The mutual fund industry has established a broad federal legislative agenda for this year, with extending tax breaks and winning support for a provision that would make it easier for investment providers to offer investment advice to owners of 401(k) plans key priorities.
Extending current tax incentives and providing new ones for mutual investors to put away more for their retirement years are important legislative goals, according to Dan Crowley. Crowley is vice president of legislative affairs of the Investment Company Institute, the trade group in Washington that represents industry interests on federal legislative and regulatory issues.
One of the most difficult tasks on the industry agenda at the moment is sustaining the House language in pension reform legislation that would encourage greater worker participation in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
A Conference Committee has been working for several weeks to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, with the investment advice provision a critical issue for the mutual fund and insurance industries. But it is also a divisive one, with strong support amongst House negotiators, but deep concerns voiced by such powerful Senate negotiators as Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Other provisions in the pension benefit bill supported by the mutual fund industry are less controversial and have bipartisan support, although some of them carry huge price tags in terms of the impact on federal revenues.
One would make permanent the retirement, education and other savings incentives enacted in the 2001 tax package. These provisions increased IRA and 401(k) savings limits, created 529 plan options, authorized “catch up contributions” from older savers, and more. They are now scheduled to expire in 2010.
If they do, IRA contributions will drop back to $2,000. Allowable contributions are currently $4,000 for those under 50 and $4,500 for those who are age 50 or older. That amount is scheduled to increase to a respective $5,000 and $6,000 by 2008.
For a person aged 50 or older, the limit on 401(k) contributions could drop from around $22,000 in 2010 back to $10,500 thereafter.
Another would encourage greater participation in employer retirement plans by changing the current opt-in system to an opt-out. Crowley says that ICI research indicates 20% of those eligible to participate in 401(k) plans fail to do so. “ICI research has shown that making participation automatic unless workers opt out will significantly increase participation, particularly among lower-income workers,” he said. “Greater participation translates to potentially greater savings, which can improve the retirement preparedness of these Americans.”
Negotiators will resume work on the bill when Congress returns from its Easter recess April 24, with some predicting that work on that bill on that bill won’t be completed until perhaps Memorial Day.
Another priority where success is problematical is legislation making permanent the reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends enacted in the 2003 tax cut bill. The mutual fund industry wants negotiators to make permanent the reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends; these provisions are now scheduled to expire in 2008.