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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

Now what for 401(k)s?

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The New York Times got the rundown from experts as to where 401(k)s are headed. Here’s a summary of viewpoints, plus recent survey facts on why retirement plan sponsors aren’t doing enough to monitor fiduciary standards.

Alicia Munnell, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College: “We need to consider a new tier of retirement income that would allow 401(k)s to return to their original role as a supplementary savings plan. The goal of this additional tier would be to replace about 20 percent of pre-retirement income. To accomplish the goal, participation should be mandatory, participants should have no access to money before retirement, and benefits should be paid as annuities. The system should be funded and reside as much as possible in the private sector.”

Jacob Kirkegaard, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “It is bad government policy to continue to subsidize relatively well-off American’s 401(k) retirement savings, especially when these are increasingly held in risky assets… If Americans want to gamble with their nest eggs in the stock market, they should go ahead, but they shouldn’t get a government subsidy through a tax-break to do so.”

Thomas Saving, economics professor at Texas A&M: “Essentially, what is the alternative to the individually-owned 401(k) system? The solution is not a return to the defined benefit plans of the past that depended on the viability of the firms responsible for paying the benefits. Your future is more secure if you own it, rather than someone else.”

Paul Westbrook, CFP, New Brunswick, N.J.: “Use whatever savings advantage you can, but don’t use it as a crutch… always keep in mind that there are other ways to save.”

Teresa Ghilarducci, chairwoman of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research “We need a supplement to Social Security that competes with the 401(k) — what I like to call a ‘guaranteed retirement account’ plan to which all workers and employers would contribute 2.5 percent.”

David John, principal, Retirement Security Project: “First, we need to make retirement saving easier. Second, we need to make retirement investments safer for older workers… Finally, we need to encourage more saving.”

Thomas Scott, CEO, Scott Wealth Management: “Now that so many people face running out of money before they run out of time, and are willing to swap the millionaire dream for a Social Security-style guarantee, you can expect to see new, more conservative financial products and government initiatives to encourage voluntary savings plans that provide guaranteed incomes.”

Shaky accountability on the part of plan sponsors is leaving little support to back fiduciary decisions, according to a recent survey from Grant Thornton, which analyzed more than 270 independent plan sponsors. Only 29 percent report a clear chain of authority for their plan’s governance committee. A little more than half (59 percent) said they keep minutes of retirement plan meetings – down from 79 percent last year – and 27 percent use an independent party to analyze plan fees. What’s more, 65 percent do not require plan management to periodically sign conflict-of-interest statements.