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One of the earliest fears about tax-favored savings accounts like IRAs and 401(k) plans was that when this pool of savings grew large enough Congress would not be able to resist tapping it to help solve the nation’s debt problems.
At stake is any savings that has accrued tax-free in a Roth IRA. Tax-deferred growth could be a target too if you find yourself in a lower tax bracket in retirement. There is no discernible momentum behind such measures. But a retroactive tax on this sheltered income has been a worry from the start. And now these accounts have a meaningful total—and everything is on the table.
Every year, the government spends more than $100 billion on tax breaks to encourage Americans to save more for retirement. But a new study suggests such provisions may have little effect on the amount Americans save. The finding has particular relevance as Congress looks for ways to raise revenue by reducing tax breaks as part of the year-end budget negotiations.
A system of forced, or nudged, saving wouldn't replace this social insurance, but rather the wasteful dinosaur that is the 401(k). It's mostly the well-off, who have retirement savings to move around, who move their savings to where the subsidies are. The 401(k) doesn't do much if your goal is to get people who don't save much to save more, and it doesn't do this at quite the cost.