Monday, January 11, 2010

Govt wants to protect you by making annuities mandatory for 401(k)s

Sara Hansard
Should annuities be mandatory for 401(k)s? Fund companies go on the offensive
Participants in 401(k) plans do not want the government to require them to convert a portion of their 401(k) assets to annuities, according to the results of a survey of about 3,000 households released today by the Investment Company Institute.

The results of the survey aren't surprising, given that the IC I represents mutual fund companies. Some $7.5 trillion is invested in 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts, about half of which is invested in mutual funds.

The release of the research indicates that the mutual fund industry intends to resist proposals discussed in Washington to reduce tax breaks for 401(k)s and to impose more government controls on the plans, such as mandating investment options.

“Government should not be making those decisions for them,” ICI president and chief executive Paul Schott Stevens said in summarizing the ICI survey of 401(k) participants, which was conducted in November and December. “They really value the independent control that they have over the way they invest and manage those accounts. They don't like mandates. They don't like government micromanagement.”

Mr. Stevens, speaking at a press conference in Washington on Friday, also opposed a plan being considered by the Treasury and Labor departments to require that a portion of 401(k) balances be converted to annuities to guarantee lifetime income for retiring workers. About 96% of the respondents in the ICI survey said retirees should make their own decisions about managing retirement assets and income, while more than 70% disagreed that the government should require retirees to trade a portion of their retirement plan accounts for a contract that promises to pay them income for life.

“They want the maximum amount of choice, so if you want to take an annuity, great,” said Jack Brennan, chairman emeritus of The Vanguard Group Inc., who also spoke at the press conference. “But don't force it, because it's not for everyone.”

J. Mark Iwry, senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy, co-authored a paper before joining the Obama administration that recommended having a portion of a retiring worker's 401(k) assets automatically invested in an annuity — unless the employee opts out of the program.

The Treasury and Labor departments are likely to issue regulations this year to make it easier for companies to offer “automatic annuities” in 401(k) plans, Mr. Iwry said last September. More...

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