Will U.S. workers ever be able to retire?

Original article from usatoday.com

Despite the rebound in home prices and new all-time nominal highs in the stock market, many Americans are looking at an unpleasant retirement, if they even make it that far; according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's latest survey on retirement confidence, the majority of workers have saved for their golden years, but the piggy bank is quite slim.

Excluding the value of a primary home and any defined benefit plans, 57% of households say they have less than $25,000 in savings and investments, while 28% say they have less than $1,000. Furthermore, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has warned that 53% of American households are at risk of not having saved enough to maintain their living standards in retirement.

Americans are still planning for retirement, but, as one would expect, how they have saved for retirement depends very heavily on age and on pre-retirement income.

Compared to other countries' retirement systems, that of the United States doesn't stand up well. In a recent report, the Mercer consulting firm and the Australian Center for Financial Service, gave the United States a "C" grade, a rating considerably worse than the A received by Denmark and the B-plus given to the Netherlands' retirement system, which combines a Social Security-like fund with a nearly universal pension system to which employers contribute. The study showed plainly that many other countries are more willing than the United States to mandate unpleasant steps by workers and employers to fund a stable system.

The United States does have some mandates; employers must pay 6.2% of each employee's salary into Social Security, and every employee must also contribute that amount. But the Social Security system faces the threat of a huge shortfall. One-third of America's retirees get at least 90% of their retirement income from the program, with annual benefits averaging a modest $15,000 for an individual.

Another important pillar of America's retirement system, the 401k, is voluntary and generally not accessible to low-wage workers, who may not have the income necessary to invest. Although some employers have embraced automatic enrollment for their workers, more than 58% of American workers are not in a pension or 401k plan. Those employees with such plans, whose payouts are dependent on contributions and investment returns, are exposed to the risks associated with the stock market, which after the financial crisis were quite great.

The problems associated with these two primary means of saving dictate which financial sources fund the retirements of lower-wage workers and higher-wage workers. Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted between April 4 and April 14 of this year, sampled more than 2,000 adults to discover how non-retired Americans expect to fund their retirement. The results show that expectations varied significantly by annual household income. Upper-income retirees primarily said that investments, such as 401ks, or individual stock investments would fund retirement, while lower-income respondents said that Social Security and part-time work would be major sources.

In fact, of those respondents earning $75,000 or more per year, 65% said that retirement savings accounts would be the "major source" of retirement funds, and only 17% said Social Security. Comparatively, 42% of respondents earning less than $30,000 per year said Social Security would be a major source of income, 27% said work-sponsored pension plans, and another 27% said part-time work.

Younger generations of workers, particularly the 18 to 29 year-old bracket exhibited uncertainty about the future of the Social Security. Gallup found that only about one in five young adults expected to receive a Social Security benefit when they retire. Fifty-three % of respondents from the youngest age group said that they expected to fund their retirement through 401ks, while 49% said savings accounts or CDs and 24% said part-time work.

When looking at retirement strictly through the lens of age, the poll's results show the changing nature of retirement funding. Young respondents are looking to sources outside of Social Security to support them after they stop working, but those nearing retirement age now see Social Security contributing significantly to income — the program is essentially tied with 401k plans as the top source among 50 to 59-year old non-retirees, and it is the number one source among non-retirees aged 60 and older.

 


Hottest Retirement Plan Improvement in 2013?

Source: http://ebn.benefitnews.com

By Robert C. Lawton

Many employer plan sponsors are expressing a high level of interest in adding Roth 401(k) in-plan conversions as an option to their 401(k) plans in 2013. The recently passed Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 made it possible for retirement plan participants to convert existing 401(k) plan balances to Roth 401(k) balances, whether or not the participant is distribution eligible.

The benefits? All contributions and earnings that have been in the plan five years after the Roth clock starts are distributable tax free (assuming they are distributed due to an eligible event).

The cost? It is necessary to pay taxes on any 401(k) balances converted into Roth 401(k) balances in the year of conversion.

The logic of executing a Roth 401(k) in-plan conversion lies in a belief that tax rates are low now and will be higher in the future. If a participant believes that is true, it may make sense to pay taxes now on retirement plan balances.

