In a previous blog post, we asked, “Why dump mandatory distributions in a landfill when you can recycle?” As we wrote then, sponsors exercising their authority to automatically roll over separated participants’ small balances into safe harbor IRAs—without encouraging participants to take their retirement account savings with them at the point of job change, or facilitating “auto portability” to make plan-to-plan asset transfers a seamless process—are doing themselves and their participants a disservice in the long run.
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.
Have you ever wondered why so few participants move their old 401(k)s into their current employers’ plans? Or why so many participants prematurely cash out their retirement savings accounts, regardless of taxes and penalties? Or why job-changing participants leave their savings behind only to lose track of them—as if their assets for retirement belong on some remote desert island away from all their other savings?
Clearly, Washington DC is now “getting it” when it comes to retirement plan portability.
In November 2015, Senator Patty Murray and other influential members of Congress delivered a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Perez urging action on Auto Portability. Now, we have strong comments from President Obama in his final State Of The Union address on the need for more portable retirement savings.
In his December 1, 2015 article (The unintended consequence of 401(k) auto-enrollment), RCH CEO Spencer Williams exposes the linkage between auto enrollment and lower average account balances. Based on Form 5500 data, Williams’ analysis presents some excellent examples of industries where average balances are significantly lower in plans that have adopted auto enrollment compared to plans that haven’t.
In his December 16th, 2015 article in MarketWatch, RCH’s CEO Spencer Williams offers a year-end checklist for those retirement savers who’ve elected to leave qualified retirement savings accounts behind with their former employers.
In his December 11th article in BenefitsPro (Addressing the Critical Problem of 401(k) Cash Outs), Nick Thornton draws much-needed attention to the magnitude of the 401(k) cash out leakage issue, due to the frictions associated with account portability when plan participants switch jobs. Thornton’s article rightly emphasizes the need for automated portability – similar to automatic enrollment and deferral increases - to effectively address the cash out problem.
Auto enrollment, codified in law by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, was drafted with the best of intentions—to increase Americans’ retirement savings—but it has had the unintended consequence of impairing plan effectiveness. By proliferating small accounts in plans, auto enrollment has caused a decrease in average account balances throughout the U.S. retirement system. Adding to the urgency of this issue is the rising rate of auto enrollment adoption across defined contribution plans of all sizes, but particularly among larger plans.
Every day, we’re reminded that recycling is the responsible thing to do: from the recycling bins we walk by, to the paper we use, and the cans and bottles that we drink from. All of us would agree that conservation of our precious resources is critical, so we gladly pitch in and do our part.
We humans are not islands. Everything we do affects the people, neighborhoods and ecosystems around us in some way. One act of kindness for another person can inspire the recipient to perform a good deed for someone else, and through a ripple effect, many others can benefit.