Life After Defined Benefit Plans

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Martin A. Goldberg
Robert E. Wnek
Michael J. Rolleri

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Abstract

Employers have moved from traditional pension plans to cash balance and other alternative defined benefit plans. However, it may be that the best approach lies beyond defined benefit plans completely. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was enacted to protect workers. Its focus was on the defined benefit plan, which at that time meant a traditional pension plan that provided lifetime income to retired workers. Over the years traditional pension plans have declined in number, often due to their increasing costs. Many of these plans have been replaced by the 401(k) plan, a profit-sharing plan partly or wholly funded by employee contributions. There has also been a rise in hybrid plans, plans that have features of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Recent developments highlight the weaknesses in traditional pension plans. Replacing a traditional pension plan with a cash balance plan, a hybrid plan that qualifies as a defined benefit plan, does not fully address all the problems. It may be that there is limited advantage to the continued emphasis on defined benefit plans. Instead, defined contribution plans that contain some features of defined benefit plans may better address the current retirement-plan issues.

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