Saturday, October 31, 2015

15 Retirement Plan Points to Ponder

Working with retirement plans is a complicated, challenging, and constantly changing process. That said, there are certain constants — and things that bear repeating and/or reconsidering from time to time.

Here are a few points to ponder from my list of “constants”:

1. The key to successful retirement savings is not how you invest, but how much you save.

 2. The vast majority (more than 90%) of participants defaulted in at a 6% deferral do nothing to change that default. Of those who do, about half actually increase that deferral rate.

 3. Plan fiduciaries are responsible for every participant investment decision in plans that don’t comply with ERISA 404(c). Most plans don’t comply with ERISA 404(c).
 
4. Hiring a co-fiduciary doesn’t make you an ex-fiduciary.

5. “Because it’s the one my record keeper offers” is not a good reason to choose a target-date fund.
 
6. Given a chance to save via a workplace retirement plan, most people do. Without a workplace retirement plan, most people don’t.

7. Isaac Newton’s First Law: An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it. Ditto plan participants.
 
8. Nobody (except perhaps the lawyers who wrote them, the regulators that mandate them and, eventually, the plaintiffs’ bar) is actually reading all those participant notices.

9. You want to have an investment policy in place before you need to have an investment policy in place.
 
10. Disclosure isn’t the same thing as clarity.

11. “Stay the course” is only a viable strategy if you’re already on the right course.
 
12. If you can’t remember the last time you did a provider search, you’re probably overdue.

13. A prudent process helps you win in court; a good result keeps you out of court in the first place.
 
14. Despite litigation concerns, most plan sponsors still have a better chance of being struck by a meteor than being sued by a plan participant.

15. It’s not what you’re doing wrong; it’s what you’re not doing that’s wrong.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, October 24, 2015

4 Reasons Why Plan Sponsors Should Care About the Fiduciary Proposal

As I talk to retirement plan advisors and plan sponsors around the country, there seem to be three camps of thought on the Labor Department’s fiduciary reproposal:
  • those who think it will be a big deal;
  • those who think it will be a big deal but manageable (once certain key issues are addressed); and
  • those who are nearly completely oblivious as to the proposal, its potential impact or its current status.
Unfortunately for advisors in the first and second category, nearly all plan sponsors seem to be in the third group.

Here’s why plan sponsors should care about the proposal.

You might have to change your plan education materials.

Remember back when your plan education materials only had generic fund references, and your participants struggled to figure out which of the specific funds on their plan menu were supposed to match up with those colored pie chart pieces? Remember how frustrated they were when you couldn’t tell them? And how poor the results were? Perhaps not, because you’ve been able to show sample asset allocations including actual fund names for well over a decade now as participant education.

However, as currently proposed, the Labor Department’s fiduciary proposal would consider any specific fund references to be advice, not education. And that would make the folks who provide such materials fiduciaries. And that would likely mean a return to education materials that aren’t nearly as educational.

You might have to change advisors.

The rules about how advisors work with retirement plans and retirement plan participants are getting ready to change, arguably in ways as significant as at any time since the passage of ERISA. For some advisors, that may mean that they will want to focus on different areas, some may choose to focus on different size plans, or to forgo working with plan participants altogether.

And while this could also bring a whole new generation of advisors to choose to work with these plans, this is a big change. And though we don’t yet know what the ultimate result will be, things will likely not be the same, particularly for smaller employers, who may very well find that the advisors they work with now will not be willing (or able) to serve their plans under the new regimens.

Your advisor might be more expensive.

There are doubtless advisors and advisor practices out there who won’t have to change a thing in order to comply with the new regulations, and whose fee structure won’t be affected. But others will, and those who do have to make changes could have to make a lotof changes – and that could affect how, and how much, they charge. And that could, of course, have an effect on others.

These changes might not be effective immediately, and how – and how much – will obviously depend on exactly what form the final regulations take. There will almost certainly, at least at the outset, be fewer advisors working with retirement plans. As for what that may mean to their costs, only time – and the final regulations – will tell.

Your advisor may not be able/want to help participants with their rollover decisions.

