Each year, millions of Americans carefully save their hard-earned dollars in retirement savings accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs with dreams of a secure retirement. The federal tax code provides them with important incentives to do so.
Under existing tax rules, individuals are allowed to contribute to these accounts on a pre-tax basis – up to certain limits – and can defer tax on the earnings while they accumulate. Not only do these tax incentives help assure a secure retirement, but the increased savings also provide the capital necessary to stimulate economic growth and job creation.
Much of the “cost” of retirement tax incentives to the federal government is recouped over time because taxes on retirement savings are merely deferred until these accounts are drawn on for retirement. The moment these tax-deferred nest eggs are tapped for retirement income, they are subject to taxation as ordinary income.
There has been much discussion in Washington, D.C., about reforming our federal tax code and reducing the federal deficit. It is imperative that Congress carefully examines the ultimate costs of policy options that might be presented as “reasonable solutions,” but in reality, could have devastating long-term unintended consequences. Reducing tax incentives for retirement savings falls into that category.
Many small-businesses owners offer retirement plans because it is a convenient add-on to their own retirement accounts, but reducing retirement incentives may act as a disincentive to these same business owners to offer such plans, leaving millions of additional low- and moderate-income workers with no access to a workplace plan.
Reforming our tax code and restoring America’s fiscal health are important goals, but we should not be tempted by “reforms” that will have negative repercussions.
Every day, some 7,000 baby boomers hit retirement age, and over the next 20 years the number of Americans over 65 will increase dramatically – from 40 million to more than 70 million. And people are living longer. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average life expectancy rose from 69.7 years in 1960 to 77.9 years in 2007. The increasing longevity of Americans will require adequate financial resources.
Given these realities, policymakers in Washington should focus on policies that make it easier – not harder – to save for retirement.
James T. Brett is the president and chief executive officer of The New England Council; William H. Guenther is the president of Mass Insight Global Partnerships.