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Some ‘Secure 2.0' Retirement Proposals in the Senate Look Different From the House Version. Here Are Key Provisions Under Consideration

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  • In the Senate, committees with jurisdiction over retirement-related provisions recently approved proposals that form the basis of that chamber's current rendition of "Secure 2.0."
  • The House passed its version in late March.
  • Here are some key provisions being considered, as well as the differences or similarities between the House and Senate proposals.

Just three years after the Secure Act ushered in the first major changes to the U.S. retirement system in more than a decade, a slew of additional modifications could be on its way.

With recent committee approval of proposals in the Senate and an already-passed bill in the House, a sequel to that 2019 legislation is now more likely to happen this year. Yet it still remains unclear exactly what a final version of "Secure 2.0," as it's called, would look like. 

"There's a lot of overlap with specific provisions and there are some that are taking different approaches to similar objectives," said Paul Richman, chief government and political affairs officer at the Insured Retirement Institute.

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"But differences need to be worked out, and what's in each bill that's not in the other bill needs to be negotiated," Richman said.

Continued improvements to savings, security

The House passed its version of Secure 2.0, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act (H.R.2954), in late March with a bipartisan vote of 414-5. 

In the Senate, committees with jurisdiction over retirement-related provisions now have approved proposals that collectively form the basis of that chamber's Secure 2.0 version: The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee advanced the so-called Rise & Shine Act (S.4353) June 14, and the Finance Committee on Wednesday gave the nod to a set of more than 70 provisions, although they are not yet in legislative form.

The goal is to continue improving retirement savings and security, both of which appear to be elusive for many U.S. households. Roughly a quarter of adults have no retirement savings at all, according to a report from PwC

Generally speaking, there is optimism that the House and Senate will be able to reconcile the differences in their proposals and pass an agreed-upon version of Secure 2.0 this year, Richman said. It likely would be attached to a larger piece of fiscal-related legislation that would need to pass later in the year.

If Secure 2.0 doesn't make it into law, the entire legislative process would have to start over with new proposals in a future Congress. 

Here are some key provisions under consideration for Secure 2.0, some of which are the same or similar in both the House and Senate Secure — and others that are not.

Tapping 401(k) funds for emergencies

Two proposals in the Senate — approved in separate committees — address access to emergency funds.

One would allow employers to automatically enroll their workers in emergency savings accounts, at 3% of pay, that could be accessed at least once a month. Workers would be able to save up to $2,500 in the account, and any excess contributions would automatically go to a linked 401(k) account at the company.

The other Senate proposal takes a different approach: It would let workers withdraw up to $1,000 from their 401(k) or individual retirement account to cover emergency expenses without having to pay the typical 10% tax penalty for early withdrawal if they are under age 59½.

Under both House and Senate proposals, victims of recent domestic abuse would also not face the 10% penalty for withdrawing up to $10,000 from their retirement savings (or 50% of the account balance, whichever is less).

Increasing access to the saver's tax credit

Under current law, many lower- and middle-income workers are eligible for the so-called saver's tax credit. It's worth either 50%, 20% or 10% (depending on income) of contributions made to a workplace plan or IRA, for a maximum credit of $1,000 ($2,000 for married couples).

The credit is not available to taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $34,000 or more ($68,000 for joint filers). It also is nonrefundable, meaning that if your tax liability is zero, you don't get any of the credit's value as a refund.

The House-passed bill would increase the income cutoff and expand how many people qualify for the full credit.

The Senate provision is similar, but would also make the credit fully refundable, as well as require the refund to be deposited into a worker's retirement account — although amounts under $100 would be sent directly to taxpayers.

Mandating automatic 401(k) enrollment for many

The bill that cleared the House would require employers to automatically enroll employees in their 401(k) plan at a rate of at least 3% and then increase it each year until the worker is contributing 10% of their pay. Workers could opt out.

It excludes existing plans, businesses with 10 or fewer employees and companies that are less than 3 years old. 

The Senate has not proposed auto enrollment. Instead, there's a provision that would generally require auto-enrolling plans to check, every three years, whether workers who initially opted out have changed their minds.

Making part-timers 401(k)-eligible earlier

The original Secure Act made it so part-time workers who book between 500 and 999 hours for three consecutive years could be eligible for their company's 401(k). Both the House and Senate now want to reduce that to two years.

(Companies already have been required to grant eligibility to employees who work at least 1,000 hours in a year.)

Leaving behind small 401(k) balances

Under current law, if you take a new job and leave behind a 401(k) worth less than $5,000, your ex-employer can kick you out. For amounts under $1,000, you could be cashed out, while amounts between $1,000 and $5,000 get rolled over to an IRA.

Both the House and Senate propose raising that upper amount to $7,000.

A related proposal in both chambers would create a national retirement savings "lost and found" to help workers reconnect with retirement accounts they've lost track of as they move from job to job throughout their career.

Student loans versus retirement savings

Proposals in both the House and Senate would allow employers to make contributions to 401(k) plans (and similar workplace plans) on behalf of employees who are making student loan payments instead of contributing to their retirement account.

Upping the catch-up contribution ante

Currently, retirement savers age 50 or older can make so-called catch-up contributions to their retirement savings. On top of the standard annual contribution limits — $20,500 for 401(k) plans and $6,000 for individual retirement accounts in 2022 — those who qualify can put an extra $6,500 in their 401(k) or $1,000 in their IRA.

The House bill would expand the 401(k) catch-up to $10,000 for individuals who are age 62, 63 or 64. Workers enrolled in so-called SIMPLE plans would be allowed $5,000 in catch-up contributions, up from the current $3,000.

The Senate proposal differs by allowing people from age 60 through age 63 make the extra $10,000 catch-up contribution.

Both chambers' proposals would require all catch-up amounts to be made as Roth (after-tax) contributions.

Raising the required minimum distribution age

Under the House-passed bill, required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from retirement accounts would start at age 75 by 2033, up from the current age 72 (which was increased in the original Secure Act from age 70½).

The Senate proposal would raise the RMD age to 75 by 2032.

Both would reduce the penalty for failing to take RMDs to 25% (and in some cases, 10%) from the current 50%.

Improving ease of access to annuities

One option to provide an income stream later in life is a qualified longevity annuity contract, or QLAC. Once you purchase the annuity, you specify when you want the income to start, which cannot be past age 85.

However, the maximum that can go into a QLAC is either $135,000 or 25% of the value of your retirement accounts, whichever is less.

Both bills would remove the 25% cap. The Senate measure would also increase the maximum amount allowed in a QLAC to $200,000.

Eliminating Roth 401(k) RMDs, allowing matches

Under current law, Roth IRAs — whose contributions are made on an after-tax basis — come with no mandatory withdrawals during the owner's lifetime — but Roth 401(k) accounts do. A Senate proposal would eliminate those pre-death RMDs.

Separately, provisions in both chambers would allow workers to get their company's 401(k) matching contributions on a Roth basis. Under current law, all matching contributions are made to a pre-tax account.

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