2008: End of Company Retirement Plans Begins

By Scot Herrick | Personal Finance

Jan 07

While many look forward to the new year, there is at least one item from 2008 that merits attention. It may be the year that the end of company retirement plan support begins.

It all started with companies eliminating pensions, of course. That part is old news. The new news is that more and more companies are foregoing the “company match” portion of the 401(k) retirement plans used now by most companies.

The reason is earnings. Taking away that typical 3% company match to the 401(k) goes straight to the profit line to help support company earnings.

And some big companies are leading the parade.

FedEx is not the only one. Eastman Kodak, Motorola, General Motors and Resorts International are among the companies that have cut matching contributions to their plans since September, when the credit markets froze and companies began looking urgently for cash. More companies are expected to suspend their matching contributions in 2009, according to Watson Wyatt, a benefits consulting firm.

For workers, the loss of a matching contribution heightens the pain of a retirement account balance shriveling away because of the plunging stocks markets.

“We are taking a beating,” said another FedEx mechanic, Rafael Garcia. “In a year, I lost $60,000 of my 401(k). You can’t make that up.”

No you can’t.

The big question is once eliminated — for temporary economic reasons — will the matching funds come back? This happened one other time and most companies restored the employer match — but these are different times. The recession looks like it will last longer and is already more severe than most of the past downturns. That puts significant pressure on companies to preserve cash and reduce losses.

Even if companies restore the employer match, they won’t restore it all the way back to make up for what they missed in your account.

So you are out of that much of your retirement savings. More that you have to make up with your own savings.

Will 2008 be the start of companies eliminating their portion of employee retirement accounts forever?

  • Parth says:

    I think this whole concept of retirement, pensions, and social secuirty is stupid. Why the hell would you work for 40 years in the same company, then retire for 20 years in poor health. Most of your pension is spent paying for your medication. This is the sorry state of America and it begins with lazy people wanting to do the same stupid job every single day. American’s have forgotten how to “live.” I’m trying to delay getting into the work place (it’s becoming quite easy now). I have too many things I want to do in my life to be stuck in one place. I personally thing this is a good thing. It shakes and wakes people up.

  • Scot says:

    Parth, I don’t know where to start.

    First, whether you are working or not, it still costs money to live. Whether you get that money from earnings on a job or savings from a retirement account, it still is money. Utilizing all of the tools you can to effectively save money for a rainy day (or retirement) is smart, not stupid. If you can get a pension, great. If you can use the 401(k) and get a company match, great. To not save is, in fact, dangerous and greatly limits your choices of action in a difficult time.

    Second, the vast majority of working people don’t work at the same place for 40 years. Doesn’t happen any more. Even if you work at a place for twenty years (as I did for one of my companies), I still had a different job within the company every 18 months or so — adding to my job skills and getting promoted.

    To unilaterally say that people are “lazy people wanting to do the same stupid job every single day” is, at best, a gross exaggeration and greatly oversimplifies individual circumstances for working in a particular job.

    There is a lot in America that I consider to be a “sorry state,” but none of them have anything to do with “lazy people.”

    The point of the article is that the usual tools of saving for the future — pensions and company matches to 401(k) plans — are going away and each of us have to factor that into our savings plan. If you don’t want to factor in those tools for your life, it is certainly your choice.

    I hope you enjoy your time off and delay in getting into the workplace. At some point you will have to earn money to live. Whether that is a small amount with a mobile lifestyle or riches and fame beyond belief is up to you.

  • Parth says:

    Scott,

    I understood the purpose of the article, and I was probably just acting on angst. Everyday, I meet people that are unhappy with what they’re doing and are in it for the money. It makes me sick. I really do beleive that the overwhelming majority of people are in work for simple money. Money is important, and I have a way of aquiring it that relies on following my dreams, and doing what makes me happy. I’m delying my entry into the work place because I need time to realize my dreams. I just feel that most people sacrifice there dreams because they run after money. On one hand there is condition, and a need for money. And on the other hand there is just plan greed.

    My opinions.

    • Scot says:

      And good opinions, too, Parth.

      I agree that a lot of people are working just for the money. Many others are working for the money…but also doing what they dream. I have a friend who works at a good paying job and it gives her the ability to do her dream; running a horse rescue operation here in the State of Washington.

      I have another friend who is making good money working in exactly the job she loves to do.

      Both of the situations are extremes; most of us fall in the middle somewhere. I’d just caution that we can only control what we can control and not broad-brush the rest of humanity as not meeting our standards. There are usually some good reasons why people work where they do, even in jobs they don’t like (for example: having health insurance in a job you don’t like because your spouse is laid off…).

      Just remember that if you achieve all your dreams before you start your career, you won’t be very enthused about working. So achieve what you want to do now and then figure out the next big thing to do and find work that will help you accomplish it. We all need the enthusiasm.

      Thanks for the comments; they are appreciated.

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