Social Security:

Individual Accounts as an Element of Long-Term Financing Reform

T-HEHS-99-86: Published: Mar 16, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed how best to ensure the long-term viability of the nation's social security program.

GAO noted that: (1) social security forms the foundation of the nation's retirement income structure, and in so doing, provides critical benefits to millions of Americans; (2) yet, problems facing this program pose significant policy challenges that need to be addressed soon in order to lessen the need for more dramatic reforms in the future and to demonstrate the federal government's ability to deal with a known major problem before it reaches crisis proportions; (3) some social security proposals include adding individual accounts similar to defined contribution plans, to the current defined benefit program; (4) these individual accounts offer the potential for increased investment returns but they cannot by themselves restore social security's solvency without additional changes to the current system; (5) in assessing the proposals, policymakers must consider the extent to which the proposals offer sustainable financing for the system; (6) also, they must consider how to balance improvements in individual equity while maintaining adequacy of retirement income for those individuals who rely on social security as their primary or sole source of income; and (7) choosing whether to incorporate individual accounts into the social security system will require careful consideration of a number of design and implementation issues if such a system is to function effectively at a reasonable cost.

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