Today many retirement plan advisors only work with plans, or with participants in those plans. However, a growing number either work with participants as they consider a rollover decision, or have others in their firm who do. Participants who have developed a relationship with a plan advisor while they are accumulating retirement funds often have an interest in extending that relationship to the time when they are trying to figure out what to do with a rollover, or how to create a reliable stream of retirement income that won’t end before their retirement (particularly since a significant percentage of plans don’t offer a systematic withdrawal option). Similarly, plan sponsors, who have undertaken a review and monitoring of those advisors while they work with plan participants have generally prefer to see those discussions taking place with that trusted advisor than with some random advisor off the street.

And for those plan sponsors who want to encourage ex-employees to roll those balances over to another account, the current plan advisor can be a valuable help in facilitating that decision.

However, the Labor Department’s current proposal would, at best, greatly complicate this relationship. The services provided to a participant among many in a workplace retirement plan are quite different from that for an individual in a rollover situation, or one who would be rolling those savings into an individual retirement account (IRA), with the broader array of choices and decisions that would entail. However, the DOL’s current proposal would restrict even a level-fee plan advisor from working with an individual participant circumstance if he or she charged more, even if the level of service was significantly different and more complicated, even if he or she charged a flat fee for those highly individualized services.

That’s why the American Retirement Association and NAPA have advocated for a “level-to-level” compensation exemption that would address this issue.

Of course, at this point, these potential issues are just that – potential issues. The Labor Department has taken great pains to assure legislators, industry professionals and the public at large that they have listened, and are making a serious effort to address the major concerns expressed regarding the proposal (our concerns are outlined here and here).

Still, the devil is (always) in the details, the “proof” in the pudding. But as we wait to see how the Labor Department has chosen to address the concerns expressed, plan sponsors – and advisors – who haven’t yet given consideration to the potential new landscape for retirement plan education and advice would be well advised to do so.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Saturday, October 17, 2015

4 Reasons Why Plan Sponsors Should Care About Outcomes

It’s obvious why participants have a vested interest (literally) in the retirement income — the outcome, really — of their retirement savings plans. Here are four reasons why plan sponsors should care about outcomes.

You want your employees to appreciate your benefit plan(s).

If you’re responsible for benefit plans in your organization, you have a very real interest in how your workforce (and management team) view those benefits. Plan sponsors have long used participation rate as the plan success metric — after all, what better measure of success in plan design, education and communication than the objective data as to how many employees have chosen to participate.

But in a time when a growing number of plans have adopted automatic enrollment — well, while credit is certainly due plan sponsors who have taken that step, the resulting bump in participation rates owe more to the inertia of human behavior than innovative plan design.

There is, however, little question that the better your plan performs on an individual basis — positive growth in account balances, a resulting more robust projection of retirement income — the better workers will feel about the benefit plans that helped provide that result.

You don’t want your employees worrying about their finances at work.

Any number of workplace surveys bear out the impact that external concerns — particularly external financial concerns — have on morale and productivity at work (see “Finance Distractions Take Toll on Productivity, Benefit Satisfaction”) and “Study Finds Link Between Financial and Physical Wellness.”) Those concerns don’t even touch on the vulnerability to theft and/or misuse of organizational resources that can tempt financially vulnerable workers.

A robust retirement savings balance at work isn’t a cure for all financial ills, of course, but it can be a source of solace, as well as a resource in time of true financial need.

You want your employees to retire on time.

Workers who think they can’t afford to retire are likely to try and extend their working career — potentially complicating succession planning and your ability to attract (and/or retain) new talent. Data from benefits consultant Mercer notes that each delay in retirement can block 5+ jobs, and that if 4% of your population is retirement eligible and half of those people choose to delay retirement, 10% of your employee population would experience promotion blockage.

As an employer, those trends can also result in higher labor costs, and safety and productive concerns (see “Plan Sponsors Waking up to Costs of Older Workers who Can’t Retire.”)

You want your plan to ‘work.’

There are employers who only offer a workplace retirement plan because everybody else does, who are willing to just “set it and forget it,” who, hearing that workers aren’t taking advantage of the benefit they worked so hard to set up, shrug and say “it’s up to them.”

But that’s not you. Is it?

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

Note: You can find some interesting perspectives on various aspects of plan and participant outcomes at our Participant Outcomes resource page.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

5 Reasons Why Your Small Business Should Offer a Retirement Plan

People who don’t have access to a plan at work don’t save for retirement. Here’s why small business owners should care.

