A new year inevitably brings change – and not always for the better.  The U.S. Social Security Administration has announced that it is changing its retirement age and monthly payment caps.

Effective January 2017, the retirement age to begin collecting Social Security has been increased to 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.  By changing the full retirement of Social Security, it reduces the length of time recipients can take payments, helping to secure Social Security and it also encourages older healthy Americans to continue working.  

January 2017

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Social Security Beneficiaries to Receive Record Low COLA Increase in 2017


America’s 65 million Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 0.3% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2017. That translates to a less than desired increase of about $5 to $1,360 per month for the average retiree. 

It will mark fourth time in the last seven years that Americans receive a bump in their Social Security payments. It is the smallest adjustment since the mid-1970s, when COLAs began.

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November 2016

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently vacated a lower federal court’s decision related to Verizon’s spin-off of 41,000 retiree pensions, converting those to a group annuity.

The High Court sent the case, Pundt v. Verizon Communications, et al, back to an appeals court to re-evaluate the merits of the lower court’s earlier decision, potentially impacting the pension de-risking strategies of American corporations.

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June 2016

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You could be one of 30,000 people who are still owed pension assets being managed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). 

According to the agency, as of April 21, 2016, about 14,000 Americans have collected about $55 million in unclaimed pension benefits they were previously owed.

Want to find out if hey have money for you?

Participants can search their last name on PBGC’s unclaimed pension search to see if they are eligible for payments they may not be aware of, then fill out an online form at: http://search.pbgc.gov/mp/?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

PBGC Director Thomas Reeder said, “This tool helps us protect the retirement security of America’s workers. That’s why this effort, finding those owed pension benefits, is very important to us.”

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May 2016

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Third Year of No Increases in 40-Year History

For the third time in the last six years, nearly 65 million Americans will not receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase to their Social Security income for 2016.   

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries had received increases every year since 1975, when Congress first enacted automatic benefit increases. That changed in 2010, when income remained flat for two years. The COLA increase in 2015 was only 1.7 percent, up 0.3 percent from 2014.

COLA raises are based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). In Fiscal Year 2015, inflation declined by 0.4 percent, largely due to the decreasing price of gasoline.automatic benefit increases. That changed in 2010, when income remained flat for two years. The COLA increase in 2015 was only 1.7 percent, up 0.3 percent from 2014.

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January 2016

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The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) recently announced it will take over the pensions of more than 8,500 retirees in Standard Register Company. 

After filing for ban
kruptcy in March 2014, Standard Register, a printing and marketing communications firm based in Dayton, Ohio was no longer able to fund its pensions. 

The federal agency intervened following bankruptcy proceedings, in which Standard Register sold the majority of its assets to Taylor Corp, which is not assuming responsibility for covering obligations to the Standard Register pension plans. The PBGC estimates the plan is only 47% funded with assets of $289M to pay about $611M in benefit liabilities.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


September 2015

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New legislation in the New York State Senate and Assembly (S1092/A6796) would provide protections to retirees whose pensions are sold-out or transferred by their former employers, a strategy commonly referred to as pension de-risking.

Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens-11) has introduced S.1092 and Assembly Member Peter Abbate (D-Brooklyn-49) introduced Assembly bill 6796.

The bills would require that companies, who convert pensions to annuities, provide proper disclosures related to the transaction for all impacted retirees. It also prohibits the subsequent transfer of the retirees’ pension benefits without the confirmation of the New York State Superintendent of Financial Services that the insurer acquiring the group annuity contract has the financial strength to fulfill its long-term obligations to all retirees.

In January 2013 New York based Verizon spun-off 41,000 retirees’ pensions to Prudential, converting what were federal ERISA law protected pensions to a group annuity, which is governed at the state level.

