Senate Explores Ways to Improve Retirement Security
As legislators come to grips with tax reform, budget deficits and Obamacare, retirement security also is coming under scrutiny.
In a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing on retirement security, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate pensions and education committee, mentioned that people are not saving enough for retirement.
“I have said this before, but the retirement income deficit—meaning the difference between what people have saved for retirement and what they should have saved—is estimated to be as high as $6.6 trillion. Half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings.”
He added that, “these numbers are disturbing—and frightening. People who run out of money when they get old see their living standard decline, and they lean more and more on the social safety net, squeezing governments at all levels.”
In the past, people could rely on personal savings, an employer-sponsored pension plan and Social Security, but pensions are going away and Social Security is in trouble.
“Stagnant wages and rising costs are making it tougher and tougher for people to save,” Harkin said.
Although many companies have stepped up to offer 401(k) and other defined contribution retirement plans, those rely too much on a populace that doesn’t know much about investing.
The committee invited companies like TIAA-CREF and Fidelity to talk about how they are helping employees cope with these challenges.
“I am a true believer that we need to restore the three-legged stool, and that starts with rebuilding the pension system,” he said.
Harkin added that the government needs to do something to give middle class families the opportunity to earn a pension while making those plans more attractive to employers.
Edward Moslander, senior managing director, institutional relationship management for TIAA-CREF, who spoke to the committee on Jan. 31, said he also is worried about the three-legged stool of retirement becoming unsteady.
He pointed out that only 14% of Americans are very confident they will have enough money to retire comfortably, and 60% of workers say they have less than $25,000 in retirement savings.
In research conducted among its own clients, TIAA-CREF found that 75% of people with higher levels of education are either very confident or somewhat confident they will be able to retire comfortably, compared to 49% of the general populace. It also found that 88 percent of those with a higher education currently are saving for retirement and 60% have tried to determine how much they need to save by the time they retire.
Financial literacy is a problem across the country, so “we believe it is important to offer client tools that can assist them with making these decisions,” Moslander said. These tools include online programs, access to financial advisors, either in person or over the phone, and comprehensive objective third-party advice programs.
Lifetime income products also should play a role in retirement security, he added.
“Due to our increasing lifespans, as well as the aforementioned concerns surrounding Social Security and the movement away from traditional pension plans, the draw-down phase will and should become a greater focus of the retirement security discussion,” Moslander said.
The committee asked what percentage of Baby Boomers and Generation X are likely to run short of money in retirement, based on the current system/assumptions.
According to Employee Benefit Research Institute research, about 44% of Baby Boomers and Generation X households are expected to not have enough money in retirement, if they retire at age 65.
Retirement income adequacy is defined as having enough financial resources to cover basic expenses plus uninsured medical costs in retirement, according to Jack VanDerhei, research director for EBRI.
In May 2012, EBRI projected that the retirement shortfall for early Baby Boomers, those born between 1948 and 1954, vary from about $70,000 per individual for married households to $95,000 for single males and $105,000 for single females.
“The aggregate retirement income deficit number, taking into account current Social Security retirement benefits and the assumption that net housing equity is utilized ‘as needed,’ as well as uninsured health care costs, is currently estimated to be $4.3 trillion for all Baby Boomers and Gen Xers,” VanDerhei said in his response to committee questions.
Women face an even greater challenge. Recent EBRI data found that the retirement savings shortfall for single Generation X females was $133,000. That amount is the average additional amount of savings needed at age 65 for at-risk single females in that age cohort not to run short of money in retirement. Thirteen percent of these single women could have shortfalls in excess of $200,000.
The biggest deficits are for women who work for companies that don’t offer a 401(k) plan.
Retirement adequacy can be improved with the presence of defined benefit plans, having future eligibility for a defined contribution plan and increasing default deferral rates to 6%, VanDerhei said.
This article was originally posted at BenefitsPro.com, a sister site of Credit Union Times.