The 401(k) Debate

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In his recent Time Magazine article, Stephen Gandel makes the case for "Why It's Time to Retire the 401(k)". But Steven Butler, financial columnist and retirement planner, contends that 401(k) plans have been and continue to be successful.


Steven Butler and Stephen Gandel

Comments [24]

hjs from 11211

the question is how long before employers say i'm not paying your healthcare bills any more. that's the day we get single payer (Medicare for all.)

Oct. 29 2009 01:23 PM

I had to laugh when I read the comment from Suki in Williamsburg whose 401K is fine because she bought into chemicals and "medical equipment." Then again, maybe she was kidding.

Per financial journalist Maggie Mahar, med. equip. manufacturers "don't know what regulation is. They've never been regulated." They make the pharmaceutical industry look like a bunch of vestal virgins.

But those med equip manufacturers will have their tuchas handed to them on a platter if some of the legislation regarding their regulation makes it into the final health care bill.

Let's hope it does, because ordinary Americans shouldn't pay through the nose for questionably tested medical equipment and devices to support the retirement of Williamsburg-ers.

Suki, read "Money-Driven Medicine" and ask yourself whether your investments are ethical. Then again, if you were kidding, I salute your dry sense of humor.

Oct. 29 2009 12:33 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

My biggest issue with this segment was that retirement was being called a entitlement and private employer responsibility. For so called pro-capitalist anti-Socialist anti-government America, this is a joke. Until the 1940s, the vast majority of Americans worked until they died or were too crippled to work... FDR changed that way of thinking. Now that former benefits like health insurance and retirement accounts are expected by Americans as entitlements, the entitlement should be funded by taxation to employers and employees through federal government and not be squarely on the backs of private companies to provide. I think retirement plans (social security), health care (Medicare for all), minimum wage/overtime requirements, and the proposed mandatory paid sick days and family leave are all good and necessary things, but I’m also a capitalist who thinks if you can retire and if you have healthcare should not be tied to where you work.

Oct. 29 2009 11:48 AM
hjs from 11211

i partly agree with u. i know an 80 year old guy. he took care of himself, very healthly. he should get a job, at least part time.

Oct. 29 2009 11:16 AM
Antoine Orr from Maryland

I suggest everyone read "Inside The Huddle - Don't Plan Your Future Without It." Visit for more information.

Oct. 29 2009 11:06 AM
Helen Northmore from New York

If our economy is a consumer based economy, the recovery is in question (if people do the right thing and avoid living beyond their means). A family earning 85k a year does not have much left each month in the way of discretionary income. Just saving paying for the necessities of life and health insurance and saving for retirement and children's education will remove almost all discretionary money from the pot.

Oct. 29 2009 11:01 AM
Karen from Manhattan

I'm a TIAA CREF participant. For many years I was a professor at UMass. As soon as MA started offering employees the ability to choose TIAA-CREF instead of the state pension, I took it. I didn't want the state managing my money. I figured at some point they'd use it for their own purposes, like balancing the budget.

Oct. 29 2009 10:52 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

hjs @ #10,
Until the 1930s/1940s most all Americans worked until they died or were too lame to work.
I'm not saying it was a good thing, but retiring somewhere between 55 and 65 and partying until death is a relatively new idea, expecially for anti-government, anti-Socialism America.
I do agree more with you at #14, however... Since, as the host claims, this is some kind of entitlement and not employer provided benifit, then it should come from the federal government and not managed by private industry and Wall Street gamblers.

Oct. 29 2009 10:51 AM
Dale R. from Greenpoint

As a young professional living in New York, I have no other option for retirement than a 401K. I can never hope to buy real estate in this city and the amount of money I could invest on my own would not be enough to retire on. Pension plans just don't exist these days, so what other option do I have?

At least with a 401K matching plan, I am automatically doubling my personal investment with what my company matches, small as the percentage of my yearly salary it may be. Start early and build slowly seems to be the best bet for any chance of retirement.

Oct. 29 2009 10:50 AM
Joanne from New York City

I don't understand why we can't put more money into our IRA/Roth IRAs at least as much as we can as we can in our 401k. If we could put more pretax dollars in our IRA's, regardless of income, we could have more control over our own accounts. With 401Ks we have no real control.

