Ellen R. Siegel from the Enrichment Group provides financial advice to Beth Barry. (File photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- Workers in the pension industry spend much of their time urging clients to plan for the future, and they are now following their own advice with a pre-emptive public relations campaign aimed at stopping Congress from limiting benefits for popular 401K savings programs.
"Everyone is talking about the fiscal cliff and how we're going to deal with this deficit and potential tax reform. Since we represent the retirement industry, we're concerned that tax reform may catch 401 K plans accidentally, and potentially harm the retirement security of working Americans," said Brian Graff, CEO of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries.
The society has a website with animation showing a retiree being hit by lightning as a narrator warns that Congress could change 401K benefits.
"We're trying to raise concern about this now, before they get into specifics so we want to head this off at the pass and make sure they understand the last thing we need to do is inhibit the ability of people to save for retirement," Graff said.
Currently, workers can contribute as much as $17,000 a year to 401K plans and defer tax payments on that contribution until they take the money out of the plan in retirement. Graff worries that could change as congress looks for money to prevent the country from driving over that financial fiscal cliff at the end of the year.
"(Congress) could limit your ability to put money in the plan. They could limit the value of the deduction. They could cap the deduction in a way that would inhibit your
ability to save for retirement," he said.
Roughly 61 million Americans contribute to 401K plans, 80 percent of them grossing less than $100,000 a year.
"This is not the rich man's savings plan," Graff said.
35-year-old Ben Krasney is a public relations professional who has made 401K contributions for eight years.
"It's a legitimate discussion, given that the whole tax code is up for review, but, as an individual taxpayer and somebody who wants to save for retirement, I certainly enjoy the benefits of 401 K deductions. It certainly encourages individuals like me to save into a 401K," he said.
And if the tax benefits were taken away?
"That would certainly change things. If there is no incentive to contribute now versus saving for later, if there is no difference, you might as well hold onto your money now and buy something you want now or hold onto it in other types of investments," Krasney said.