News Column

Coming this fall: A new federal starter retirement account

August 9, 2014

By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)



Aug. 09--A new starter retirement account is on its way, aimed at getting young, low-wage and part-time workers into the retirement savings game with a simple payroll deduction.

Workers should be able to sign up for the accounts by the end of the year.

The starter retirement accounts, a first for Treasury, are called the "myRA." They will earn modest returns in exchange for government backing, meaning account balances will never go down in value. Interest will likely be 1 percent to 5 percent a year.

It's part of the government's effort to address a bleak statistic: More than half of all U.S. workers, or about 65 million people, don't have access to an employee-sponsored retirement savings program such as a 401(k).

That's a serious impediment to building retirement funds, experts say.

The myRA "sounds pretty simple," said Joe Persico, a finance manager for St. Paul-based Bellagala.

Persico was among a small group of business professionals and government leaders at the Mall of America on Friday for a Treasury outreach on the new product. Bellagala is a wedding services provider that employs a lot of twenty-somethings such as DJs. and hair dressers, Perisco said, and he expects a lot of interest in the program.

So does Jamie Dahlen, managing partner of the Holiday Inn Lakeville and Rudy's Red Eye Grill. Dahlen said her company has a 401(k) program, but it's only for full-time employees and more than half the company's 170 employees are part time and seasonal and don't qualify for it. Applicants bring it up, she said.

"It's amazing how many people come into our business and ask about it," she said. "It's a benefit they are looking for."

The push is a new one for Treasury, which has never offered a retirement savings product before. But the brand is strong, Miller noted.

The accounts are modeled after popular Roth IRAs but will be handled by Treasury. The variable interest rate will be the same that federal employees receive through the Thrift Savings Plan Government Securities Investment Fund. The so-called G Fund has averaged between 1.47 percent and 4.93 percent a year since 2004.

The myRA will be free to open, carry no fees and available to anyone with an annual income of less than $129,000 who does not have access, for whatever reason, to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. Employers can choose to participate by making the automatic payroll deductions available. The regular deposits can be as small as $5.

Withdrawals can be made tax free after five years or anytime after the saver is 59?1/2 years old.

Employers don't contribute or administer the accounts, they just have to offer the direct deposit. Since the accounts are not tied to a single employer, workers can more easily take them from job to job. For more information, go to www.myra.treasury.gov.

When an account reaches $15,000 or 30 years, whichever comes first, the balance is transferred into a private-sector account.

In an interview Mary Miller, Treasury Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, said the biggest criticism she's heard is that $15,000 isn't much. The accounts are meant to get people going, she said.

"If you save $15,000 in your twenties, that's going to be a meaningful sum when you retire," Miller said. "Plus, it gets you in the game."

Treasury's goals this year are modest. Miller said she expects just 50 companies around the country to sign up for the pilot by the end of the year. "Next year we want to scale."

Jennifer Bjorhus -- 612-673-4683

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(c)2014 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


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