If you aren’t receiving a pension from a former private sector employer, there’s a pretty good chance that your employee benefit package doesn’t include this once-cherished perk. According to a study by Towers Watson & Co., as of May 31, 2011, only 30% of Fortune 100 companies offered a defined benefit plan to new salaried employees. That’s down from 37% at the end of 2010, 43% in 2009, 47% in 2008, and 83% as recently as 2002. This is a far cry from 1985 when 90% of Fortune 100 companies offered a traditional pension plan to new employees.
While defined contribution plans, predominantly 401(k) plans, have replaced defined benefit plans in the private sector, the pension aspect is lacking in the majority of such plans today. Specifically, with limited exceptions, these plans generally don’t provide for a predetermined monthly payment that an employee can expect to receive beginning at a specified age for the rest of his/her life and his/her spouse’s life if married.
Furthermore, to the extent that a 401(k) plan is available, the future accumulation value of a participant’s account is unknown. It’s dependent upon several variables, including number of years of participation, IRS-imposed employee and employer contribution limits, employee contribution amounts, potential employer matching contributions, investment offerings, performance of chosen investments, participant loans, and potential plan distributions.
The inability to provide for a known monthly lifetime income upon retirement is not unique to employer-sponsored plans. It’s also common to employee and self-employed retirement plans, including, but not limited to, traditional IRA’s, Roth IRA’s, and SEP-IRA’s.
In addition, the nature of many investment vehicles, whether held inside or outside a retirement plan, don’t lend themselves to plan for a predictable known future lifetime or joint lifetime stream of income. Whether you’re talking about a savings account, CD, bond, stock, mutual fund, or exchange traded fund, this feature is generally unavailable.
Finally, a discussion about retirement income wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Social Security. Social Security is a wonderful provider of monthly retirement income for those individuals who qualify to receive it. Of all non self-funded plans, it comes closest to duplicating the pension aspect of a defined benefit plan. Unlike most defined benefit plans, the monthly benefit can increase as a result of cost of living adjustments. Unfortunately, the uncertainty that surrounds the Social Security system makes it difficult to plan for this benefit, especially for younger individuals.
Given (a) the scarcity of traditional defined benefit pension plans, (b) the inability of 401(k) plans, employee and self-employed retirement plans, and many nonretirement investment vehicles to provide for a predetermined monthly lifetime income beginning at a specified age, and (c) the inadequacy and uncertainty of the Social Security system, it behooves each and every one of us to create our own pension plan.