According to U.S. News and World Report, 35 percent of Americans do not contribute to retirement accounts such as a 401 (k) or an IRA, which means they are relying on Social Security benefits and possibly a pension plan to meet their financial needs when they retire.
The Social Security Administration reports the average monthly benefit for a retired worker at the beginning of 2012 was about $1,230. Pension plans are determined by an individual’s salary, age and the number of years of service.
Jesse Gum, an Edward Jones Investments financial advisor in Sylacauga, said Social Security and a pension may or may not be enough. He said “enough” is determined by the individual’s goals.
Gum said when clients approach him for financial planning assistance, he asks them, “Where do you want to be when you retire?” By plugging the client’s financial data into a calculator to assess their resources, “We look at what makes the most sense to reach their goals.”
“A plan for someone at age 32 or 42 is different than someone age 52,” Gum said.
Pensions are a form of a “defined benefit plan.” A chief advantage of the defined plan is the participant is assured of a set monthly amount.
“There is no worry about the benefit fluctuating up and down,” Gum said. “Risks are minimized.”
The disadvantage of the defined plan is participants turn over their assets to an insurance company and do not have access to their funds. Should an emergency, such as a medical need or home repair, arise the funds are not available.
Another disadvantage is the set amount cannot be adjusted for the effects of inflation. If the rate of increase on their pension doesn’t correspond to the rate of rising prices, participants will find their resources insufficient.
Other plans are available to supplement Social Security and pensions. The “defined contribution plan” doesn’t promise a specific amount, but is based on an employee’s investment options and how much they choose to deduct. The individual contributes through a deduction plan and employers may match a percentage of the individual’s contributions.
The employee makes pre-tax contributions to investments in plan options offered by employers. Plans may vary from employer to employer and may include 401 (k), employee stock ownership plans, profit sharing, IRAs or other plans. Some employers may contribute a percentage to the plan.
Gum said the chief advantage of the defined contribution plan is flexibility. Funds are accessible to the investor.
The amount the individual receives is determined by the amount of contributions made to the plan, the adding and subtracting of gains and losses, less any fees incurred by the agency handling the investments.
One disadvantage is investments may be subject to the volatility of the stock market and possible effects on the economy.
Citing the Employee Benefit Research Institute, U.S. News and World Report states, “Due to the recent economic downturn, baby boomers between 1948 and 1954 will need to save an additional 4.3 percent of their annual pay to counteract the impact of the financial and housing crisis in 2008 and 2009.”
“For many people this will require working beyond traditional retirement age in a job market already tight and challenging for older workers,” the article reports.
Gum said some clients are fearful of a 2008-2009 relapse. Some individuals depending on CDs realized a significant decrease in their interest rates, he said.
Gum said planning early offers a great advantage. As people grow older and their needs change, there are options available to adjust their plan, he said.
Financial planning, however, is just one concern facing anyone considering retiring.
Counselor Elizabeth Holtzman, writing for the University of Massachusetts Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, said that “work refers to the idea of being paid and engaged in activities that are productive for yourself and society. Ending your work life, consequently, may not be an easy task.”
In an article for Wisconsin Medical Journal, Maureen Hansen, financial consultant for SVA Planners, writes, “The transition from a structured to an unstructured lifestyle can be unnerving if you are not prepared. When our clients retire, they often feel as if they are on vacation for the first month or so. After that the realization that they are not returning to work starts to sink in.
“This is when anxiety can creep in. However, the process of adjusting can be far less stressful if you establish a plan well in advance.”
Four women at the Maxye Veazey Senior Center in Sylacauga could not agree more.
“All articles (regarding retirement) are financial,” retired county extension agent Teresa Williams said. “Plans should include personal time, personal enrichment.
“You can’t say you’re going to retire and just go home. You have to plan out where you’re going and what you are going to do with your time.”
Rebecca Phillips, a retired teacher, said, “You must be willing to explore alternatives, things to do. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Some won’t get out.”
Phillips said she fills some of her time with quilting, water aerobics, exercise and socializing.
Retired teacher Betty Aarhus said she knew of a college for living designed for senior adults.
“There is a need for extension classes in various fields other than fields where they worked,” Aarhus said. “You can’t sit at home.”
“Just as parks and recreation have programs for youth, they need to provide similar programs for senior citizens,” Williams said.
Harriette Sawyer, also a retired teacher, said she and her husband traveled at first, but the “cost of trips skyrocketed.”
“I would hate to know that Social Security is all I had,” she said. “I don’t see how people solely on Social Security do it.”
All of the women agreed that they are especially glad to be free to spend time with their grandchildren.
Phillips said now she has time to babysit and attend recitals.
Retirement is more than making the right financial investments. Planning also requires making investments in healthy lifestyles and social activities. Proper planning can truly make retirement the Golden Years.
For information or assistance with retirement planning, visit the Social Security Administration’s website, consult with your employer about the company’s retirement package or consult a private financial advisor.
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org.