In the United States pensions in various forms have been given to veterans of all wars since the Revolution; military pensions are now covered by the Servicemen's and Veterans' Survivor Benefits Act (1957). Retired servicemen and servicewomen receive, after 20 years of service, 50% of their base pay at time of retirement, with automatic increases as indicated by the Consumer Price Index. Civil-service pensions were developed later in the United States than in W Europe. Old-age pension plans were drawn up by cities for certain groups of public employees—firefighters, police officers, and teachers—which provided for compulsory contributions from the employee. Pensions for federal employees were authorized in 1920.
The idea of extending such protection to all citizens also appeared earlier in Europe (notably in Germany) than in the United States, where it was a 20th-century development (see social security). Many corporations and groups (such as labor unions, professional associations, and colleges) had made provision for pensions before the social security legislation was passed in 1935, and many groups now have pension plans that supplement social security.
Until the 1940s, pension plans in private industry were set up primarily on the initiative of the employer. As workers gained the right to submit pension plans to collective bargaining, the number of people covered in the United States by pensions grew from 4.1 million in 1940 to 65.6 million in 1999, about 44% of all workers. With more than $6.9 trillion in assets in 1997 (up from only $2.4 billion in 1940), these plans exert a major impact on the economy because the money is invested in stocks, bonds, and real estate. At the same time, the financial health of pension plans can be adversely affected by drops in the value of their investments, as happened after the late 1990s stock market bubble burst, or the bankruptcy of the employer. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (1974) established regulations to protect pensions from mismanagement and created a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, to insure them. The Pension Protection Act (2006) was intended to strengthen pension plans.
During the 1990s there was a shift in the type of pension plan that employees were covered by. The number of people covered by defined benefit pension plans leveled off as companies attempted to reduce costs by forcing employees to contribute to their own plans, such as 401(k) plans (defined contribution plans), or by terminating the plans. Under a defined-contribution plan, contributions are made to an account for an individual employee, but no specific income is guaranteed at retirement. In a 401(k) plan, the most common type of defined contribution plan, income that would have been paid to the employee is deposited pretax in an account and invested; it may be matched to some degree by a contribution from the employer. Such plans also differ from traditional defined benefit plans in that the contributions are voluntary, and as a result employees are only covered if they choose to contribute to an account. Under such plans employees also may be allowed some degree of control over how the contributions are invested.
See R. Lynn, The Pension Crisis (1983); J. Matthews, Social Security, Medicare and Pensions (1988); R. L. Deaton, The Political Economy of Pensions (1989).
Occupational pensions are a form of deferred compensation, usually advantageous to employee and employer for tax reasons. Many pensions also contain an insurance aspect, since they often will pay benefits to survivors or disabled beneficiaries, while annuity income insures against the risk of longevity.
While other vehicles (certain lottery payouts, for example, or an annuity) may provide a similar stream of payments, the common use of the term pension is to describe the payments a person receives upon retirement, usually under pre-determined legal and/or contractual terms.
Pension plans can be divided into two broad types: Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution plans. The defined benefit plan had been the most popular and common type of pension plan in the United States through the 1980s; since that time, defined contribution plans have become the more common type of retirement plan in the United States and many other western countries.
Some plan designs combine characteristics of defined benefit and defined contribution types, and are often known as "hybrid" plans. Such plan designs have become increasingly popular in the US since the 1990s. Examples include Cash Balance and Pension Equity plans.
The benefit in a defined benefit pension plan is determined by a formula that can incorporate the employee's pay, years of employment, age at retirement, and other factors. A simple example is a Dollars Times Service plan design that provides a certain amount per month based on the time an employee works for a company. For example, a plan offering $100 a month per year of service would provide $3,000 per month to a retiree with 30 years of service. While this type of plan is popular among unionized workers, Final Average Pay (FAP) remains the most common type of defined benefit plan offered in the United States. In FAP plans, the average salary over the final years of an employee's career determines the benefit amount.
In the United Kingdom, benefits are often indexed for inflation. Inflation during the salary averaging years affects the cost and purchasing power of the pension; the higher the inflation rate, the lower the cost and purchasing power. This effect of inflation can be eliminated by basing the pension on purchasing power of salary during the salary averaging years, rather than on salary. Purchasing power in any year being salary in that year times the CPI in the first year of retirement, divided by the CPI in the year of the salary. This method is advantageous for both employer and employee since it stablizes the cost and purchasing power of pensions.