The new legislation provides retirees with protections from creditor claims comparable to what they had under retirement plans and also requires that the individuals that are transferred from pension plans to annuity contracts receive a statement that they are no longer protected under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and entitled to coverage by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

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May 2015

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California, Illinois, New York, Texas, Ohio and New Jersey Top the List for Highest Unfunded Liabilities

More state leaders are devising methods to fund state and municipal-administered pension funds after Congress' $1.1 trillion spending bill allowed distressed multiemployer plans to cut benefits that the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBCG) projected to become insolvent by 2020.

The PBCG’s prognosis left retirees across the nation wondering: if the federal program that backstops these plans is edging towards insolvency, how do state and municipal pension plans compare?

It depends on who you ask.

Across the nation state pension systems are reporting just over $1 trillion in combined unfunded liabilities.

However third-party accounting reveals that state pension plans are more likely underfunded by $4.7 trillion, up from $4.1 trillion in 2013, according to the 2014 Underfunded Pension Liabilities Report issued by State Budget Solutions (SBS), a non-profit, national public policy organization advocating for state budget reform. The report finds that if unfunded municipal pension liabilities were split evenly among all Americans, the average current cost would be $15,000 per person.

January 2015

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Obama: Bad Investment Advice Costing Older 
Americans $17 Billion Annually

President Obama is calling for tougher restrictions on investment brokers handling trillions of dollars in 401k and other retirement savings accounts, in order to curtail hidden fees and protect consumers against biased financial advice.

On February 23, 2015, the U.S. Labor Department submitted a proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget that would hold brokers to a fiduciary standard, which mandates that they place their clients’ interest above their own.

Currently brokers are held to a suitability standard that enables them to sell “suitable” rather than cost-effective products. Brokers typically earn money from sales commissions or fees paid by investors who purchase mutual funds. This compensation arrangement often incentivizes agents to recommend products with higher fees or commission without better returns for investors.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, clients lose a combined $17 billion a year from such conflicting financial dealings and advice.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

February 2015

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U.S. Supreme Court ERISA Plan Rulings Favor Retirement Investment

The future of retirement savings is looking brighter following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on ERISA-protected plans that may improve employee investment options.

 

Tibble vs. Edison

This May in Tibble vs. Edison International, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it is insufficient for employers to only set up a 401(k) with investment options. Fiduciaries must also continue to monitor those investments for any changes.


“ERISA’s fiduciary duty is derived from the common law of trusts, which provides that a trustee has a continuing duty–separate and apart from the duty to exercise prudence in selecting investments at the outset—to monitor, and remove imprudent, trust investments,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, who delivered the opinion for the court.


Background

The case began when Tibble plaintiffs, on behalf of Edison International’s plan beneficiaries, claimed that the company violated ERISA’s fiduciary duty of prudence by offering more expensive “retail class” rather than “institutional class” shares of mutual funds.

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June 2015

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Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Verizon Retirees’ Pension Class Action Litigation

A three judge U.S. court of appeals panel will hear oral arguments in the class action Lee v. Verizon, Case No. 14-10553, regarding the transfer of 41,000 Verizon management retirees’ pensions into a single group annuity sponsored by Prudential Insurance Company. Arguments will be heard on February 4, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. Central Time, before the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. 

Attorneys Curtis L. Kennedy of Denver and Robert E. Goodman, Jr. of Dallas are representing the class of 41,000 Verizon retirees. They originally filed a request for an injunction in November 2012 in an effort to block the transfer of retirees, but Chief Judge Sidney Fitzwater of the Northern District of Texas allowed the annuity transaction to move forward in December 2012.

“This case is being closely monitored by corporate pension sponsors, pension fund managers, the annuity insurance industry and ERISA legal professionals throughout the nation,” retirees’ attorney Curtis L. Kennedy said, “Indeed the case will develop ERISA law that will have repercussions on retiree pensioners throughout the nation.”

The retirees argue that the original court decision allowing the transaction to go forward severely undermined federal ERISA law's strict statutory duties and the rigor with which the United States Congress intended the federal courts to monitor the conduct of pension fiduciaries. 

