At a time when Congress can’t seem to agree on much, lawmakers are acknowledging that the main retirement savings vehicle, the 401(k), needs some fixing. Before you get too excited, the changes being considered are more like touch ups, rather than a complete renovation.
Early conversations include: requiring plan sponsors to let participants know how much their total savings would translate into monthly income; a repeal of the age limit on IRA contributions; a more liberal approach to pooled 401(k) plans, which would help more small businesses offer retirement benefits to their employees; and the option to use a portion of a tax refund to fund retirement.
While none of these ideas represents a game-changer for retirement savers, it would be the first major enhancement since 2006. But if lawmakers wanted to seek a more radical approach, they would consult with Teresa Ghilarducci and Tony James, co-authors of Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans, who claim that “The U.S. experiment with 401(k)s and IRAs, launched in the early 1980s, has failed miserably to deliver on its promises.”
Ghilarducci, a labor economist and leading expert in retirement security, and James, Executive Vice Chairman of the investment firm Blackstone Group, have a detailed, well-researched and more extreme recommendation for rescuing the U.S. retirement system. It starts with a concept called a “Guaranteed Retirement Account” (“GRA”), which would be offered to every worker, “from Uber drivers to CEOs.”
The GRA would be portable, whether you work for a number of different companies or for yourself – and each individual would control his or her account. It would be funded by a minimum 3 percent of salary, half contributed by the worker and half by the employer.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the GRA is that it fixes some of the big problems that are prevalent in current plans, the biggest of which is that right now, saving for retirement is voluntary. The GRA would mandate retirement savings for everyone, including those who work part-time or are self-employed.
If it all sounds too good to be true, I encourage you to check out the book. I was a cynic, but after reading it and interviewing Ghilarducci and James, I’m a convert.
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Better Off is sponsored by Betterment.
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“Better Off” theme music is by Joel Goodman, www.joelgoodman.com.