June 18, 2010

Senator Kohl Against Compelling Americans to Purchase Annuities

Committee hearing on aging focuses on lifetime income options for workers

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The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on Wednesday, June 16, on the issue of retirement and lifetime income. Entitled "The Retirement Challenge: Making Savings Last a Lifetime" it specifically it looked into the decisions defined contribution plan participants must make to ensure they have secure retirement income. Administration, expert, and industry witnesses were asked how best to provide more Americans with a choice of a lifetime income options at reasonable cost.

Committee chairman Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) mentioned possibly drafting legislation to make it easier for employers to offer lifetime income options to workers. However, compelling Americans to purchase some sort of annuity plan, as was rumored, is not something Kohl or the committee supports, the senator said.

Kohl stressed that while annuities may be the right fit for some retirees, they can also be highly complex and, in the retail market, they have often been associated with aggressive sales tactics. In 2007, the Aging Committee began examining some of the questionable practices used by so-called senior financial investment specialists in order to gain access to the retirement savings of older Americans. Many seniors targeted by unscrupulous salesmen have lost their life savings because they were steered toward investment instruments that were unsuitable for them, given their retirement needs and life expectancy.

"Our goal is to find ways to ensure U.S. retirees have access to lifetime income options that provide adequate consumer protections at a reasonable cost," Kohl said. "So far, the focus of most of our education efforts have been on encouraging people to save, but we have done little to help the average retiree make the difficult choices about how to make their savings last," said Kohl. "With Americans living longer, the stakes are high for not adequately managing one's savings."

At the hearing, Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration, presented early analysis of responses they have received to their joint Request for Information (RFI) to determine how the agencies might enhance Americans' retirement security.

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