The country has a new Republican-controlled congress, and with it, the opportunity to set new or shore up existing policies when it comes to retirement planning.
So what are the most pressing retirement issues this Congress should be acting on? Retirement Wire asked members of two leading organizations what message they would most like to deliver to Congress: Associate Professor Kristen MacKenzie is with the College of Financial Planning; and President Ed Gjertsen and Director of Advocacy Karen Nystrom are with the Financial Planning Association.
All agree that the government can play a large role in helping Americans better plan and save for retirement, but they have different views on what is the most important first thing Congress should do.
A Lack of Public Awareness
For the College of Financial Planning’s Kristen MacKenzie, the message to Congress is all about public awareness. The government can do a lot more to help focus attention on retirement issues in general, MacKenzie believes.
“Over the long term [retirement planning] should be part of a national conversation –and the government needs to get involved,” MacKenzie said. “People are not saving enough, the vehicles to save are not available to everyone, and I think it needs to be put more to the forefront like healthcare was.”
As a result, there needs to be more of a public discussion about the importance of saving, MacKenzie said.
“I hear people say, ‘well I’ll just work until I’m ….’ Well, how do you know you going to be able to work that long? Also, there is a lot of concern about Social Security being around. I don’t get the feeling that people in my generation are really making it as important a priority as they should. I don’t understand why we can’t make choosing our retirement plan as important as choosing our health insurance, our disability insurance, and that type of thing,” she said.
The federal government could play a major role in encouraging retirement saving by requiring retirement plans from employers with a certain number of workers, much like the new program signed into law in Illinois last month (link). The biggest problem with retirement savings plans isn’t in how current plans are structured, but in the number of people that have access to them, MacKenzie said.
“I think the access to 401(k)s is a big factor [in retirement preparedness],” MacKenzie said. “People talk about wanting to increase IRA contribution limits, etc., but people aren’t funding the IRA maximum that they’re allowed currently, so I think that providing more access to workplace retirement plans is important.”
More can also be done to educate the public on Social Security benefits, MacKenzie believes.
“I’m a big proponent of looking into different strategies to maximize Social Security,” MacKenzie said. “I think people are really uneducated about their options, and when many people turn 62, they turn on a switch, and never look back. I think government and financial planning professionals should be doing more to educate people about delaying the receipt of their benefits.”
The good news is that the federal government is starting to make some progress on retirement issues, though again, public awareness is not keeping pace MacKenzie said.
For starters, “I’m really excited about the new My IRA,” MacKenzie said. “I wish that it was publicized more. I bet you that 9.9 people out of 10 out there haven’t heard of it. But I think that with some publicity and some promotion that will provide a lot of people – especially low income people – the means to start saving.”
Finally, MacKenzie cited the issue of retirement annuities and the need to better publicize them.