Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
October 30, 2009
My husband and I just had our 28 year anniversary; you can calculate that we're getting older! But do I feel like retirement is around the corner? No, it still seems like an abstract thought that is likely to happen someday but I can't really imagine it happening to me. So when will it feel like the right time to save for retirement?
Today we spent time planning some new landscaping for our backyard. It made me think about another time we did a major landscaping project. As graduate students we decided to cover our backyard with rock -- this is something people do in the Arizona desert. We invited several friends to help move many cubic yards of rock and paid them with a dinner. That was cheap labor! Did we feel like it was the right time to save for retirement when we were in college? No.
The next few years included the birth of our three sons. Time flew by with little sleep but many happy moments. As young parents, did that feel like the right time to save for retirement? No.
When you're in your twenty and thirties it seems like you have forever until you'll be old enough to think about retirement. It's easy to think that someday it'll feel like the right time to save for retirement. Now as I get older with two kids in college and one more to start soon, does it feel like the right time to save for retirement? Do you need to ask with three kids soon to be in college at the same time? No.
Clearly I'm not the only one who hasn't felt like it was the right time to save for retirement. According to the latest EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey 54% of workers report less than $25,000 in total savings and investments (excluding their home and defined benefit plans). Many people will live 20 to 30 years, or more, after retirement. Twenty-five thousand dollars will not provide a financially secure retirement.
The moral of this story is that you can't wait until the time feels right to save for retirement. You need to save for retirement all of your life. By the time I feel like it's the "right time," I'll be out of time to save.
The only way I know to be successful at saving for retirement is to start doing it when you're young -- too young to even be able to imagine what you will be like when you retire. Start small but save every month. If you have the option through your employer, put your savings on automatic through payroll deductions. Otherwise, choose a retirement savings option and fund it regularly. I have used these saving tips myself, and they have worked for me.
A little bit saved each week will add up significantly. Can you save $20 a week? In a year, you'd have over $1,000. Would you like a million dollars when you retire? Visit the Plan Well, Retire Well website to calculate how much you need to save monthly to be a millionaire. Once you've logged into the website, click on Save for Retirement to go to the calculator. The Plan Well, Retire Well website also has information about retirement saving plan options for you.
Saving money regularly, before you feel like it's the right time to save, will lead you towards a financially secure retirement. Now is the time to start saving.
October 26, 2009
Who couldn't use a little more cash each month! Refinancing your home mortgage might be the solution.
Given today's economy, interest rates on home loans are relatively low. It may make sense for you to refinance your existing home loan. Or, it might not! Like most financial decisions, you need to think about the costs and benefits.
Why do people take the time to refinance home loans? You might be asking yourself, "The loan I have now is working fine ... why should I change it?"
Refinancing a home loan can help people who have different goals. Refinancing can allow people to:
To decide if refinancing a loan makes financial sense for you, you need to start by asking yourself these questions:
For example, let's assume refinancing a home loan costs $3,000. In this example, the homeowner will have a mortgage payment of $50 less per month after refinancing. Then we know ($3,000 divided by $50) that it will take 60 months (or 5 years) for the savings to pay for the refinancing costs.
You can use a mortgage calculator, like the one at Bankrate.com, to help you calculate whether or not refinancing your home makes sense to you.
For more information about refinancing a home loan, visit the U of I Extension website, Opening Doors to Housing Success.
And, if you do decide that it makes sense to refinance your home mortgage loan, what should you do with that extra cash? Why, invest it for your retirement! What else would I recommend?! For ideas about how to effectively save for retirement, visit the Plan Well, Retire Well website.
Comments? Click on my name below and send me your thoughts!
October 16, 2009
This week I attended the Smart Women Smart Money Conference hosted by the Illinois State Treasurer's Office. There were numerous workshops going on including one by our own Karen Chan. To my surprise, my next door neighbor, Shundrawn Thomas, President of Northern Trust Securities, did a presentation on the State of the Economy. I decided to sit in on his session. He provided historical data, information on the current status and future outlook of our economy. I would classify his presentation as a lesson in macroeconomics, the study of the overall economy. Today, I want to speak with you about microeconomics, your personal economy.
By now, you have probably been overwhelmed with quarterly statements from your retirement and investment plans, your Social Security statement, your annual employee benefits enrollment booklet, and maybe even your Notice of Proposed Assessed Valuation from your county assessor's office. This is a great time to re-evaluate your personal economy. Are you financials in order? Is your economy in a recession? Let's look at your mail one piece at a time to see how things are going.
First of all, if you don't have any, that might be a problem. See Social Security section below. Otherwise, look at your statements. Generally, you will have performance data for the current quarter and year to date information. If you are not happy with your investment performance, consider rebalancing your portfolio. For more information on rebalancing, check out our website at Plan Well Retire Well. Are you saving enough? Do you have more month than money? Explore the Extension website to find out ways to get more for your money.
