EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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December 5, 2012

Letter: Administration eyes your retirement fund to avert 'fiscal cliff'

The debate over averting financial consequences in early 2013 has refocused attention on concerns that the coveted 40(k) plan and IRAs — long considered the last bastions of private retirement savings for most working Americans — may be tapped.

The plans may be slated for dramatic changes, including limited deductions, retroactive taxation and, possibly, a nationalization scheme to impose government-mandated plans on employers, with savings allocated exclusively to Treasury bonds.

An Investment Company Institute study published last month said U.S. retirement assets at the end of the second quarter of 2012 totalled $18.5 trillion, including $3.5 trillion in IRAs and $5.1 trillion in 401(k) plans.

These present very tempting deficit-funding sources for the Obama administration as it faces a budget deficit approaching $20 trillion.

By restricting deductions for the highest wage earners or, as some reports have suggested, retroactively taking back already deducted amounts, plan assets could be reduced and resources effectively transferred through taxation back to government coffers to help pay down government debt.

In response to this threat, the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA) has launched a national campaign known as “Save Our 401(k)s” which is part public lobbying effort and part public education effort.

Brian Graff, executive director and CEO of the ASPPA, criticized President Obama’s proposal to limit the tax benefit for retirement savings for families earning more than $250,000 and categorized it as “a bad proposal based on bad math.”

Graff went on to say, “The tax break for retirement savings is a deferral, not a permanent write-off. Under the president’s budget, these taxpayers wouldn’t just lose a current tax break, they would actually be penalized for saving – paying taxes now and taxes later.”

Another organization, the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI), said that while the administration’s proposal “does not explicitly call for changes in the tax status of annuities for all,” there are serious concerns, “including the elimination of certain tax incentives for retirement savings and new limitations on deductions for retirement contributions.”

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