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WASHINGTON – As President Bush makes the rounds to pitch his plan for an overhaul of the Social Security program, credit unions probably won’t be directly impacted. “Unless individual institutions are permitted to offer them, there may not be any significant impact on credit unions,” said Gary Kohn, CUNA vice president, legislative affairs and senior legislative counsel. “Right now, most of the plans do not indicate that type of account management will be made available. (The President) is talking about government-run securities funds that may be contracted out to some management firms.”Under Bush’s plan, workers would be allowed to divert up to two-thirds of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Contributions would be capped at $1,000 per year, rising each year by $100. Social Security’s guaranteed benefits would be reduced to make up for money diverted to the private accounts. By 2018 or 2020, Social Security is expected to start losing money, according to several industry estimates. Full Social Security benefits may not be available starting in 2042 or 2052. Meanwhile, Kohn emphasized that CUNA “will not be participating in (the) debate” that has rankled some legislators and others on the President’s proposal.”We don’t have an opinion on whether the accounts are appropriate but we do feel that if financial institutions are permitted to offer (them), we want credit unions to be included,” Kohn said. NAFCU is also taking a wait-and-see approach and like many others, doesn’t expect reform anytime soon. “There are still many details to be worked out,” said Brad Thaler, NAFCU director of legislative and political affairs. “That’s where the trouble spots are – down in the details.” Thaler said the House Ways and Means Committee’s recent hearing on tax reform revealed that “you can’t look at Social Security in a vacuum.” Meaning, whatever happens with tax reform will certainly impact other areas including Social Security, he said. “They’re all rolled together, one thing’s going to impact others,” Thaler said. “But reform will take some time and it will depend on how much of the apple legislators are willing to bite.” According to a Feb. 8 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, more than two-thirds of 1,010 adults surveyed said benefits should be limited for wealthier retirees, and higher income workers should pay Social Security taxes on all their wages. Currently, all workers pay the tax on the first $90,000 in wages. Fifty-five percent think President Bush’s proposal to allow future wage-earners to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private investment accounts is a “bad idea.” Forty percent said it was a good idea but 64% agree with the President that the system will be “bankrupt” by 2042 if major changes aren’t made. Thirty-seven percent said they thought most Americans would get lower benefits if allowed to invest through personal accounts, while 30% said the benefits would be higher, according to the poll. Forty percent said they believed they personally would reap higher benefits, while 27% said they’d see lower benefits. [email protected]

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