Formulas can also integrate with public plan provisions and provide incentives for early retirement (or continued work).
Traditional defined benefit plan designs (because of their typically flat accrual rate and the decreasing time for interest discounting as people get closer to retirement age) tend to exhibit a J-shaped accrual pattern of benefits, where the present value of benefits grows quite slowly early in an employees' career and accelerates significantly in mid-career. Defined benefit pensions tend to be less portable than defined contribution plans even if the plan allows a lump sum cash benefit at termination due to the difficulty of valuing the transfer value. On the other hand, defined benefit plans typically pay their benefits as an annuity, so retirees do not bear the investment risk of low returns on contributions or of outliving their retirement income. The open-ended nature of this risk to the employer is the reason given by many employers for switching from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.
Because of the J-shaped accrual rate, the cost of a defined benefit plan is very low for a young workforce, but extremely high for an older workforce. This age bias, the difficulty of portability and open ended risk, makes defined benefit plans better suited to large employers with less mobile workforces, such as the public sector.
Defined benefit plans are also criticized as being paternalistic as they require employers or plan trustees to make decisions about the type of benefits and family structures and lifestyles of their employees.
The United States Social Security system is similar to a defined benefit pension arrangement, albeit one that is constructed differently than a pension offered by a private employer.
The "cost" of a defined benefit plan is not easily calculated, and requires an actuary or actuarial software. However, even with the best of tools, the cost of a defined benefit plan will always be an estimate based on economic and financial assumptions. These assumptions include the average retirement age and life span of the employees, the returns earned by the pension plan's investments and any additional taxes or levies, such as those required by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation in the U.S. So, for this arrangement, the benefit is known but the contribution is unknown even when calculated by a professional.
Examples of defined contribution plans in the United States include Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) plans. In such plans, the employee is responsible, to one degree or another, for selecting the types of investments toward which the funds in the retirement plan are allocated. This may range from choosing one of a small number of pre-determined mutual funds to selecting individual stocks or other securities. Most self-directed retirement plans are characterized by certain tax advantages, and some provide for a portion of the employee's contributions to be matched by the employer. In exchange, the funds in such plans may not be withdrawn by the investor prior to reaching a certain age--typically the year the employee reaches 59.5 years old-- (with a small number of exceptions) without incurring a substantial penalty.
Money contributed can either be from employee salary deferral or from employer contributions or matching. Defined contribution plans are subject to IRS limits on how much can be contributed, known as the section 415 limit. In 2006, the total deferral amount, including employee contribution plus employer contribution, was limited to $44,000 ($46,000 in 2008) or 100% of compensation, whichever is less. The employee-only limit in 2008 is $15,500 with a $5,000 catch-up. These numbers continue to be increased each year and are indexed to compensate for the effects of inflation. The portability of defined contribution pensions is legally no different from the portability of defined benefit plans. However, because of the cost of administration and ease of determining the plan sponsor's liability for defined contribution plans (you don't need to pay an actuary to calculate the lump sum equivalent under Section 417(e) that you do for defined benefit plans) in practice, defined contribution plans have become generally portable.
In a defined contribution plan, investment risk and investment rewards are assumed by each individual/employee/retiree and not by the sponsor/employer. In addition, participants do not typically purchase annuities with their savings upon retirement, and bear the risk of outliving their assets.
The "cost" of a defined contribution plan is readily calculated, but the benefit from a defined contribution plan depends upon the account balance at the time an employee is looking to use the assets. So, for this arrangement, the contribution is known but the benefit is unknown (until calculated).
Despite the fact that the participant in a defined contribution plan typically has control over investment decisions, the plan sponsor retains a significant degree of fiduciary responsibility over investment of plan assets, including the selection of investment options and administrative providers.
There are various ways in which a pension may be financed.
In a funded defined benefit arrangement, an actuary calculates the contributions that the plan sponsor must make to ensure that the pension fund will meet future payment obligations. This means that in a defined benefit pension, investment risk and investment rewards are typically assumed by the sponsor/employer and not by the individual. If a plan is not well-funded, the plan sponsor may not have the financial resources to continue funding the plan. In the United States, private employers must pay an insurance-type premium to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a government agency whose role is to encourage the continuation and maintenance of voluntary private pension plans and provide timely and uninterrupted payment of pension benefits.
Defined contribution pensions, by definition, are funded, as the "guarantee" made to employees is that specified (defined) contributions will be made during an individual's working life.