Younger individuals just starting their careers may find this option valuable. Imagine building a nest egg over a 40-year career and having your entire 401(k) account balance available tax-free at your retirement! This option may also appeal to higher balance, older individuals who may be involved in tax planning, or individuals who are looking for additional taxable income in a particular year (e.g.: due to the realization of a loss).

There appears to be no downside associated with adding this option to a 401(k) plan. It will not cost anything additional to administer each year and is a nice option to have available for employees to elect.

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New IRS Plan Correction Program Effective April 1

Source: http://ebn.benefitnews.com

On the last day of 2012 the IRS updated the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS), published as Rev. Proc 2013-12. The program allows plan sponsors to declare, fix and pay penalties (where applicable) for certain operational or demographic missteps under the “voluntary correction program” (VCP).

The revisions, effective April 1, “include changes and additional guidance with respect to correction methods as well as procedural changes for VCP submissions,” according to a client bulletin by the law firm Drinker Biddle.  According to that document, authored by Sharon L. Klingelsmith and Heather B. Abrigo, changes to the program include the following:

Corrective contributions for excluded employees in 401(k) plans.  “Previously all corrective matching contributions and, if the plan used nonelective contributions to satisfy a safe harbor, all corrective nonelective contributions, related to missed deferrals for an excluded employee were required to be made in the form of a qualified nonelective contribution ‘(QNEC)’ which is a nonforfeitable (i.e., fully vested) contribution.  Except for corrective matching and nonelective contributions used to satisfy the safe harbor requirements under section 401(k)(12) of the Code, contribution in the form of a QNEC is no longer required for corrective matching and nonelective contributions,” according to the authors.

Overpayments from defined contribution plans.  “If a defined contribution plan overpays benefits, in most cases, the plan sponsor must request that the participant return the overpayment to the plan.  Rev. Proc. 2008-50 provided that the participant should repay the overpaid amount with appropriate interest but that the employer was required to make up any amount not repaid by the employee with interest at the plan’s earnings rate.  Rev. Proc. 2013-12 now also requires the plan’s earnings rate to be used for participant repayments.  In addition, if the reason for the overpayment is the lack of a distributable event, the plan sponsor is not required to make a contribution to the plan even if the participant does not repay the overpayment,” Klingelsmith and Abrigo write.

Finding Missing Participants.  “The IRS has discontinued the IRS Letter Forwarding Program as a method for finding lost plan participants who are owed retirement plan benefits. Rev. Proc. 2013-12 provides the following methods to locate missing participants should certified mail not result in success: (i) Social Security letter forwarding program; (ii) a commercial locator service; (iii) a credit reporting agency; or (iv) Internet search tools.”

These changes offer a glimpse of the complete Drinker Biddle report, which advisers may wish to call the attention of their clients.


ERISA Bonding - Not as Easy as it Looks

Separating ERISA bonds from fiduciary liability insurance

Source: http://roughnotes.com

By Michael J. Moody, MBA, ARM

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) has been the law of the land since 1974, with regard to employee benefits. Its specific purpose is to protect the assets of millions of American workers so that funds are available when they retire. It's a federal law that, in essence, sets minimum standards for private company pension plans. Most of its requirements took effect on January 1, 1975. While it does not require corporations to create pension plans, it does establish minimum standards for those that do start pension plans.

For the most part, the key sections of the law have remained as they were in 1975. One section (Section 412) has been a source of concern for employers and their insurance agents because it deals directly with the Act's bonding requirements. In response to numerous requests, the Department of Labor, which oversees ERISA, published a Field Assistance Bulletin (#2008-04) that addresses a number of issues surrounding the bonding requirements. While the Bulletin is helpful in understanding the requirements, it was not meant to change any existing parts of Section 412. The Bulletin provides a set of 42 questions and answers that address many of the areas where employers have requested further clarification.

ERISA Bonding 101

At the most basic level, the bonding requirements are pretty straightforward. The Act, for example, requires that "every fiduciary of an ERISA-covered employee benefit plan and every person who handles funds or other property of such plans must be covered by a bond." There are, however, a number of exceptions to this requirement, as there are with most of the other specific requirements and, as such, are beyond the scope of this article. What follows, however, are a number of requirements that generally apply in all situations.

