Friday, August 15, 2014

New papers from the Social Science Research Network

"Employee Benefits: Today, Tomorrow, and Yesterday"
EBRI Issue Brief, Number 401 (July 2014)

NEVIN E. ADAMS, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)
DALLAS L. SALISBURY, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)

In 2013, the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) commemorated its 35th anniversary. While much has changed with health and retirement benefits during the past three decades -- the first generation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) -- many of the issues that were present at EBRI’s beginning remain today. But even if core issues endure, the historic shift away from “traditional” defined benefit pension plans and toward 401(k)-type defined contribution retirement plans, along with the recent enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), and the demographic shifts attendant with the retirement of the Baby Boomers and the workplace ascendency of the Generation X and Millennial cohorts, employee benefits are certain to continue to change and evolve in the future. Each year EBRI holds two policy forums which bring together a cross-section of national experts in the benefits field, congressional and executive branch staff, and representatives from academia, interest groups, and labor to examine public policy issues affecting health and retirement benefits. This paper summarizes the presentations and discussions at EBRI’s 73rd policy forum held in Washington, DC, on Dec. 12, 2013. Titled “Employee Benefits: Today, Tomorrow, and Yesterday,” the symposium offered expert perspectives on not only the workplace and work force of the past, but the challenges of today’s multi-generational workplace, and the difficulties and opportunities that lie ahead. Following a review of the benefits landscape by EBRI’s research team, panels discussed: 1978 to 2013: The Changing Role of Employers in Employee Benefits; Employee Benefits from 2013 to 2048: The Road to Tomorrow; 2013 to 2048: Work Force Trends and Preferences, Today and Tomorrow.

"Lifetime Accumulations and Tax Savings from HSA Contributions"
EBRI Notes, Vol. 35, No. 7 (July 2014)

PAUL FRONSTIN, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)

2014 marks the 10-year anniversary of the introduction of health savings accounts (HSAs), created by Congress in 2003. In 2013, enrollment in HSA-eligible health plans was estimated to range from 15.5 million to 20.4 million policyholders and their dependents. Nearly 11 million accounts holding $19.3 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2013, were also estimated. The number of HSA-eligible enrollees will differ from the number of accounts for various reasons. The number of enrollees is composed of the policyholder and any covered dependents and will generally be higher than the number of accounts because one account is usually associated with a family. However, over time, the number of accounts can grow relative to the number of enrollees because when an individual or family is no longer covered by an HSA-eligible plan, they are allowed to keep the HSA open. HSAs provide account owners a triple tax preference. Contributions to an HSA reduce taxable income. Earnings on the assets in the HSA build up tax free, and distributions from the HSA for qualified expenses are not subject to taxation. Because of this triple tax preference, some individuals might find using an HSA as a savings vehicle for health care expenses in retirement more advantageous from a tax perspective than saving in a 401(k) plan or other retirement savings plan. This paper examines the amount of money an individual could accumulate in an HSA over his or her lifetime. It also examines lifetime tax savings from HSA contributions. Limitations of an HSA are also discussed. A person contributing for 40 years to an HSA could save up to $360,000 if the rate of return was 2.5 percent, $600,000 if the rate of return was 5 percent, and nearly $1.1 million if the rate of return was 7.5 percent, and if there were no withdrawals. In order to maximize the savings in an HSA to cover health care expenses in retirement, HSA owners will need to pay the medical expenses they incur prior to retirement on an after-tax basis using money not contributed to their HSA. Many individuals may not have the means to both save in an HSA and pay their out-of-pocket health care expenses. Also, HSA balances may not be sufficient to pay all medical expenses in retirement even if maximum contributions are made for 40 years.

"What Does Consistent Participation in 401(k) Plans Generate? Changes in 401(k) Account Balances, 2007-2012"
EBRI Issue Brief, Number 402 (July 2014)

JACK VANDERHEI, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)
SARAH HOLDEN, Investment Company Institute
LUIS ALONSO, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)
STEVEN BASS, Investment Company Institute

