It is a statistical fact that “Retirees love their pensions”. Studies consistently show that pensions are favored over qualified retirement savings plans like 401ks and IRAs. The comfort of knowing that one has an income that they cannot out live has been a stabilizing factor for many generations of retirees — until recently.
Please don’t think that we are anti-pension. We love pensions and the **guarantees they offer; however, lately we have been talking with people who were counting on pension benefits to be there when they [continued below video…]
Guarantees, including optional benefits, are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuer, and may contain limitations, including surrender charges, which may affect policy values. During this segment, Dick and Eric are referring to Fixed Annuities unless otherwise specified.
[continued]…retired – yet are now fearful that due to “unfunded pension liabilities”, they may not receive the benefits they worked so long to achieve and now feel forced to take an unfair lump sum buyout.
Pensions are **guaranteed nationally by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PGBC) and they help advise employees impacted by lost or failing plans. It should be noted that most pensioners receive their full benefits even when they are administered by the PGBC. So, why the concern? The PGBC is currently running over a 60 billion dollar deficit due to the number of recent bankruptcies. Congress is expected to try and close the gap by increasing the premiums due to the PGBC, which are charged on a per participant basis; however, many suspect that increases in those premiums will just continue to increase the number of companies dropping pension plans and programs altogether.
So, what happens when a solvent company wants to drop their pension program? The company typically has two options; they can offload the liabilities of the pensions to an insurance carrier to fulfill the obligation or they can offer a lump sum payment that covers pensioner’s benefit.
Just because you are offered a buyout does not mean you should jump at the option solely because of the risk of the entire system. Most pension benefits are “richer” than what is typically available from an insurance company issuing a new annuity in the commercial market. Thus, when you are offered a buyout, you have to examine the whole package and ask yourself a number of questions, such as;
- What are the benefits offered versus what is available commercially?
- What is the financial status of my company’s pension fund and why are they offering a buyout?
- Do I need additional benefits for my family or spouse not covered under my existing plan?
- What happens if the PBGC takes over my benefit?
- When do I need the money?
- Would I rather have more flexibility and manage my own money with securities, or annuities, or both?
- Do I want a benefit/lump sum that could be passed onto my heirs? (Especially if you have a short life expectancy due to health)
If you determine that accepting a buyout is the best move, you still have the option of purchasing a level or increasing now or in the future from an insurance company. We believe that highly rated insurance companies offer a higher degree of safety and stability than most financial instruments offer due to the high level of assets and reserves they are required to maintain. Also, with annuities, you have a number of options available that allow for income **guarantees combined with the flexibility of still maintaining full control over the majority of your dollars at all times.
In summary, if you are offered a buyout, take the time to carefully consider your options so that you can make the best decision possible. It would be wise to consult an advisor with experience and expertise who can help you carefully balance all the possible pluses and minuses prior to taking a lump sum buyout.
Put Your Pension to Work
How you decide to take this endangered asset may be crucial to a secure retirement.
Fretting about how to manage your pension is like complaining about the cost of winterizing your beach house. Lots of people would love to have your problem.
Only about 18% of private-industry workers have a defined-benefit pension. Less than one-fourth of Fortune 500 companies offered a defined-benefit plan to new employees at the end of 2013, down from 60% in 1998, according to Towers Watson, the human resources consulting firm. The number is much larger for public-sector workers; about 80% of them have a traditional pension.
If you’re eligible for a traditional pension, you’ll be faced with important decisions that could affect your financial security, and they’re usually irrevocable. That means when you retire, you’ll need to do more than turn in your security badge and wait for the monthly checks to roll in.
Backing away from defined benefits
The move away from traditional pensions reflects several trends. Employees are living longer, which increases the cost of providing a lifetime monthly payment. Low interest rates have reduced pension funds’ investment returns, requiring companies to put more money into their plans to avoid a shortfall. Government regulations designed to protect pension participants have increased the cost of offering and maintaining defined-benefit plans. Finally, companies used to view pensions as a way to attract and retain good employees. But these days, a benefit that rewards longevity is a lot less valuable because workers change jobs every 4.6 years, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even if you’re among the minority of private-sector workers covered by a pension, you’re not immune from efforts to reduce pension costs. AT&T, Boeing and IBM have joined other companies with big pension obligations in switching to a cash-balance plan. These hybrid plans combine features of a 401(k) and a traditional pension. Benefits from a traditional pension are typically based on a participant’s salary during the final years of employment, but with a cash-balance plan, benefits are accrued evenly over time. When a company converts, participants are usually entitled to the benefits they’ve earned to date under the traditional formula, with future benefits based on the cash-balance calculation. For longtime employees, the shift can result in a big cut in benefits.
Other companies have frozen pension benefits. The number of plans with frozen benefits rose from 10% in 2003 to 32% in 2011, according to Russell Research, a financial research firm based in East Rutherford, N.J. Many companies have cushioned a pension freeze by providing higher contributions to workers’ 401(k) plans. That could pay off for young workers who haven’t accrued much in the way of pension benefits, but a freeze can be costly for mid-career workers. Their future raises and years of service won’t be factored into their pension, and they’ll have less time to make up the difference by contributing to a 401(k), even if it comes with a generous employer match.
In the past, pension participants could count on the payouts they were promised once they started receiving benefits, but that’s changing, too. A new law allows multi-employer pension plans to cut benefits for current and retired workers. These plans typically provide coverage for union members who work for different companies, usually in the construction, manufacturing and trucking industries. Because of a decline in employment in those sectors, the plans have come under severe financial stress. In October, the Central States Pension Fund, a multi-employer plan that covers more than 400,000 participants, proposed cutting its benefits by an average of 22%. Some retirees will see their benefits cut by up to 60%.
A nice problem to have
Carin Hoch, 58, vice president of real estate for NuStar Energy in San Antonio, vividly recalls a meeting she and her husband, Ron, had about five years ago with their financial adviser to discuss financing a retirement home. After reviewing their salaries, retirement savings and other assets, the adviser turned to Ron and said, “She’s a keeper.” The reason: Hoch will retire with a traditional pension.
Hoch hasn’t decided whether she’ll take her pension as lifetime payouts or a lump sum when she retires. The Hochs have other sources of retirement income, including 401(k) plans, but having a pension in the mix has given them options they wouldn’t otherwise have. It has made it possible for Ron to retire at age 59 so that he can help care for Carin’s father, who is 93. It will allow Carin to retire in four to six years. It even helped them get a lower interest rate on the mortgage for their retirement home because it showed “financial stability.”
The couple plan to use the income from Carin’s pension and Social Security to pay for their living expenses. They’ll spend money from their 401(k) plans on travel and other discretionary items. Considering what can happen in the stock market, Carin says, having a pension “really gives us a comfort zone.”
Not only that, but retirees like the Hochs can invest money in their retirement accounts and other savings more aggressively, which offers the potential for higher returns. A monthly annuity payment “is like a bond portfolio,” says Charles Sachs, a certified financial planner in Miami. “You can buy riskier assets because you have this cushion of dollars coming in.”
Lump sum versus lifetime payout. If, like Hoch, you’re covered by a pension, this decision may be the most important one you’ll face when you retire. As employers look for ways to rid themselves of costly pension liabilities, they’re increasingly offering to pay departing employees a lump sum in lieu of a lifetime annuity payout. Figuring out which option is right for you will depend on a number of factors, ranging from the size of the lump sum to how long you expect to live.