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Proposed California Retirement Plan To Aid Those Without 401k Plans

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A lot of Californians aren't saving nearly what they'll need for retirement.

But, the state could soon make it easier for employees who don't have 401k plans at work to sock away money.

Nearly half of workers 50 and older have less than $25,000 in savings and more than 40 percent of those within 10 years of retirement age have no retirement savings at all.

Now state law makers are hoping to change that.

San Francisco book store owner Christin Evans, would love to offer a retirement plan to her staff and she's not alone.

Evans, who owns the Booksmith, said, "Most small business owners do not offer a retirement option. It's cost prohibitive for small businesses like mine."

So when the heard about California's proposed Secure Choice retirement plan, she was thrilled.

It's essentially a 401k operated by the state for employees of small business like hers.

Evans said, "There's a little bit of time spent in administering the plan, but not any actual cost to my business."

The plan will automatically opt-in about a third of California's workforce, those at companies with more than five workers without employer-sponsored 401ks.

But critics cite concerns that too many people will chose to opt-out, risking everyone's investment potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook.

Critics say Secure Choice participants will include younger and part time workers, many making less than 25,000 a year, who are more likely to opt out when every penny counts.

A problem since, critics say, the program needs significant participation to cover costs.

Certified financial planner Stephanie Lee said the program calls for opting out instead of opting in.

"I would expect to see very a high participation rate," Lee said.

Lee says opt-out programs traditionally have high enrollment, and says that what's good for enrollees is good for the state.

"We want our seniors to not be in poverty because that effects all of us," Lee said.

But Evans says, what's most important is that her employees have options, including the choice to opt-out. But even though many are living pay check to pay check and paying off student loans, Evans said, "I expect that at least a third of our staff will participate."

Proponents of the program, like the AARP, say 7.5 million people currently have no 401k option.

They say, even if 2 million participated, it would keep fees low and cover costs.

The legislation goes up for a vote in the assembly next week. It's already passed in the state senate.

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