Bond limits must be issued for at least 10% of the amount of the funds handled, subject to a minimum limit of $1,000 per plan and a maximum of $500,000 per plan.

Several other points to keep in mind regarding the bonding requirements:

• Bonds cannot be obtained from just any bonding or insurance company. They must be placed with a surety company or reinsurer that is listed by name on the IRS's Listing of Approved Sureties as noted in IRS Department Circular 570.

• No plan or party-in-interest may have any control or significant financial interest in the surety or reinsurer, or in an agent or broker who arranges for the bond.

• Bonds must be written for a minimum of one year. Additionally, the bond must also have a one-year period after termination to discover losses that occurred during the original term of the bond.

• Coverage from the bond must be from the first dollar of loss; thus, the bond cannot have a deductible feature.

• An employee benefit plan can be insured on its own bond, or it can be added as a named insured to an existing employer bond as long as it satisfies ERISA's minimum requirements.

Other than the requirements noted above, the DOL allows quite a bit of flexibility with the bond. For example, a plan may be covered under a single bond or one bond that covers multiple plans. Permissible bond forms can range from individual, named schedule, position schedule or even a blanket bond.

Potential trouble spots

One area of considerable confusion that has continued to exist since the original Act was passed is the difference between an ERISA bond and fiduciary liability insurance. ERISA bonds are in fact fidelity bonds that protect the plan against fraud or dishonesty by individuals who handle plan assets. These bonds are a specific requirement of the ERISA legislation. On the other hand, fiduciary liability insurance generally protects the employer and/or fiduciaries from losses due to a breach of fiduciary duty. While fiduciary liability insurance is not a requirement under ERISA, many employers have chosen to provide this important coverage in their corporate insurance portfolio. To complicate the situation further, the insurance industry offers both the bond and fiduciary liability coverage under a single policy. While this type of comprehensive protection is very useful, it needs to be remembered that only the bond is required under ERISA. Additional coverages are available at the discretion of the employer.

Due in large part to the types of risks involved, there are few risk mitigation strategies that can be employed to lower the risk of loss. However, one method of risk mitigation that is being used and suggested by some consultants revolves around "credentialing" of all internal personnel and outside service providers. Typically this approach will require an approval and adoption of a written policy statement. The key element would be conducting criminal background checks and other prudent investigations to reconfirm the suitability of individuals serving in fiduciary positions or otherwise acting in a capacity covered by ERISA's bonding requirements. Care should be taken to comply with the applicable notice and consent requirements for conducting third-party background checks under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other applicable laws.

While this may initially appear to be overkill, it should be remembered that ERISA generally prohibits individuals convicted of certain crimes from serving as plan fiduciaries. Further, it also prohibits plan sponsors, fiduciaries or others from knowingly hiring, retaining, employing or otherwise allowing these convicted individuals to handle plan assets for the 13-year period after the later of their conviction or the end of their imprisonment.

Additionally, the credentialing process should also include a review that verifies the sufficiency and adequacy of the bonding that is in effect for both internal personnel as well as outside service providers. Unless a service provider can provide a legal opinion that adequately demonstrates that an ERISA bonding exemption applies, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should require the third-party service provider to provide proof of appropriate bonding that is in compliance with ERISA and other appropriate laws.

Conclusion

While there are some exceptions to ERISA's bonding requirements, the fact remains that a bond is required for every pension plan. The bond must extend coverage to those persons whose position requires them to come in direct contact with or exercise discretion over plan assets. Further, the bonds must be in amounts and form acceptable to the DOL. They must comply with all the provisions as outlined in Section 412 of the ERISA legislation.

Fiduciary liability insurance is not required by ERISA, but it can provide agents and brokers with an excellent opportunity to broach the subject with an employer. Losses following the recent financial crisis have increased, and today's fiduciary liability policies offer a variety of coverage enhancements and can provide an employer with a number of advantages, while covering many gaps in their corporate insurance programs. Becoming a key knowledge source for employers in a narrow area such as this can be a real door opener for any agency.