February 2015

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Congress Allows Cuts to Multiemployer Plan Benefits in $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

More Than 1 Million Retirees May See Cuts in 
Multiemployer Plan Pension Benefits

More than a million American retirees covered by a multiemployer plan may become victims of pension benefit cuts, as part of the Congressional Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014. The legislation was included in the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by Congress in mid-December 2014 to prevent plans from becoming insolvent.

Multiemployer plans are defined benefit pension plans that are collectively maintained by multiple employers, typically within a common employment sector, and sometimes by labor unions.

The debate on cutting multiemployer plans largely stemmed from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) FY 2013 Projections Report. The report indicates that multiemployer plans across the U.S. are “severely        underfunded” and could run a $49.6 billion deficit by FY 2023.

Photo Credit: PBGC FY 2013 Projections Report

December 2014


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Verizon Retiree Group Launches Video Series

The Association of BellTel Retirees, a group that promotes the protection and enhancement of Verizon retiree pensions and benefits, has launched its “Faces of Verizon Retirees” video series. The new videos feature different Verizon retirees telling his or her career and retirement story in light of critical economic and healthcare issues impacting their lives. 

The speakers reminisce about their work experiences in an overwhelmingly positive way, but implore their former employer to consider better treatment of retirees. Throughout the videos, retirees express a sense of workplace camaraderie during a time when Verizon was committed to the needs of its employees.

Many Verizon retirees express the pride they felt while working for the Bell system. Several videos explore health-related issues retirees have endured as a result of healthcare cuts and eliminations. Other videos examine retirees' uncertainty related to their pension and healthcare benefits. 

The series can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/user/BellTelRetirees.

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On the Lookout for a New Retirement Standard

Retirement USA (www.retirement-usa.org), a new national initiative is on the lookout for a way to have a standardized national retirement system. 

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GE To Drop Post-65 Retiree Health Care Benefits in 2015

General Electric, the nation’s sixth largest corporation, recently stunned many of its retired and soon-to be retired salaried employees by changing eligibility for the company’s post-65 health care and life insurance benefits.

GE announced that recent retirees and employees approaching retirement who were anticipating participation in GE’s post-65 health care benefits program will no longer be eligible unless they reach the age of 65 before January 1, 2015. 

December 2013

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Social Security Income Increases in 2015

Millions of American retirees can look forward to a modest increase in their bank accounts due to a 1.7% increase in Social Security Income (SSI) benefits beginning January 2015.

Social Security beneficiaries will begin to receive an average of about $22 more per monthly check based on the average retired worker’s earnings. In recent years SSI recipients saw cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increases of:

1.5% increase in 2014
1.7% increase in 2013
3.6% increase in 2012

No COLA adjustments were made in 2010 or 2011.

The maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax will also increase in 2015 to $118,500 from $117,000. The wage cap increase is based on an increase in average wages.  

The bump in retired workers’ SSI checks is tied to a COLA determined by the average inflation in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).

“From an ideal math perspective, what you want is a calculation based on an index that matches retirees’ cost of living," says Polina Vlasenko, a senior researcher at the American Institute for Economic Research. “The CPI-W is constructed to measure spending patterns of urban wage earners, and it’s pretty clear that retired people spend differently than wage earners.”

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

October 2014

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PBCG Marks Its 40th Anniversary 

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation marked its 40th anniversary on September 2, 2014. The PBCG serves as a financial backstop for our nation’s workers and retirees as well as provides federal protections for retirees' pensions.

The PBGC was created on September 2, 1974, resulting from the passage of ERISA. On that day President Gerald Ford announced, “Today, with great pleasure, I am signing into law a landmark measure that may finally give the American worker solid protection in his pension plan.”

On the first day the PBGC opened its doors, it already had hundreds of cases to review. The agency paid out its first check in less than six months to a member of the International City Bank of New Orleans Employees Retirement Plan.

September 2014




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