Illinois Secure Choice Retirement plan fighting nationwide retirement crisis

11/18/2019, 8:58 p.m.

32,000 New Workers Now Saving Own Money for Their Future

A state-administered program designed to combat the retirement savings crisis threatening America boasts more than 32,000 new workers setting aside $8.5 million in retirement savings during its first year of operation, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Monday.

The Illinois Secure Choice program specifically courts employment fields that typically do not offer a retirement savings vehicle for various reasons, including the employer cost to establish and operate a retirement program, federal regulations of such plans, and employee turnover. In the first year, 4,691 businesses who had not offered a retirement savings option registered to participate in Secure Choice.

A seven-person bi-partisan board oversees the Roth IRA investments that are in a lock-box and cannot be comingled with state funds nor raided to pay other bills. Employers with questions can call (800) 650-6913. Workers with questions can call (800) 650-6914.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to retire with dignity,” Frerichs said. “Secure Choice allows workers to save their own money and protects employers from the federal regulatory burden that often accompanies such plans.”

Secure Choice targets the retirement crisis in America. In Illinois, 47 percent of private-sector workers are employed by an establishment that does not provide a retirement savings plan. One-third of Illinois retirees rely upon social security for 90 percent of their retirement income. For households saving for retirement, the median account balance is an unsettling $5,000.

Retirees who do not have enough resources instead will rely upon safety net programs supported by property taxes at the local level and income taxes at the state level. Trying to avert more upward pressure on tax collections, the Illinois General Assembly authorized the Secure Choice program in 2014 and it was signed into law in 2015. The law requires employers in business for at least two years and with at least 25 employees to offer a retirement savings plan or participate in Secure Choice. Tying retirement savings to an employer is critical because workers are 15-times more likely to save for retirement if they have access to a payroll deduction plan at work.

After thorough research, including conversations with the Woodstock Institute, Heartland Alliance, Shriver Center on Poverty Law and the AARP, the bi‑partisan Secure Choice board prioritized that investment accounts should be portable and travel with the worker from job-to-job rather than remain with the employer, and investment decisions should be easy for workers. As a result, there was a default option set up for workers. In total, four investment funds were selected as the vehicles in which workers can invest based upon on their risk tolerance.

The Secure Choice board also decided that employers and employees should join the program in phases, rather than all at once, to ease the transition. As a result, employers with 500 or more employees had to register by Nov. 1, 2018; employers with employees that number between 100 and 499 had to register by July 1, 2019; and employers with employees that number between 25 and 99 had to register by Nov. 1, 2019. Employees are defaulted to begin their post-tax investments at five percent of their paycheck. They can reduce that, increase that amount up to IRA limits, which is $6,000 for 2019, or opt out of the program entirely. Employers are prohibited from making contributions, do not make investment decisions, and do not fall under federal ERISA regulations.