General Electric’s announcement of plans to freeze pension plans Monday is sure to put a damper on many retirement plans, which levies a question for employees faced with a similar situation: Should you take a chance on your pension paying out later, or go ahead and take the early lump sum if offered?
GE is freezing the pensions of 20,000 U.S. employees starting Jan. 1, 2021, while also offering around 100,000 former employees who have not started receiving monthly pension benefits the chance to opt out of their pension with a lump sum payment now, which can be a direct payout or be rolled into an IRA or existing 401(k) plan.
While a frozen pension is still federally insured to protect what has already been accrued, it won’t earn any more, which could mean a big blow for someone’s retirement plans if they were relying on that pension — or defined-benefit plan — to be a main source of income when they exit the workforce.
“Every time we see someone lose a defined-benefit plan, we see that they’ve lost all of the sacrifices they’ve made,” labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci said in an interview with MarketWatch. “Almost all workers in defined-benefit plans have given up a lot of raises in the past so not only do they lose a secure income for the rest of their lives, they also lost all of those past wages they’ll never get back.”
When it comes to deciding what to do with a pension that is facing a freeze like the employees at GE, or if you work for a company that might not even be around when you retire, MarketWatch suggests looking at how much is in the pension plan while also analyzing other forms of retirement income like a 401(k), IRA or Social Security.
A financial professional can help analyze whether it’s better to take a lump sum or stick with monthly pension payments depending on the individual’s financial situation when considering all factors.
“If the company’s financial situation is somewhat in question, it may make sense to take the money and run,” Wipfli Financial Senior Adviser Nate Wenner said. He also added that anyone taking the lump sum should consider placing the money in an individual retirement account to keep the money tax-deferred until retirement, so you can avoid a big tax bill the following April.
For example, say you are 40 years old and previously worked for a company that very well might not be in business by the time you turn 65. Say that company offers you a $20,000 pension lump sum payment now and you roll it over into your existing 401(k). Assuming a modest 5% return over the next 25 years, and that $20,000 turns into $45,000.
That could be well worth your time and piece of mind to just take the lump sum and not have to worry about whether or not that company will still be in business in 25 years — and then you get nothing.
Of course, your best bet is taking your future into your own hands and saving everything you can by boosting or maxing out your 401(k) contributions, or by stashing money in a health savings account.
“I always advise clients to try to plan with what you can definitely control,”American Private Wealth President Kashif Ahmed said. “Sadly, most of those workers probably were only counting on this pension to survive retirement. They are now in a precarious, if not death sentence position.”