Oct. 29 2009 10:47 AM
Bob from Queens


since you asked, my 401K is 401KRAP!

Oct. 29 2009 10:47 AM
hjs from 11211

here's a crazy idea raise social security benefits?

Oct. 29 2009 10:43 AM

BL Show all good comments above -- pls consider positing some to guests

Oct. 29 2009 10:41 AM

What is this, the Harvard caf?

Under what possible circumstances would Vanguard and the handful of other companies that profit from managing 401Ks POSSIBLY let Congress change the status quo?

Oct. 29 2009 10:40 AM
hjs from 11211

tomorrow's america work until u die

Oct. 29 2009 10:40 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

My 401K looks better than ever. I moved everything into chemicals and medical equipment last October. I also too advantage of bargain prices last March.

Oct. 29 2009 10:38 AM
Rich from Staten Island

These companies have also converted the pension plans to Cash Balance Plans which have basically cost long term employees significant funding. Employees can't make up for the years of service with a devalued pension plan. Mr Butler is too optimistic in is "analysis".

Oct. 29 2009 10:38 AM
Edward from NJ

The retirement insurance plans that Gandel describes in the Time article base your guaranteed benefit on your last year's income prior to retirement. Doesn't that also run the risk of retiring in a "bad year"? For instance, if I earn $100,000 for the next 29 years, and then in the thirtieth year, my pay is cut to $40,000 do I retire with $25,000 a year or $10,000 a year?

Oct. 29 2009 10:34 AM
Franci from NYC

How about waiving the 10% penalty for early withdrawal for folks who've been unemployed for a while and whose jobless benefits are expiring?

Oct. 29 2009 10:34 AM
Bob from Huntington

Yes, 401Ks have been successful---for the people who collect fees managing them, the financial services industry.

These are the same people who've given us all the other opaque, fee-generating financial instruments that have brought the economy to its knees.

Brian, please ask your guest to address the enormous growth in recent decades of the numbers of people who thrive on commissions tied to financial transactions.

Oct. 29 2009 10:21 AM

Had to sourly chuckle when Bush declared he had political capital, following his 2004 victory, and he was going to spend it -- deciding to do so on the issue of "privatization of social security," ie replacing social security with 401ks.

The real question is, how on earth did 401ks get approved in the first place? Seriously. Talk about a federal stimulus package for the US stock exchange and a handful of mutual funds -- at the expense of so many other investment choices.

Oct. 29 2009 10:01 AM
Susan from Kingston

I agreed with Eva...... Another place people used to invest to secure their retirement days was in real estate. That market has been ruined as well. The 401k was sold to workers as a sure bet, but there are no sure bets. It looks like the Obama Administration does not have the spine to stand up to the banking industry and come up with alternatives. Where do we go from here?

Oct. 29 2009 09:16 AM

It's unclear to me how 401K's can be regarded as safe when the "rise" in the market is so strongly linked to the government bailout of the financial sector.

By not only propping up weak financial institutions, but inflating four out of the original 12 megabanks into Brobdinagian giants, we've created an almost absurd level of risk.

The time to cut these monstrosities down to size has long since passed - when they were vulnerable, we simply built them back up, and now we have little to no authority over them. Worse, these banks aren't thriving because they're making loans to small and medium-sized businesses, but because they're trading the same derivatives and "financial instruments" (please!) that got us into this trouble in the first place.

Now, long after the window of opportunity has been shut, congress has come up with some watered down proposals to deal with "too big to fail." Too little, too late.

But when will Glass-Steagall be brought back? When will the administration address the concerns of Paul Volcker, whom they seem to have locked in the attic in favor of Geithner and Summers?

This isn't a market recovery. It's another bubble. The 401K is a joke.

Oct. 29 2009 08:54 AM
Gabrielle from brooklyn

I would like to know what some practical/realistic alternatives are to the 401(k).
I understand that this now gives us the "freedom" to change jobs and not stick around merely for a pension but how can we make sure our savings will be enough to get us through the non-working years without gambling on Wall Street for it.


Oct. 29 2009 06:58 AM

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