Social Security statements
Your Social Security statement was sent out recently. The two components that your need to review for accuracy are the estimated benefits and earnings record sections of the statement. The estimated benefits section provides vital information on your estimated benefits at retirement, disability, and death. You should verify your birthdate on file, estimated taxable earnings for 2008, and the last four digits of your social security. The earnings record is a running record of your earnings each year since you started working. It is important to verify this information for accuracy; benefits are determined based on this information. Note: if you had more than one job or had self-employment income in addition to regular income, your earnings for the year would be the total of both jobs. Will the estimated benefits be enough?
If you are depending on Social Security to get by in your golden years, think again. In case you didn't read ALL of your Social Security statement, one of the women in our workshop reminded us that on the front page of the statement, Social Security states that "in 2016 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted." This statement explicitly says that someone's personal economy will likely turn into a depression if additional retirement resources are unavailable. Therefore, if you are not currently participating in your company's retirement plan, now is the time to join. If you are self-employed establish your own retirement plan, there are several to choose from. If you don't have an IRA, consider opening one. The more income options you have at retirement, the better off you'll be. To view your statement or apply for benefits, visit the Social Security website.
Property Tax Assessments
Your county assessor normally assesses your property every three years. This year, due to massive foreclosures and the plunge in the real estate market, many assessor offices are providing special assessments to adjust property values to reflect our current market. However, once you receive your notice, if you disagree with the assessed valuation proposed on your property, you have a small window of opportunity to appeal. In many cases your appeal can be filed online at the county assessor's website. You will need the property index number (PIN) of your property and likely other similar properties in the area that fall into your same property class. The deadline to appeal normally appears on the statement.
Employee Benefits Package
Sometime this month, you have likely received your open enrollment forms. Besides retirement accounts, this is a great way to reduce taxable income and protect your family against unexpected loss. Usually, you will be asked to choose between an HMO and PPO plan of one or more providers for health insurance. The HMO is normally more economical, while the PPO ordinarily offers more flexibility. Which plan you choose, depends on your family's specific needs.
Basic life, supplemental life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance plans are offered as well. Most companies provide basic life coverage equal to your annual salary for free. However, you can purchase additional (supplemental) life insurance coverage for up to several times your annual pay at relatively low group insurance rates. Check your current insurance needs. If something happened to you, would your family be able to survive on what's left? If not, in addition to private insurance, consider coverage with your employer.
Finally, are you taking advantage of your employer's flexible spending accounts? Many employers offer pre-tax withdrawals from your paycheck to set aside to cover health and child care costs. Some may even offer reimbursement accounts for transportation, which includes parking, tolls, and bus and train fares. Participation in these programs provides a reduction in your taxable income, and thus a tax savings to you throughout the year.
So, before your enrollment period ends, see which benefits will be to YOUR benefit.
Final Thoughts about Your Economy
Like the broader economy, your household economy is made up of more than just a few things. You have budgets consisting of income and expenses, savings, and many other factors to consider. However, I wanted to highlight some of the things that get overlooked or placed on the back burner because you feel that other matters are "more important." In retrospect, had we paid more attention to the "less important" contributing factors, our economy would have likely been a lot better off today. So, open your mail. You'd be surprised at how little things like verifying information or making slight changes in coverage can make a big difference on your long term outlook. Our economy will eventually turn around. Make sure you are prepared when it does.
Until we talk again,
October 9, 2009
Legal scholars Richard Kaplan, Nicholas Powers, and Jordan Zucker detail the "increasingly troubled state of employer-provided health benefits for retirees" in a recent analysis. Their paper, published in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics (Vol. 9, No. 2, 2009), is titled "Retirees at Risk: The Precarious Promise of Post-Employment Health Benefits." (A version of this paper is also available on the Social Sciences Research Network website for download.) They document the economic and financial pressures on private business firms that help explain the erosion of retiree health benefits, and they highlight the adoption of new accounting rules that force firms to recognize the financial cost of retiree health benefits on their books as a major factor in the decline of employer-provided retiree health benefits. They also turn their attention to public sector units claiming "another wave of broken promises may lie just ahead" since the state and local government employers also need to represent these obligations in their accounting.
The overall message of this paper for retirees and for people planning for retirement (that includes nearly all of us!) is the significant erosion already in employer-provided retiree health benefits and the real chance of further declines in employer-provided health coverage for retirees. For the individual few good strategies exist to remedy the loss of coverage. Certainly, those of us in the planning years and period of our lives when we are saving and investing for our future financial security may need to bump up our saving rates to help cover the short-fall and be ready to have some flexibility in our retirement budgets to handle changes. A letter to your legislative representatives expressing concern about the week legal protections provided by ERISA may also be in order.