For decades, the U.S. private pension system has provided preferential tax treatment to employer-provided pensions, 401(k) plans, and individual retirement accounts relative to other forms of saving. The effectiveness of this system of subsidies is controversial. Despite the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth in pension accounts, concerns persist about the ability of the pension system to raise private and national saving, and in particular to improve saving outcomes among those households most in danger of inadequately preparing for retirement.
The saver's credit, enacted in 2001 as part of the Bush administration's tax cut legislation, provides a government matching contribution for voluntary individual contributions to 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and similar retirement savings arrangements. It is the first and only major federal legislation directly targeted to promoting tax-qualified retirement saving for moderate- and lower-income workers. Yet its current status as both temporary—it is scheduled to expire in 2006—and nonrefundable hinders its ability to be a real help to low- and middle-income families. This policy brief outlines several ways to improve the credit.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information visit the Retirement Security Project on PewHealth.org.