Funding Your Retirement Is No Joke

By Stephanie Powers | July 10, 2009 AAA
Funding Your Retirement Is No Joke

All this complaining and joking about how terrible retirement plans are doesn't address the real retirement savings issue. Americans are responsible for funding their retirement and it is difficult. The economic downturn of the last two years caused investment losses both inside and outside of 401(k) plans. The long-term impact on retirement plan losses compounds multiple other retirement savings problems.

Missing Out On Savings
Working people with the opportunity to save in retirement accounts, don't. The average participation rate for voluntary employee salary deferral plans is about 50%. Remember, saving something is better than nothing. (Your contributions could soon become automatic and mandatory. To find out more, read Voluntary 401(k) Contributions: A Thing Of The Past?)

Employer sponsored 401(k) plans are still viable methods of accumulating a retirement nest egg. Take advantage of the tax-deferred savings and contribute to your plan. If your company doesn't have a plan, open an IRA.

No Goal, No Good
Investors have no idea how much they need to save for retirement. The annual Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found 44% of respondents have attempted to calculate how much they will need to save for retirement. Another 44% say they just guess. If you don't have a goal you have no idea whether or not your plan is succeeding.

Online retirement calculators estimate the amount needed for retirement based on individual circumstances. Use these tools to create a realistic view of the amount you need to save.

Plan And Be Proactive
Retirement planning is complicated. Considerations include inflation, taxes and compounding, along with alternative sources of retirement income. Economic abnormalities like a recession make it more difficult for investors to make decisions. (If a dip in the economy has you worried about retirement, you still have options. Read Net Worth Nosedive: Can You Still Retire?)

The good news is that information is available to help you recover. Retirement savers must stay informed about the economy and the investments they own. Don't ignore your account statement. Proactively manage your investments.

Be Reasonable
Contrary to popular belief, investments earmarked for "retirement" are not immune to downward movement of the stock market. People who need more assurance about their retirement income may consider annuities. Government and non-profit organizations have offered workers annuity-based retirement plans for years.

An annuity is an insurance policy that behaves like an old-fashioned pension plan. It accumulates over time and produces retirement income until death. Annuities are more expensive but the trade-off is guaranteed income vs. running out of money. Individuals can contribute to annuities in addition to other retirement plans.

Consolidate Old Retirement Plans
People change jobs often. Some former employees forget about their 401(k) or they cash it out, causing a tax bill. Consolidate all those old retirement plans either to your current employer's plan (if allowed), or to an IRA. This gives you control over all of your retirement resources and you can continue to contribute to them.

Risky Business
The single most important retirement planning consideration is the least understood - risk. Investors have learned the hard way that if returns sound too good to be true, they are. But, if you invest too conservatively, you'll never reach your goal.

The optimum mix of risk vs. reward is unique to each person. You and your co-worker may be the same age with the same salary and still have different risk tolerance levels. Use risk tolerance evaluation tools to determine your own risk level and construct your retirement portfolio accordingly.

You can retire comfortably as long as you invest, stay informed, proactive and vigilant with your retirement savings. (Defend your retirement savings from the ravages of a bear market Bear Spray For Your 401(k).)

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