’Neill, senior healthcare consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

Employers are “trying to blend their work environment with their benefits strategy or wellness strategy to make it more successful,” O’Neill says.

While the changes will remain to be seen, Towarnicky warns employers faced with reinvesting their tax savings that those rates may not remain in effect indefinitely.

“Too many times, particularly when it comes to retirement, people develop expectations,” he says. “Any reductions [to benefits or compensation] have a negative impact on employee relations.”

Read more.

Source:
Eisenburg A. (28 January 2018). "Tax cut spurs employers to boost 401(k) contributions" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/tax-cut-spurs-employers-to-boost-401k-contributions?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000

us capitol

3 ways Congress can meaningfully reform 401(k)s

This article from Employee Benefit Advisor's Alexander Assaley drives home three points on improving 401(k)s - (1) improve coverage, (2) update antiquated testing results, and (3) expand limits while maintaining choices. How do you, as an employer, feel about these points?


In both the House and Senate’s tax bills there are no significant changes made to 401(k), 403(b) and IRA retirement accounts — for now. Congress has preserved the majority of tax benefits. However, we are only getting started, and there is still room for improvement. The drafted bills will look different, perhaps significantly so, before getting finalized into law.

Bloomberg/file photo

As our elected officials debate and negotiate tax legislation, I’d like to offer some input and advice on key characteristics and design structures that we should be advocating for with respect to retirement plans, and how advisers and benefits professionals can work to continually improve the private retirement system:

1) Improving coverage. One of the chief complaints from 401(k) critics is that many workers in this country don’t have access to a plan. Various research indicates that somewhere between 50%–65% of employees have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) and the remaining don’t.

This coverage gap primarily extends to part-time and “gig” workers, as well as small businesses with less than 30 employees. Retirement plan advisers and practitioners need to create forward-thinking solutions to provide these employees with access to employer-sponsored and tax qualified retirement plans.

Most of all, we can shrink the coverage gap if we get small businesses to establish plans. Both data and anecdotal evidence find that the biggest drivers for small businesses to create and offer retirement plans are 1) tax benefits to the owners and executives; and 2) simple, easy to use programs with minimal liability. This is where some of the tax policy or other reforms could really help.

2) Updating antiquated testing rules. While we often cite the $18,500 (or $24,500 for those eligible to make catch-up contributions) employee deferral limits for retirement plans in 2018, the practical nature is that a lot of highly compensated employees, HCEs, (including small business owners) are limited to contributing at much lower levels due to various non-discrimination tests.

While the spirit of non-discrimination testing is just — ensuring business owners and executives aren’t structuring their plans to limit or prevent their employees from benefiting, or inequitably benefiting owners and their family members — the current structure significantly dis-incentivizes the small business owner from offering a plan in the first place because they can’t maximize their benefit.

Let me be clear, we are big proponents of matching and profit sharing contributions, and want to see employers help their employees get on track for retirement too; however, the current safe harbor provisions with immediate, or short vesting schedules, along with cumbersome testing requirements, often cause too big of a hurdle for the small business owners to commit and therefore, short changes their employees with no plan at all.

I would love to see tax reform improve safe harbor provisions and/or testing components that might make it easier for business owners and HCEs save up to the limit without concerns of failed testing or hefty safe harbor contributions. Practically speaking, these workers need to save more in order to meet their retirement income needs, since Social Security will make up a small percentage of their income replacement, and the 401(k) is the best place to make it happen.

3) Expanding limits and maintaining choice. Just before Congressional Republicans announced their tax bill, a group of Senate Democrats unveiled a plan which would actually raise limits for 401(k) plans. While our research aligns with many other studies that the vast majority of savers don’t reach the annual limits, we would be in favor of expanding the limits — even if it only allowed for Roth-type contributions above the $18,500 (or $24,500) limits.

Additionally, we think an employee’s ability to select either Roth or pre-tax contributions is critical. While the tax preferential treatment of defined contribution plans is just one component that makes these vehicles so valuable, it has definitely emerged and remained as the “branding tool” that encourages so many workers to get into the plan in the first place.

Source:

Assaley A. (10 November 2017). "3 ways Congress can meaningfully reform 401(k)s" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-ways-congress-can-meaningfully-reform-401-k-s

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