Turns out, many Americans simply don’t have the financial freedom to save for retirement.
There’s nothing really surprising about that, but what’s worse is what’s actually made it to the bank is disappearing at an increasingly alarming rate.
Nearly one out of three workers took a distribution or a hardship loan for their 401(k) retirement plan in 2012, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Those numbers are pretty upsetting, especially when one considers the acceleration rate: the amount of loan takers was just one in four the year before. Those who making between $35,000 and $60,000 a year account for 45 percent of those loans.
Why are we making it so easy for workers to march into the bank and take hard-earned cash?
After all, it’s their money and they have the right to borrow it. What bugs me is that today’s regulations make taking out a hardship loan so much easier than it should be. I bet if we put some stricter rules on the books, workers might be able to save more for retirement.
1. For starters, no loan applications are necessary to receive a hardship withdrawal. That means no bank official can walk over to a customer (whether it’s a meth freak or a single mom) and intervene. My answer to this is to initiate a 10-day review process during which a panel of experts from inside and outside the banking system evaluates each withdrawal on a case-by-case basis. The process hopefully will provide an efficient screening for allowing 401(k) loans. A number of worthwhile objections, most notably the cost of the program, stand right in its way, however.
2. What if the borrower uses the money for a purpose other than stated? Simple enough. The borrower signs an affidavit that authorizes the loan to only be spent on its stated purpose. Receipts please? Financial penalties and/or prison should take care of this one.
3. Right now, no minimum credit score is required to secure a hardship loan. How about changing that, or at least demanding collateral?
4. This rule would be the hardest to enforce. As it stands, employees repay loans with automatic paycheck donations for up to five years. But what happens if an employee gets fired, takes off or goes on disability? You still can track them, but you can’t get blood from a stone.
Better, I think, to tether the repayment to whatever entitlements the loaner is attached to. If he or she gets no entitlements, then the loan is paid back through an annual percentage of income, collected through income tax.
While the system changes alone might not make the process changes worth the effort, I’d like to see a cost analysis put in place to determine if some, or perhaps, all of these alterations, could ease the retirement crisis.