About half of private sector workers did not participate in a workplace retirement savings program in 2012, and a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that most workers who did not have coverage lacked access to such programs.

While there are many reasons that might account for those individual decisions, among those not participating, the majority worked for an employer that did not offer a program or they were not eligible for the programs that were offered. In particular, lower income workers and those employed by smaller firms were much less likely to have access to programs, after controlling for other factors. However, the majority of these workers participated when they had workplace access.

Here’s why small businesses should provide that access.

To attract and retain workers.

Okay, every time somebody talks about the reasons to offer a retirement plan, “attract and retain qualified workers” is on, if not at the top of, that list. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. The reality is that a larger employer that does not offer a retirement plan benefit sticks out like a sore thumb.

However, among smaller employers, the situation is almost a mirror image. In fact, the GAO reports that only 14% of small employers with fewer than 100 employees sponsor a plan in which workers can save for retirement.

The opportunity for smaller employers then, is to stand out from your competition precisely because you do offer a workplace retirement plan.1 And to use plan design features such as vesting and an employer match to keep the good workers you’ve attracted, and maintain that competitive edge.

Your workers will use it.

This may seem obvious, but among the more intriguing rationales offered by small businesses for not offering a workplace retirement plan was one put forth in a 2003 Small Employer Retirement Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) — that their employees are “not interested” in having a retirement plan. And I have actually had plan sponsors say to me “nobody has ever asked about a 401(k).” Well, I’ll grant you that workers are probably more concerned about their paycheck, and perhaps health care. And they may just be glad to have a paying job, and don’t want to rock the boat by pressing for benefits.

That said, the vast majority of workers who do not participate in a workplace retirement plan – 84% — reported they did not have access to a workplace retirement program. Of two key access factors — the employer must offer a program, and the worker must be eligible to participate — GAO found that the lack of access was primarily due to employers not offering a retirement program (68% reported they worked for an employer that did not offer a program, and another 16% reported they were not eligible for the program their employer offered. Indeed, the GAO report found that workers at the largest firms were only slightly more likely to participate compared to workers at the smallest firms.

Your workers need it.

You may well employ a workforce that has alternative sources of retirement income — a legacy from that rich uncle everyone’s so fond of, or maybe they have a surefire lottery strategy. Or perhaps their pension or savings from a prior employer, combined with Social Security, will be “enough.”

But EBRI’s 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey suggests that retirement confidence — and the retirement savings that ostensibly underpin that confidence are at least somewhat connected. There’s a growing body of research that suggests that financial concerns take a toll on productivity. That’s not just retirement, of course — but it’s a big part of it.

You need it (too).

It’s not unusual for a small business owner to invest heavily in the enterprise, including sinking some of their own personal retirement savings into “the business.” Whether you have or not, and no matter how much you are now able to pursue your passion, you’ll want to provide for a retirement at some point that doesn’t necessarily require liquidating your business to fund it. That’s when the benefits that your employees appreciate can pay off for you as well, including:
  • The availability of pre-tax contributions that can reduce your current taxable income.
  • Deferral of taxes on pre-tax contributions and investment gains until you take a distribution.
  • The flexibility of a Roth 401(k) (if offered).
  • The “magic” of compounding returns over time.
Oh, and there are tax advantages. 

Despite all the compelling reasons outlined above, for some it still (rightly) comes down to the bottom line. And, in addition to the benefits of offering a plan, there are some tax advantages designed to encourage you to do so.

Any employer matching contributions will be tax-deductible, as will any costs incurred by the employer in connection with offering the plan. Better yet, you may be able to claim a tax credit for some of the ordinary and necessary costs of starting a SEP, SIMPLE IRA or qualified plan.
But don’t take my word for it — here’s what the IRS has to say.

Let’s face it, there are any number of reasons to put offering a workplace retirement plan — not enough time, worries about the expense, a sense that this is something better put off to a future time.

Then again, aren’t those the same reasons often put forth to justify not saving for retirement?

Nevin E. Adams, JD

1. A growing awareness of the coverage “gap” among smaller employers has led a number of states to consider a variety of initiatives that, generally speaking, include a requirement that employers above a certain size/business longevity threshold offer a payroll deduction IRA option to their employees. The Obama administration is lending its support to these efforts, with some additional regulatory clarity anticipated before the end of the year.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

5 Things Millennials Need to Know About Saving for Retirement

Retirement seems a long time off — particularly when you’re young.

