Health and financial security

What’s a Guaranteed Retirement Account?

Written by Diane Archer

We all need to be saving for retirement.  But, the options for many of us are slim.  Some of us have 401(k) plans, which have their own limitations.  Labor economist, Teresa Ghilarducci proposes we all have a federally managed savings plan which, like Social Security, can weather the ups and downs of the financial marketplace and deliver secure returns in retirement at low-cost. A Guaranteed Retirement Account guarantees the investment, an annual rate of return and an annuity (annual payment) in retirement.

Federal Government Retirement Accounts would be retirement plans administered by the Social Security Administration that all employers would be required to offer their employees to better assure that Americans can retire with dignity. Ghilarducci sees the 401(k) retirement savings program as failing to allow for a good retirement because it does not guarantee enough savings or retirement income and does not cover enough workers.  Income and savings for workers in retirement are far lower than most people realize.

Today, taxpayers are subsidizing 401(k) plans for the wealthiest Americans to the tune of $110 billion, but most Americans are not saving enough for retirement. The Government Retirement Accounts would require a 2.5 percent payroll contribution by employers and workers on top of Social Security and Medicare contributions up to the $118,500 Social Security cap. The federal government also could make a contribution through a revenue neutral $600 tax credit.

Other countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand have mandatory savings programs.  Their goal is to ensure higher savings rates, especially in light of people living longer and saving too little. These programs all supplement public pension programs.

Australia requires employers to contribute 9.5 percent of pay, up from 3 percent in 1992, when the program launched. In 2025, the contribution is set to go up to 12 percent of workers’ pay. New Zealand and Britain have newer programs and require lower contributions for now.  Of note, the British program was launched by the Conservative government and is supported by conservatives because it is not a tax.

Recently, the U.S. federal government began offering myRA, which is a toe in the door for a more robust federal retirement savings program.  And, some states are working to establish their own mandatory savings plans, which creates further impetus for federal action.

Social Security replaces less than 40 percent of a typical worker’s income in retirement.  People should be saving in order to replace another 30 to 40 percent of income. The question becomes why not simply expand Social Security, a much simpler solution than Guaranteed Retirement Accounts, as Nancy Altman proposes.

What are your thoughts on Government Retirement Accounts?  Add a comment below.  Click here to read three ways the government could help promote retirement security.

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1 Comment

  • …MyRA or a GRA will not address the needs of those already on Social Security who have retired. Taking an additional percentage out of one’s paycheque, particularly for low income earners (which is becoming a larger segment of the workforce as wages have for the most part stagnated save for top level technical and executive positions) which will result in a greater struggle for many to make ends meet.

    Expanding Social Security as Ms Altman proposes would benefit those currently working as well as those who have retired. SS benefits often do not even cover spiraling rents in many cities, and what low income/section 8 housing that is available, is often filled with years long waiting lists. This has exacerbated the homelessness issue many cities face today. With retirement plans and pensions a thing of the past in most private sector occupations today, Social Security is all that is left for many retirees.

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