This paper analyzes changes in 401(k) account balances of consistent participants in the EBRI/ICI 401(k) database over the five-year period from year-end 2007 to year-end 2012. About 34 percent, or 7.5 million, of the 401(k) participants with accounts at the end of 2007 in the EBRI/ICI 401(k) database are in the consistent sample. Analysis of a consistent group of 401(k) participants highlights the impact of ongoing participation in 401(k) plans. The analysis also looks at changes in asset allocation between year-end 2007 and year-end 2012. Overall, the average account balance of consistent 401(k) participants increased at a compound annual average growth rate of 6.8 percent from 2007 to 2012, to $107,053 at year-end 2012. The median 401(k) account balance increased at a compound annual average growth rate of 11.9 percent over the period, to $49,814 at year-end 2012. At year-end 2012, the average account balance among consistent participants was 67 percent higher than the average account balance among all participants in the EBRI/ICI 401(k) database. The consistent group’s median balance was almost three times the median balance across all participants at year-end 2012. Younger participants or those with smaller initial balances experienced higher percent growth in account balances compared with older participants or those with larger initial balances. Three primary factors impact account balances: contributions, investment returns, and withdrawal/loan activity. The percent change in average account balance of participants in their 20s was heavily influenced by the relative size of their contributions to their account balances and increased at a compound average growth rate of 41.8 percent per year between year-end 2007 and year-end 2012. 401(k) participants tend to concentrate their accounts in equity securities. The asset allocation of the 7.5 million 401(k) plan participants in the consistent group was broadly similar to the asset allocation of the 24.0 million participants in the entire year-end 2012 EBRI/ICI 401(k) database. On average, about three-fifths of 401(k) participants’ assets were invested in equities, either through equity funds, the equity portion of target-date funds, the equity portion of non-target-date balanced funds, or company stock. Younger 401(k) participants tend to have higher concentrations in equities than older 401(k) participants. More consistent 401(k) plan participants held target-date funds at year-end 2012 than at year-end 2007, on net; a third of those with target-date funds held all of their 401(k) account in target-date funds.

"Social Security Finances: Findings of the 2014 Trustees Report"
Social Security Brief, No. 44, July 2014

ELISA WALKER, National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI)
VIRGINIA P. RENO, National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI)
THOMAS N. BETHELL, National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI)

The 2014 Trustees Report updates projections about the future finances of Social Security’s two trust funds. The Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund, which is legally separate from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund, will require legislative action soon to ensure that all scheduled benefits for disabled workers and their families can be paid in 2016 and beyond. Of the 6.2 percent of earnings that workers and employers each pay into Social Security, 5.3 percent goes to the OASI trust fund and 0.9 percent goes to the DI trust fund. A 0.2 percentage-point increase in the DI contribution rate (from 0.9 percent to 1.1 percent for workers and employers each) would fully fund the DI program for the next 75 years. Alternatively, a temporary reallocation of part of the OASI contribution rate would strengthen DI while keeping the OASI fund adequately funded for many years into the future.
On a combined OASDI basis, Social Security is fully funded until 2033, but faces a long-term shortfall thereafter. In 2013, Social Security revenue plus interest income exceeded outgo by $32 billion, leaving a surplus. Reserves, now at $2.8 trillion, are projected to grow to $2.9 trillion by the end of 2019. Then, if Congress takes no action in the meantime, reserves would start to be drawn down to pay benefits. If Congress does not act before 2033, Social Security is projected to face a shortfall. Its reserves would be depleted and revenue continuing to come into the trust funds from workers’ and employers’ contributions and taxation of benefits would cover about 77 percent of scheduled benefits (and administrative costs, which are less than 1 percent of outgo). Timely revenue increases and/or gradual benefit reductions can bring the program into balance over the long term, preventing the projected shortfall.

"Why Some Workers Should Be Allowed a 'Buy-In' for Social Security: A Policy Suggestion to Reduce the Regressive Adjustments of the Windfall Elimination Provision"

LAURA L. COOGAN, Nicholls State University

The Windfall Elimination Provision adjusts, through a reduction, the retirement income for workers who qualify for Social Security retirement benefits and have retirement benefits from employment outside of that system. While the WEP adjustment for workers with pensions from non-covered employment (which is common from employment by state and local governments that do not participate in the Social Security) has received some attention, there is little information for workers who have the same mix of earnings but who do not and will not receive a pension. This situation arises when workers receive their non-covered retirement benefits in a lump sum or in an Optional Retirement Plan. This paper details the WEP adjustment for these workers and suggests a policy that reduces the probability that total retirement income from the combined earnings will be less than Social Security retirement benefits as if all earnings were covered by Social Security.

"Financial Literacy Among American Indians and Alaska Natives"
Research and Statistics Note, August 2014

JOHN L. MURPHY, Government of the United States of America, Social Security Administration, Office of Retirement Policy
ALICIA GOURD, Independent
FAITH BEGAY, Independent

This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to analyze financial literacy within the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population. The HRS is a nationally representative longitudinal survey of individuals aged 50 or older and their spouses. The study compares AIAN financial literacy scores from an 18-question financial literacy module with those from other racial groups, all of whom score higher than the AIAN sample.

"Incorrect World Bank Pension Data – Consequences for Policy Making in Eastern Europe and Possible Remedies"

NIKOLA ALTIPARMAKOV, Serbian Fiscal Council

In this paper we show that over the years World Bank pension studies on Eastern Europe have been based on inconsistent and mostly upward biased data on rates of return realized by mandatory private pension funds. Relevant policy makers need to be aware of these data problems in order to properly assess initial pension privatization performance and in developing adequate pension (re-)reform policies. World Bank should consider improving disclosure standards of its publications in order to prevent this kind of errors from reoccurring in the future

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