Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is your pension safe?

An interesting article was published recently addressing the security of traditional pension plans.  Liz Weston's MSN Money article "Is Your Pension Safe" provides some eye-opening statistics:

•  Nearly 80% of the private pension plans covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., or PBGC, are underfunded, to the tune of $740 billion. The news is even worse among the nation's largest companies. Only 18 defined benefit pension plans offered by companies in Standard & Poor's 500 benchmark are fully funded.

•  More than 1,400 companies shut down their pension plans in fiscal year 2011, compared with 1,200 in 2009, according to the PBGC. An additional 152 plans failed, meaning they were terminated without enough money to pay promised benefits and were taken over by the PBGC. The PBGC itself, which is funded by employer-paid insurance premiums, is running a $26 billion deficit.

•  Public pension funds are underfunded by at least $1 trillion, according to a report by the State Budget Crisis Task Force. To close the gap, 35 states have reduced pension benefits for their employees, and half have increased worker contributions to their plans, according to a report released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Three states -- Georgia, Michigan and Utah -- have implemented hybrid plans that include defined contribution plans, similar to 401k's, that shift some investment risk to workers.

•  Even fully funded retirement plans aren't exempt. General Motors, once considered the model for running a solid pension plan, shocked its salaried retirees by announcing it was offloading their pensions to Prudential Financial. About 42,000 retirees had to make the difficult decision whether to take a lump-sum settlement or trust Prudential to send them monthly checks.

Most importantly, Weston discusses what pension participants need to know to protect their benefits, some of which include personal savings in addition to the pension, the extent to which many benefits that have already been earned are protected, and the need to closely monitor the plan.  Click here to read the entire article.

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