As the 109th Congress leaves Washington for the election season, its members should be proud of the progress made in helping American workers be able to achieve retirement security.
In mid-August, President Bush signed the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which Congress passed after successfully resolving a number of very difficult issues.
This wide-ranging legislation will contribute to the retirement security of millions of Americans by helping assure the financial soundness of defined benefit plans; making permanent “catch-up” contribution provisions for those over age 50 and higher contribution limits for IRAs and 401(k) plans (both of which were enacted as temporary measures in 2001); allowing rollovers to IRAs by non-spouse beneficiaries of an employee’s interest in a qualified plan; and making qualified long term care insurance more affordable by allowing it to be combined with annuity contracts in a tax-efficient manner.
Looking ahead, what is the retirement security outlook for the approximately 71 million Americans who work for employers that do not offer employees any type of workplace retirement plan?
The bad news is this outlook is bleak when taking into account today’s all-time low savings rate, increasingly longer life expectancies, and the fact that these workers do not have the opportunity to participate in a workplace savings plan. But the good news is a number of initiatives to address the retirement security needs for these individuals are in the works.
For example, the “automatic IRA,” a bipartisan idea championed by, among others, David C. John of the Heritage Foundation and J. Mark Iwry of the Brookings Institution, would feature direct payroll deposits to a low-cost, diversified individual retirement account.
With this approach, most American employees not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan would be offered the opportunity to save through the mechanism of regular payroll deposits that continue automatically (an opportunity now limited mostly to 401(k)-eligible workers). The “carrot” that would be offered to employers to do this is a modest tax credit.