Think the government is after your 401(k)? Think again.

Think the government is after your 401(k)? Think again.


By Kyle Garrett

Have you heard that the government is planning to seize your 401(k) and use the money to send monkeys to Mars? Well, we haven’t heard about the monkey part, but some people are making the claim that the government is gunning for workers’ 401(k)s.

Let’s start with the facts. First, two governmental agencies (the Departments of Labor and Treasury, to be exact) posted a “request for information” inviting comments from the public as to whether annuities should be used as an additional option for workers  who want to start drawing on the money they have saved in their 401(k) plans. Both agencies recognize that there is a growing interest among American workers to have a secure source of income throughout their retirement years. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Think again. Depending on whom you ask, this request for information is either a modest effort to promote a dialogue about expanding retirement plan options, or a sinister plot to seize everyone’s 401(k) account balances and use the money for a giant party at the White House. With $4.8 trillion invested in 401(k) plans it would be quite an awesome party, don’t you think?  But everyone can calm down.  The conspiracy theories are not true.

Let me repeat.  These conspiracy theories are not true.

Recently, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the Treasury and Labor Departments warning against a takeover of our nation’s 401(k) plans. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s response indicates that he is just as confused as we are as to how anyone came to believe their 401(k) plan was being threatened.

As we seek to improve the nation’s retirement programs, it is shocking that something as meager as a request for comments on payout options in 401(k) plans could be considered a radical threat. Only on Star Trek, where alternate realities are common, would such an assumption make sense.

Fortunately, the government agencies are living in reality. They know that our private retirement system is failing too many people, and they are asking for the public’s help in figuring out how to start to fix it. Let’s get to work.

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