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Bank of America Merrill Lynch introduced in early March a new tool for use by its 401(k) plan sponsor clients designed to monitor and score the “financial wellness” of employees enrolled in their plans. The Financial Wellness Monitor, is being offered free to clients and calculates an overall “Financial Wellness Score” indicating to employers whether employees are exhibiting behaviors within their retirement plan that may lead to successful long-term savings.

“A positive score is based on such metrics as how much employees are saving within the plan; are their assets appropriately diversified or are they allocating/using target date funds improperly; are they fully benefiting from their company match; or are they too heavily concentrated in company stock,” according to a BofA Merrill Lynch spokesman.

The BofA Merrill spokesman says that from February through April 2010, the Financial Wellness Monitor is being rolled out to more than 300 plan sponsor clients who use the Merrill Lynch Advice Access service-”an unbiased savings and investment advice service that can be tailored to an individual employee’s life stage and personal situation.” Later this year, the spokesman says, Bank of America Merrill Lynch will “further refine the tool’s scoring methodology in order to make it broadly available to all if its more than 1,500 plan sponsor clients.”

The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 20th Retirement Confidence Survey, released in early March, found that the percentage of workers who felt very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement has stabilized at 16%, which is statistically equivalent to the 20-year low of 13% measured in 2009. Retiree confidence about having a financially secure retirement has also stabilized, with 19% saying now they are very confident (statistically equivalent to the 20% measured in 2009), the survey says. But fewer workers report that they or their spouse have saved for retirement, (69%, which is down from 75% in 2009), the survey found.

Also troubling, EBRI says, is that an increased percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. Among workers providing this type of information for the survey, 27% say they have less than $1,000 in savings (up from 20% in 2009). In total, more than half of workers (54%) report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recently announced a new assistance effort for 403(b) pension plans subject to Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). EBSA points out that 403(b) plan administrators now must file basic financial and other compliance information annually with the government on a Form 5500 or Form 5500-SF. Large plans must include a report of an independent qualified public accountant with their Form 5500. All Form 5500s beginning with the 2009 plan year must be filed electronically using the department’s new EFAST2 system. EBSA just issued a new Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2010-01 developed to answer many frequently asked questions from the 403(b) community on the new Form 5500 reporting requirements. The department also published a brochure entitled Getting Ready for Changes in Filing Your Plan’s Annual Return/Report Form 5500. All of these materials are available on a newly created EBSA Web site at that focuses on Code 403(b) plan issues, EBSA reports.


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