Here is the latest information from the Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman on the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
~~ Anna D. Banks, GCDF


Schumer, Kohl Announce Joint Legislation

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a hearing on reducing 401(k) leakage caused by loans and withdrawals, which can result in a substantial loss in retirement savings. At the hearing, the Center for American Progress released their report entitled, “Robbing Tomorrow to Pay for Today: Economically Squeezed Families are Turning to Their 401(k)s to Make Ends Meet,” which demonstrates that loans are not only increasing in number, but that the amounts taken out and the percentage of participants taking loans is growing substantially as well. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) Schumer joined the members of the Special Committee on Aging in questioning panelists, and announced that following the hearing, he and Chairman Kohl will introduce a bill later today that would prohibit the use of 401(k) debit cards and set a limit on the number of loans a participant can take.

“The bottom line of today’s hearing is that 401(k) and similar defined contribution plans were created to ensure that people would have adequate savings for retirement, not as a source of credit to use casually,” said Chairman Kohl. “When a participant can use his or her 401(k) to make everyday purchases like buying a cup of coffee, clearly that is a gross distortion of the plan’s intended use.”

“They were once in retreat, but companies looking to raid Americans’ 401(k) accounts are making a comeback. This legislation will protect people’s nest eggs from companies peddling debit cards that deplete their retirement savings with a simple swipe. A decade ago, the mere idea of this legislation was enough to get companies to abandon this reckless practice. This time, we want to push this bill all the way to becoming law,” Schumer said.

In his opening statement, Chairman Kohl shared his concern over recent advertising campaigns that encourage federal employees and retirees to move their retirement savings out of the Federal Thrift Savings Program and into higher-fee accounts. As TSP has the lowest administrative costs of any retirement program in the country, Kohl called the misleading ads “a disservice to hard-working public servants.” Yesterday, Kohl sent letters to companies running the advertisements, asking them to reexamine this practice.

At the hearing, Christian Weller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, provided an overview of the recent increase in 401(k) loans, and outlined some of the primary reasons people tap into their retirement savings and the consequences for doing so. Mark Iwry and David John of the Retirement Security Project shared time, testifying on the overall lack of retirement savings and highlight areas where 401(k) leakage can most effectively be reduced. Gregory Long, Executive Director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, talked about the federal government’s defined contribution plan, the Thrift Savings Plan, and discussed the policies it has implemented in order to reduce loan activity. He also shared his concerns about the aforementioned ad campaign targeting TSP participants. John Gannon, senior vice president at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), discussed FINRA’s recent investor alerts on the dangers of withdrawing funds from 401(k)s, as well as their consumer education initiatives. Finally, Bruce Bent, chairman of The Reserve and Reserve Solutions, offered testimony on the 401(k) debit card product offered by his company.

This is the second in a series of hearings Senator Kohl has chaired to highlight the need to protect and strengthen 401(k) retirement savings: in October 2007, the Committee brought attention to the need for 401(k) fee disclosure to plan sponsors and participants. Following that hearing, Kohl and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Defined Contribution Fee Disclosure Act to require 401(k) plan providers to disclose all fees so that workers saving for retirement can make a fully informed decision about which plan is best for them.