Also the condition of the historical data and its development into a secure database can be an expensive and labour intensive endeavor. Currently, the trend to develop on line electronic calculators that replace traditionally complex spreadsheet calculations performed by Actuaries and Analysts is the industry norm in records management.
Another growing challenge is the recent trend of businesses in the United States purposely under-funding their pension schemes in order to push the costs onto the federal government. Bradley Belt, former executive director of the PBGC (the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures private-sector defined-benefit pension plans in the event of bankruptcy), testified before a congressional hearing in October 2004, “I am particularly concerned with the temptation, and indeed, growing tendency, to use the pension insurance fund as a means to obtain an interest-free and risk-free loan to enable companies to restructure. Unfortunately, the current calculation appears to be that shifting pension liabilities onto other premium payers or potentially taxpayers is the path of least resistance rather than a last resort.”
In 1887 Charles Bradlaugh, M.P., protested strongly against the payment of perpetual pensions, and as a result a Committee of the House of Commons inquired into the subject (Report of Select Committee on Perpetual Pensions, 248, 1887). An appendix to the Report contains a detailed list of all hereditary pensions, payments and allowances in existence in 1881, with an explanation of the origin in each case and the ground of the original grant; there are also shown the pensions, etc., redeemed from time to time, and the terms upon which the redemption took place. The nature of some of these pensions may be gathered from the following examples: To the duke of Marlborough and his heirs in perpetuity, £4000 per annum; this annuity was redeemed in August 1884 for a sum of £107,780, by the creation of a ten years annuity of £12,796, 17s. per annum. By an act of 1806 an annuity of £5000 per annum was conferred on Lord Nelson and his heirs in perpetuity. In 1793 an annuity of £2000 was conferred on Lord Rodney and his heirs. All these pensions were for Services rendered, and although justifiable from that point of view, a preferable policy is pursued in the 20th century, by parliament voting a lump sum, as in the cases of Lord Kitchener in 1902 (£50,000) and Lord Cromer in 1907 (£50,000). Charles II granted the office of receiver-general and controller of the seals of the court of kings bench and common pleas to the duke of Grafton. This was purchased in 1825 from the duke for an annuity of £843, which in turn was commuted in 1883 for a sum of £22,714, 12s. 8d. To the same duke was given the office of the pipe or remembrancer of first-fruits and tenths of the clergy. This office was sold by the duke in 1765] and, after passing through various hands, was purchased by one R. Harrisor in 1798. In 1835 on the loss of certain fees the holder was compensated by a perpetual pension of £62, 9s. 8d. The duke of Graftol also possessed an annuity of £6870 in respect of the commutatior of the dues of butlerage and prisage. To the duke of St Alban was granted in 1684 the office of master of the hawks. The sum granted by the original patent were: master of hawks, salary £391. 1s. 5d.; four falconers at £50 per annum each, £200; provision of hawks, £600; provision of pigeons, hens and other meats £182, 10s.; total, £1373. 11s. 5d. This amount was reduced by office fees and other deductions to £965, at which amount it stood until commuted in 1891 for £18,335. To the duke of Richmond and his heirs was granted in 1676 a duty of one shilling per ton of all coals exported from the Tyne for consumption in England. This was redeemed in 1799 for an annuity of £19,000 (chargeable on the consolidated fund), which was afterwards redeemed for £633,333. The Duke of Hamilton, as hereditary keeper of the palace of Holyrood House, received a perpetual pension of £45,105. and the descendants of the heritable usher of Scotland drew a salary of £242, 10s. The conclusions of the committee were that pensions allowances and payments should not in future be granted in per pertuity, on the ground that such grants should be limited to the persons actually rendering the service, and that such reward should be defrayed by the generation benefited; that offices with salaries and without duties, or with merely nominal duties, ought to be abolished; that all existing perpetual pensions and payments and all hereditary offices should be abolished: that where no service or merely nominal service is rendered by the holder of an hereditary office or the original grantee of a pension, the pension or payment should in no case continue beyond the life of the present holder and that in all cases the method of commutation ought to ensure a real and substantial saving to the nation (the existing rate, about 27 years purchase, being considered by the committee to be too high). These recommendations of the committee were adopted by the government and outstanding hereditary pensions were gradually commuted, the only ones left outstanding being those to Lord Rodney (£2000) and to Earl Nelson (£5000), both chargeable on the consolidated fund.
Pension reforms have gained pace worldwide in recent years and funded arrangements are likely to play an increasingly important role in delivering retirement income security and also affect securities markets in future years.