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Obama Expands Saving Options for Retirement

The government is trying to make it easier for Americans to save for retirement, President Obama said Saturday, as he noted the toll the recession has taken on extra income and savings accounts.

One initiative will allow people to have their federal tax refunds sent as savings bonds. Others are meant to require workers to take action to stay out of an employer-run savings program rather than having to take action to join it.

"We know that automatic enrollment has made a big difference in participation rates by making it simpler for workers to save," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "That's why we're going to expand it to more people."

The new federal steps, which do not require congressional action, include:

-- Making it easier for small companies to set up 401(k) retirement savings plans in which all workers are automatically enrolled unless they ask to be omitted. Employers can set default amounts of each worker's pay -- perhaps 3 percent -- to automatically be deposited into the accounts without being taxed. Workers can raise or lower the contribution levels, and they choose how to invest the money. They will pay taxes on the money only when they withdraw it as retirees, when their tax rates are likely to be lower than when they are working full-time. A similar process would apply to savings plans called SIMPLE-IRAs.

-- Allowing such plans to automatically increase the amount that workers save over time unless the workers object.

-- Allowing people to check a box on their federal tax returns asking that any refund be sent as a savings bond. More than 100 million U.S. households receive refund checks each year, and many are promptly cashed and spent.

-- Allowing workers, when leaving a job, to direct unused vacation pay to a retirement savings account rather than taking it in cash.

The administration earlier asked Congress to make it easier to set up retirement accounts for people whose workplaces do not offer them. No legislation has moved thus far.

"Tens of millions of families have been, for a variety of reasons, unable to put away enough money for a secure retirement," Obama said. "Half of America's work force doesn't have access to a retirement plan at work. And fewer than 10 percent of those without workplace retirement plans have one of their own."

Nearly half of the U.S. work force has little or nothing beyond Social Security benefits to get by on in old age, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said.

"Just as the administration is dedicated to reviving the economy and getting people back to work, so too it is dedicated to helping put retirement security within the reach of all Americans," Geithner said in a statement.

While saving for retirement is universally seen as a good idea, any increase in savings rates could somewhat slow the nation's rebound from the economic recession.