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Fees Rise for Underfunded Pensions

Shortfalls mean more risk for a company’s retirees and shareholders.
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The largest pension plans held by S&P 500 companies face a $348 billion funding gap. As a result, they’re paying higher annual fees to the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government agency that backstops plans. “There’s increased awareness that an underfunded plan imposes risk on employees, it imposes risk on shareholders, and it’s getting more expensive,” says Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and executive director of the Pension Research Council.

The fees, called variable-rate premiums, are set by Congress and meant to encourage companies to set aside more money in their pension funds. They’ve more than tripled in four years for companies including General Electric Co. and Boeing Co., according to data obtained by Bloomberg News through a Freedom of Information Act request.