President’s Budget Proposal Could Help Up to 78 Million More Workers to Save for Retirement

The new budget unveiled by President Obama on Monday again contains the Automatic IRA, which was developed by Brookings’ Retirement Security Project in conjunction with The Heritage Foundation. This year’s version includes an important change that will also encourage more employers to offer a 401(k) account to their workers. However, important changes to the Saver’s Credit, which had been in previous budgets failed to make it this year.

Nearly half of American workers – an estimated 78 million- currently have no employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. The Automatic IRA is a simple, easy to administer and understand system that is designed to meet the needs of small businesses and their employees. Employers facilitate employee savings without having to sponsor a 401(k)-type plan, make matching contributions or meet complex eligibility rules. Employees are enrolled automatically into an IRA with a simplified system of investment choices and a set automatic savings level. However, they retain complete control over all aspects of the account including how much to save, which investment choice to use, or even to opt out completely. Automatic IRAs also offer savings options for the self-employed, for independent contractors, as well as providing those who are changing jobs the ability to continue their retirement savings.

In an important change, this year’s budget would also double the size of the tax credit that employers receive in return for starting a new 401(k) plan from $500 annually for three years to $1,000 annually for the same period. This increase will ensure that the credit covers more of an employer’s costs, and should encourage more employers to offer such a plan. As Congress examines the proposal, it will have the opportunity to also expand the smaller credit that would be offered to employers that start an Automatic IRA to ensure that they are fully reimbursed for all expenses connected with starting and operating such an account for their workers.

A disappointing development is the failure to again include proposals to expand and improve the Saver’s Credit by making it fully refundable. The Saver’s Credit is an incentive for middle-and lower-income taxpayers to save in 401(k)-type accounts or IRAs. Retirement Security Project research found that more than 69 million taxpayers had income that was low enough for them to be eligible for the Saver’s Credit in 2007. However, nearly 45 million of these filers actually failed to qualify for the credit because they had no federal tax liability. If the Saver’s Credit was made refundable as RSP has proposed and deposited directly into the account as a match for savings, those 45 million taxpayers could have taken advantage of the program and had significantly higher retirement savings.