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Snail mail or e-mail? The Labor Department wants to know.

Snail mail or e-mail? The Labor Department wants to know.

How would you prefer to receive information about your retirement plan: delivered by regular mail on paper or electronically by e-mail? 

What if you don’t use a computer at work and only have access to a computer at home?

What if your home computer is old and doesn’t work very well, or if you don’t have a printer?   

Would your answer be different for different kinds of plan documents? Would you rather receive a summary of your retirement plan’s rules in booklet form or online? What about a pension benefit statement or a quarterly 401(k) statement?

These are some of the questions the Department of Labor is asking as it reviews its rules for delivery of retirement plan information by electronic means. Current Labor Department rules say that, unless you work with computers daily and have access to your employer’s computer network, you must receive paper copies of plan information unless you give permission for the plan to send you the documents by e-mail.

We at the Pension Rights Center think that this is a good rule. It strikes the right balance between keeping plan costs low and making sure that all plan participants and beneficiaries actually receive plan information in a form that they are likely to read and understand. While many people have state-of-the-art computers and printers and have the skills needed to negotiate e-mail attachments and links, many others do not. (See our comments to the Labor Department here.)

The push to change the rules comes from employers and financial institutions who want the Department to permit e-mail delivery of retirement plan information to anyone who has access to a computer or has an e-mail address. These groups contend that electronic delivery is not only much cheaper but that it is also more efficient. 

Some of these groups say that it should be up to the administrator of the retirement plan to determine who will receive information electronically. Others propose that everyone automatically get their information by e-mail unless they that say they want paper copies mailed to them. (See the 70+ comments that have already been submitted to the Labor Department.)

We are concerned that a system that delivers information electronically to anyone with a computer or e-mail address would jeopardize the retirement security of too many people by causing them to miss out on critically important information about their benefits.    

What are your thoughts about this? For yourself? For family members and friends? Please share them with us by leaving a comment below and/or writing to the Labor Department at e-ORI@dol.gov. If you write to the Department of Labor, include RIN 1210-AB50 in the subject line.

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