 


Want to engage in retirement planning? Watch your words

Source: http://eba.benefitnews.com

By Margarida Correia

If you want to engage investors in the retirement planning process, avoid talking about “financial planning” or worse, “retirement income.” Both elicit very negative responses from investors, Timothy Noonan, managing director of Capital Market Insights at Russell Investments, said at a media roundtable this month.

When investors hear “retirement income,” they think they’re about to be sold an insurance product and are reminded of their private retirement “sins,” such as not saving enough or robbing their 401(k)s, he said. And the mention of financial planning is likely to make most investors yawn. The topic is boring and technical, according to a two-year study of major markets in the United States, Canada and the U.K, commissioned by Russell.

HR/benefits professionals should talk instead about “lifestyle design,” a concept that appeals to investors. “If you want a get a disengaged person to re-engage, maybe you should try talking to them about what you can do to help them design a lifestyle that’s sustainable,” Noonan said.

Russell Investments has taken the research to heart, naming its recently launched retirement planning tool the Retirement Lifestyle Solution and the tool’s main software component Retirement Lifestyle Planner. The new tool is based on the concept of adaptive investing, a style of investing that investors are responsive to, according to the two-year study.

Investors see adaptive investing as a middle ground between the investing style extremes of changing asset allocations frequently and not changing them at all. More importantly, it incorporates “asset-liability matching,” which is central in getting “individual investors to engage meaningfully on preparing for their retirement and getting income from their retirement portfolios,” Noonan says.

“Fundamentally, adaptive investing is managing your portfolio and building an asset allocation that is connected to the spending it has to support,” says Rod Greenshields, consulting director of Russell Investments’ private client consulting group.

One of the major roadblocks to getting investors to think about and plan for retirement is their inability to visualize themselves in the future. By matching their assets to their liabilities in the future, the tool helps investors overcome this visualization difficulty, according to Noonan.

 


Retirement reform a likely target for Obama's second term

Source: http://www.benefitspro.com
By Andy Stonehouse

If you think that the retirement industry suddenly fell off the radar with the end of the first round of fiscal cliff fixes, think again - substantial reform, courtesy of the second-term Obama administration, is likely on the way.

That's the belief of Marcia Wagner, a prominent ERISA attorney serving as keynote at this year's sixth annual Profit-Driven Strategies in the DCIO Market, organized by Financial Research Associates - held this week in Wagner's base of operations, Boston.

Wagner contends that the allure of taxes deferred by America's retirement plans continues to be too strong to politicians - some $70 billion a year, and as much as $361 million over a four-year period - meaning that tangible reform efforts are certainly a possibility.

And with today's news of the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate pensions and education committee, Wagner says she suspects a harder push on his part to gain support for his own proposal creating a nationalized retirement system, an Americanized rendition of plans found in Western European nations.

Wagner says that in an era where "the power of inertia" helps guide an otherwise shell-shocked and financially confused participant public, the most likely change will probably be an Obama-led move to mandatory, automatic IRAs for most American workers.

Under that slightly revolutionary plan, companies with at least 10 employees would be required to establish a deferral rate of 3 percent into IRA plans (a post-tax Roth IRA would be the default but pre-tax traditional IRAs would be available as a second choice). Workers as young as 18 would be included in the plan.

"People tend to associate this idea with a left-wing, Democratic policy, but it's actually a joint product from think tanks that goes back to John McCain's run for president," Wagner noted.

She also concedes that the changes would not only be burdensome and present a challenge to the private sector, but could also be deemed unconstitutional - as well as a further intrusion by government, in the eyes of many Americans.

In the meantime, as U.S. workers continue to look for ways to more simply and safely invest for their retirement, Wagner says that a recent spate of class-action suits have also opened up the floodgates for the possibility of participants litigating their way into other retirement world changes - requiring plan sponsors to be especially cautious when considering how to protect and grow their investments.

Plan sponsors, she admits, are caught between a rock and a hard place: they want to render useful advice to participants, but their advisors who receive variable fees also want to avoid being caught up in prohibited transactions. A move to computerized planning models, she suggests, could offer a slight level of fiduciary safety.

Wagner says the industry also needs to begin to deal with the growing requirements for decumulation planning, with changes including the use of deferred annuities, better methods of rollover to DB plans and even some relief of RMD rules as likely topics in the coming years.