The New Face of Retirement So, you think you're ready to retire? Fine, just don't expect help from the government or your boomer parents. BY JAMES PARK
Did you know that you may owe the government over half a million dollars? In a May 2006 analysis, USA Today reported that the government’s liability in terms of unpaid retirement benefits for baby boomers is nearly $58 trillion. Today’s baby boomers are tomorrow’s retirees and that means they’ll soon begin collecting on retirement benefits promised by the government, including Medicare, social security and pensions. And who’s going to be stuck with the bill? The taxpayer, which of course is you.
While Uncle Sam looks at an empty piggy bank with continued mounting debt, what steps should today’s married couple take to secure their own retirement? "Start planning now!" says Russell Trahan, 40, "no matter your age or situation."
Doug Charney, a financial advisor with The Charney Investment Group, agrees. "I’m seeing more people running short or very close to running short, than I do people who have excess money," Charney says. The problem, according to Charney, is that couples who are facing retirement in the next few years grew up with the image of their retired parents in their minds who typically didn’t live past their sixties. "People don’t realize how long they’re going to live," Charney says. "People think they can be set up just like their parents and they’ll have enough money… and the answer is, ‘no, they won’t.'"
The name of the game is fiscal responsibility and smart saving, which most couples today find almost impossible to do. "No one wants to hear that they need to start saving or reducing expenses, but it’s like dieting; you have to work out and eat right to lose weight," Russell says.
Charney recommends couples seek a financial advisor to help them plan for the future, no matter what their age or income. "It has nothing to do with the type of job they have," Charney says, recalling a couple he advised. "The wife was a teacher and the husband a blue-collar worker. They’ve invested wisely and saved accordingly to have enough for their retirement plans. They’ve paid for both kids to go through college and they have plenty of money to fund retirement and travel," he says. "Then I see people coming in at 60 telling me they’re retiring in 6 months and I say you don’t have anywhere near enough money, you better stay working."
Charney points out that different age groups should have different strategies throughout their lives. "At 20- to 30[-years old], they should be pursuing either an aggressive or long-term growth-type portfolio and have a long-term focus," he says. Charney recommends trying to put ten percent of your salary into a 401(k) or an IRA account.
That percentage should increase as couples enter their 30s, even though he acknowledges that this age group tends to have more responsibilities in life.
Charney says that ten percent should still see their 401(k) or IRA, but if couples have children, two percent should be going towards some kind of education fund. "Have it automatically taken out of your checking account, that way you get used to not having it," Charney says. "On top of that, grandparents should really be contributing to the grandkids’ college funds if they can."
As a couples’ earning abilities tend to peak after the age of 40, Charney says that they should take advantage and contribute the maximum amount possible into their retirement funds. Limits on how much you can put in rises after the age of 50, from $4,000 to $5,000 a year for IRAs and 401(k) percentages go up as well. Charney describes this time in life as "the sprint to the finish," where couples should focus more on moderate growth and bonds to be safe. "What we don’t want to have is a major zig just as you’re getting ready for retirement," he says. Charney also warns against the impulses of spending more as salaries increase.
Russell and his wife, Kendra, 38, plan to retire in about twenty years. They’ve taken steps to prepare, such as working with a financial planner, investing extra money into their retirement funds, writing their wills and shopping around for long-term care insurance. They’ve even used a salary bonus to set up a small publishing company to help generate extra income.
So, whether or not the government’s retirement accounts are soluble, the goal is to plan accordingly so that one day you’ll find yourself working—not because you have to, but because you want to.