Will a Money Hungry Government Take Away Your IRA and 401K?

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by Mish Shedlock, Mish Talk:

A Bloomberg op-ed proposes the government will kill the 401K, and also that it should.

Your 401(k) Will Be Gone Within a Decade

Please consider Your 401(k) Will Be Gone Within a Decade

If you are among the 56% of US workers with a retirement plan, I have some bad news for you: Your 401(k) will be gone in 10 years, tops. Not the money, thank goodness, but the plans themselves.

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There has been a brewing intellectual movement to get rid of the 401(k) for several years, with scholars on both the right and left questioning its value. And as the federal government gets increasingly desperate for new sources of revenue, the tax treatment of 401(k)s is a likely target. There are good policy reasons to end it, but the question remains: Will Americans still save for retirement?

All of this cost the government an estimated $185 billion in 2019, or 0.9% of GDP. That’s not nothing. And in theory it’s justifiable because it creates a powerful incentive to save for retirement. More retirement savings have a triple benefit: for the economy overall, since they fuel growth; for the government, since retirees with income are less likely to be a burden on the state; and, of course, for workers who might not save enough today and regret it later.

Then again, maybe not. The first rumblings that the benefits of the tax breaks may be overstated came in a 2014 study of Danish savers. Without tax-advantaged accounts, it found, people just put their money in another kind of account. People did save more in retirement accounts, but that’s mostly because of automatic paycheck deduction. Subsequent research in other countries found similar results. Not only did the tax incentive fail to encourage more saving; the biggest beneficiaries tended to be the wealthy.

To review: Neither conservatives nor liberals are particular fans of tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and savers appear to be indifferent to them. So what’s the point of a 401(k)?

What’s the Point?

The point is obvious. People are overly dependent on Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid and other government handouts.

The Bloomberg writer links to the New York Times article, Employers Can Now Enroll Workers in Some Emergency Savings Accounts

Starting this year, a federal law allows employers to enroll workers in emergency savings accounts that are linked to their retirement accounts. But some companies, put off by the law’s complex rules, have begun offering rainy day benefits outside workplace retirement plans.

But while the law, known as Secure 2.0, has helped draw attention to the need for rainy day savings, its rules for setting up emergency accounts within retirement plans are “clunky.”

For instance, only workers making under a certain income limit ($155,000 for 2024) may participate, and their emergency savings are limited to $2,500, though employers can set lower ceilings. And though employers can help with contributions, they must deposit any match into the worker’s retirement account — not the emergency savings account.

Should we really be basing decisions made in the US to those of Danish savers in 2014?

However you save, government ought to be encouraging more savings not less.

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