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View More Press Releases by The SPARK Institute

Press release:

SPARK Institute Recommends Simple Universal 401(k) Plan For Small Employers To ERISA Advisory Council

Issued by: The SPARK Institute

Date: Sept. 15, 2009

SIMSBURY, CT, Sept. 15 – In testimony submitted today to the U.S. Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council, The SPARK Institute recommends the creation of a simplified standardized universal employer-sponsored 401(k) plan for small employers.  “This new arrangement would deal directly with the roadblocks small employers have identified as the reasons for not voluntarily adopting a 401(k) plan,” said Larry H. Goldbrum, General Counsel of The SPARK Institute.  Goldbrum said that the Institute’s universal, standardized plan concept includes the following features and requirements:
1.     Be offered by any small employer (i.e., less than 100 employees), in business for at least one year, with at least one non-owner employee.
2.     Include mandatory enrollment and contribution escalation features with participant opt out.
3.     Impose the same contribution limits as for regular 401(k) plans.
4.     Be governed by a single government-approved prototype plan document.  The use of a model plan by all vendors and employers would substantially reduce administrative costs and would relieve employers of the enormous and costly burden of ensuring that their plan documents comply with applicable legal requirement.
5.     Have limited plan features to prevent pre-retirement leakage (i.e., no loans or hardship withdrawals).
6.     Have no discrimination testing.  The elimination of discrimination testing will substantially reduce the compliance administrative burdens.  The requirements that all employers offer a plan and that such plans include mandatory enrollment offset the need for such testing by providing access to a plan for all employees and requiring employees to affirmatively opt out if they choose not to save.  Moreover, historical data shows that the vast majority of automatically enrolled employees stay in the plan.    
7.     Have no employer contribution requirements.
8.     Include investment options that meet specified minimum requirements for broad based investment choices.  Investment options can be chosen by either the employer, if it prefers to do so and the service provider’s arrangement allows, or determined by the service provider as part of its product package.  Employers and service providers would be protected from potential liability for investment losses for investments that satisfy safe-harbor criteria.  
9.     Allow the employer to choose the vendor and program to offer, but because all such programs would be subject to the same or similar administrative provisions and features, an employer would be in a position to readily compare plan and investment costs from vendor to vendor.
10.     Permit vendors to aggregate assets across plans and employers, provided that individual plan and participant assets can be separately identified and accounted for in order to help reduce administrative costs and leverage potential investment option economies of scale among many participating small employers.
       “We believe that that this type of arrangement can provide a cost-effective way for more employees to save through workplace savings plans and to leverage the current 401(k) system infrastructure and experience,” said Goldbrum.
     The SPARK Institute testimony also recommended that existing employer-sponsored plans be improved to help working Americans save earlier, save more and avoid taking distributions of the money they have in their accounts before retirement.  The testimony noted, for example, that mandatory automatic enrollment of employees and automatic escalation of employee contributions should be used as methods to increase participation in workplace savings plans and the rate of savings.  “Employee contribution and escalation rates should be set so that, when combined with Social Security, they will provide appropriate income replacement at retirement,” Goldbrum said.  “Additionally, legislators and regulators should adopt new laws and regulations that limit participants’ ability to cash out their retirement savings when they change jobs, while maintaining portability attributes,” he added.  The complete testimony is available on The SPARK Institute website at www.sparkinstitute.org/comments-and-materials.php.   
     The SPARK Institute is the leading voice in Washington for the retirement services industry.  Through the combined expertise of its member companies, The SPARK Institute provides research, education, testimony and comments on pending legislative and regulatory issues to members of Congress and relevant government agency officials. Collectively, its members serve over 62 million participants in 401(k), 403(b) and other defined contribution plans.
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