However, Millennials — generally defined as those born between 1978 and 2004 — are living longer, and many will have to finance retirements that are actually longer than their working careers.

So, while it can hardly be expected to be top-of-mind for most of this group, here are five things worth knowing about saving for retirement — now.

1. Social Security won’t be as much as you think it will be.

Okay, some of you don’t think it will be anything at all, certainly not by the time that you are old enough to collect. But set aside for a moment the questions you may have as to whether or not Social Security is financially viable without reform, or if you should even count on it at all. Your parents — who are either now, or soon hope to be, collecting Social Security — had the same concerns, after all.

However, even if you assume that the program remains largely unchanged from what it pays today, if you retire at full retirement age in 2015, your maximum benefit would be $2,663 a month, according to the Social Security Administration. However, if you retire at age 62 in 2015, your maximum benefit would be $2,025; and if you retire at age 70 in 2015, your maximum benefit would be $3,501.
Now those amounts are based on earnings at the maximum taxable amount for every year after age 21. In other words, that’s probably more than most of us would get. In fact, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit for January 2015 was $1,328. Note that the maximum benefit depends on the age a worker chooses to retire, among other things — and that assumes that the current questions regarding Social Security’s longer-term financial viability are addressed, and/or that current benefit levels aren’t reduced.

In sum, the odds that you’ll get that current maximum aren’t large — and the odds that current benefits will be reduced still seem pretty good.

2. Not everyone has a pension, and you probably don’t.

Now, by “pension” I mean the traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plan; one that, in the private sector anyway, was largely employer funded. According to the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), in 2011, just 3% of all private-sector workers participated only in a DB plan, and 11% had both a defined contribution (DC) and a DB plan. So, only something like 14% of workers in the private sector still have a traditional pension plan (even then, it doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern; see “3 Pervasive Retirement Industry Myths“.)

Despite this, studies pop up every so often that indicate that a remarkably large number of workers think they do have a pension. Do you? Better double check.

3. You won’t be able to work as long as you think.

You hear people talk about 65 as the “normal” retirement age, even though it’s no longer that, even for Social Security benefits. Oddly, considering all the talk you hear about people retiring later, the average age at which U.S. retirees report retiring is 62 — an age that has increased in recent years — while the average age at which non-retired Americans expect to retire, 66, has largely stayed the same.

Meanwhile, EBRI’s Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) has consistently found that a large percentage of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned — 49% of them in 2014, for example. Many who retire earlier than they had planned often do so for negative reasons, such as a health problem or disability (61%), though some state that they retired early because they could afford to do so (26%).

So, if you’re thinking you don’t need to save for retirement now because you can you just keep working… well, you might need a “Plan B.”

4. You could be missing out on ‘free’ money.

Okay, you may not be saving at all (your parents got off to a slow start as well). You won’t be the first group of young workers to have college debt, or just have a lot of things you’d rather spend your money on in the here-and-now. Or both. It can be hard, particularly when you’re getting established, to prioritize all the demands on your paycheck.

But if you do have a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan at work, you may also have something called an employer match (see “6 Things 401(k) Participants Need to Know“). That’s where your employer will put into your account a certain amount, perhaps 50 cents for every dollar you save. For you, that’s “free money,” but you’ll only get that if you actually take advantage of your retirement savings plan at work.

p.s.: if have been automatically enrolled in your employer’s 401(k), you may want to check out the savings rate. These typically start contributions from your paycheck at a much lower rate (a 3% default savings rate is common) than those who have taken the time to fill out an enrollment form (who tend to go with the savings rate matched by their employer.

5. The sooner you start, the easier it will be.

The Labor Department says that for every 10 years you delay before starting to save for retirement, you will need to save three times as much each month to catch up.

I know it sounds simplistic. But trust me, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your retirement savings grow. See, the money you save earns interest. Then you earn interest on the money you originally save, plus on the interest you’ve accumulated. As your savings grow, you earn interest on a bigger and bigger pool of money. This is something financial pros call the “magic of compounding.” But it’s no trick.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD