Aiming to curb the number of individuals who are likely to outlive their retirement savings, the Treasury Department soon will offer guidance on lifetime income options that 401(k) plan participants should have available when they retire.
J. Mark Iwry, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for retirement and health policy, said the department will issue administrative guidance “very shortly” on annuities and other options that would offer retirees a flow of income rather than a lump sum. He declined to offer specific alternatives that will be addressed.
“It will seek to encourage not just annuities, but income streams generally,” Mr. Iwry said at this year's SPARK national conference in Washington. “It will not favor one type over another.”
The Treasury Department and the Labor Department requested comments on the issue of lifetime income in February 2010; about 800 groups and individuals offered thoughts.
In September, the government also hosted a hearing at which insurers urged the expansion of “safe harbor” rules for the plan sponsors that select annuities. Those rules would protect employers from fiduciary liability with respect to carriers' future financial condition, as long as the plan sponsor met certain requirements when choosing the provider.
The Obama administration wants to “make options for income more attractive than lump sums,” Mr. Iwry said.
The guidance will address how to make it easier for plan sponsors to have annuities as options in their plans. Additionally, it will address income options offered by financial institutions that don't guarantee income for life, but rather a stream of income with a high probability of continuing, he said.
The guidance will address simpler forms of income streams at the outset and then ask for additional input on more sophisticated features and products, he said.
The goal is to provide a range of “features that help people manage the financial risk of retirement,” Mr. Iwry said.
Liz Skinner writes for InvestmentNews, a sister publication of Pensions & Investments.