Congressional proposals to increase tax revenue by reducing or eliminating long-standing tax benefits extended to holders of life insurance, annuities and individual retirement accounts would have a devastating impact on the nation’s retirement preparedness, warned a Washington lobbyist at a forum in New York City today.
Earl Pomeroy, a former Congressman from North Dakota and senior counsel for Alston & Bird LLP, Washington, addressed this and other policy concerns at a morning general session of the 2012 Marketing Summit of the Insured Retirement Institute, being held at the New York Hilton, April 1-3. The general session explored the legislative and political outlook for the year ahead.
Pomeroy said the tax-favored treatment currently enjoyed by holders of annuities, life insurance and individual retirement accounts remain critical for boosting the nation’s abysmal savings and assuring seniors an adequate income in retirement.
“At a time when the nation is not saving nearly enough, putting into question the tax incentives that encourage saving would be outrageous,” said Pomeroy. “We’re sleepwalking towards a retirement disaster.”
To help boost Americans’ retirement preparedness, Pomeroy said, Congress needs to explore ways to strengthen the Social Security system and, where feasible, public and private pension plans. He added that defined contribution plans should act more like defined benefit plans by providing – via a “default” option in 401(k) and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans – for an annuity-like income stream at retirement.
To help boost retirement income, Pomeroy also said that older workers should consider postponing retirement, as the delay would increase their monthly Social Security benefit. A monthly SSI benefit starting at age 70, he said, would average $1,320, nearly double the $750 monthly benefit beginning at age 62.
The boost in monthly income could prove crucial to retirees with inadequate nest eggs. Pomeroy cited a recent survey from the Employee Benefits Research Institute noting that 28% of today’s retirees have less than $1,000 in savings. In 2005, the savings rate had declined to below zero for the first time since 1933.
Pomeroy expressed cautious optimism that the retirement outlook for Americans will brighten in tandem with an improving economic picture. He observed that stocks, as measured by S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq markets, had their best quarter in more than a decade. But though a “virtual cycle of recovery may have finally arrived” unemployment remains stuck at 8.3%, well above the 5% norm.
Pomeroy highlighted factors that remain a drag on savings and household wealth. Among them: a still depressed housing market; and student loan debt that now eclipses all credit card debt, personal debt and corporate debit combined.
A chief concern of boomers now transitioning to retirement, said Pomeroy, is the progressive rise in healthcare costs. Out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures for individuals on Medicare now exceeds 22% of household income. Seniors age 65 and older – a group that is expanding at 10,000 per day – can expect to spend between $197,000 and $250,000 in healthcare costs not covered by Medicare.