With unemployment nearing historic lows, more career opportunity inevitably translates into greater job mobility. That means that more 401(k) participants will be changing jobs and will face important decisions on what to do with their retirement savings.
Consolidation Corner Blog
Consolidation Corner is the Retirement Clearinghouse (RCH) blog, and features the latest articles and bylines from our executives, addressing important retirement savings portability topics.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
For job-changing 401(k) participants with balances greater than $15,000, it was the spring of financial wellness, as the bulk of their retirement savings would remain intact. For less-aristocratic 401(k) savers with balances below $15,000, it was the winter of despair, as most of their savings would be lost on the cashout chopping block or forcibly exiled to a safe harbor IRA, where more savings would perish.
The problem of missing participants continues to receive a great deal of attention from plan sponsors, industry advocates, regulators and politicians. All parties are keen to address the negative outcomes that result when job-changing 401(k) participants leave behind their accounts with former employers, relocate and fail to update their address.
Following World War II, America saw the rise of a “throwaway” society – consuming, squandering and discarding vast quantities of national resources. Gradually, an awakening occurred as we realized that conservation was a more-sustainable path. Recycling models emerged, and once fully-adopted, they became deeply-ingrained in our psyches and formed a pillar of corporate social responsibility.
America’s defined contribution system is unsustainable – urgently requiring an upgrade to effectively deliver on its intended goal – helping millions of Americans enjoy a timely and comfortable retirement.
Beginning in 2000 and continuing for a decade, American consumers were overtaken by “bacon-mania” – an obsession with the tasty, fried cured-pork treat that included cookbooks, exotic new products and a catchy slogan: “Bacon Makes Everything Better.” Great all by itself, bacon was hailed as having the added virtue of improving the taste of almost any dish it was added to.
How are you hoping to improve yourself in 2018?
The most common New Year’s resolutions usually have to do with personal appearance, health, or behavior—losing weight, exercising more, dieting, quitting smoking, etc. Popular polls indicate that many of us are after a slimmer, fitter body for ourselves after each New Year’s Day.
Similarly, defined contribution plan sponsors are likely thinking about how they can make their plans more attractive and streamlined in 2018.
On October 2nd, 2017, the American Benefits Council delivered a letter to the Department of Labor (DoL), urging the DoL to act on the problem of unresponsive or missing participants, an issue that has proven to be a significant point-of-pain for plan sponsors.
Today, it’s commonly-accepted practice for retirement plan sponsors to focus on three major initiatives to promote retirement adequacy: participation, saving and diversification.
While these three initiatives are proven, an emerging best practice is for plan sponsors to expand this list, incorporating consolidation, where plan participants are encouraged to consolidate balances from former employers’ plans, using their current-employer’s plan to manage their retirement savings.
It’s generally accepted that the small-balance accounts of terminated 401(k) plan participants have been a problem for plan sponsors, resulting in increased plan costs, fiduciary risk and other ancillary problems, such as missing participants and uncashed distribution checks.
Now, based on new information from EBRI and other sources, we’re learning that small accounts are a large and growing problem for active participants as well.