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Jane White

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20 Years on the Job and No Retirement Savings to Show for It

Posted: 03/22/2012 10:00 am

Among the many reasons why we've got the most dysfunctional retirement systems in the advanced world is the fact that our upwardly mobile workforce is punished for being -- upwardly mobile.

Despite having spent more than two decades as an employee -- including working for a major utility, a household-name newspaper chain and a well-known rating agency before I started my own company in 2002 -- I've got nothing to show for it when it comes to retirement savings. Why? Either none of the companies I worked for offered a 401(k) plan or they only offered a pension and you had to work for the company for five years to be vested in, or "own" the benefits. I'm fortunate enough to be married to a successful businessperson; otherwise I'd be scraping by on nothing but Social Security payments of about 1,000 a month. I'm not alone--the typical benefit for Social Security recipients is about $1,700, according to the Social Security Administration. Even those who are covered by a 401(k) plan are looking at meager 401(k) savings of about $100,000 for those nearing retirement, which "translates" into a puny monthly withdrawal of about $330, assuming that you should take out no more than 4 percent of your retirement savings each year.

The Retirement Advice You're Probably Not Getting at Work

I've now posted on my website critical information that as far as I can tell, isn't available anywhere else, such as:

1. How much people are likely to collect from Social Security, depending on your earnings. (The Social Security website only allows you to find out what you're likely to collect, based on your Social Security number.)
2. How much you need to save in your 401(k) plan -- and why most high-income earners will have to save outside their plan.
3. Why you should "consolidate" your retirement savings into as few accounts as possible so that you can keep track of your money.
4. Why you need to switch to a Roth 401(k) so you can "get taxes over with" rather than postponing them until you're living on a fixed income. President Obama will be pleased if you do this as well, since it will help him tackle the deficit.

But the most important thing, which pains me to say, is YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO RETIRE EVEN IF YOU'RE NEAR RETIREMENT AGE. There are some exceptions, of course -- for example, if you are lucky enough to have worked for companies throughout your career who still offer pensions -- AND worked for at least five years at each company. But as evidenced by the behavior of General Motors, even profitable companies can't be bother to offer pensions to their white-collar employees. Only 17 of the Fortune 100 companies offer pensions to new hires. And, as I've pointed out before, the flaw with 401(k) plans isn't that their investments are riskier than those in pensions but the puny employer matching contribution.

Unfortunately, some members of the Obama Administration have bought into the notion that annuitizing an inadequate nest egg will enrich retirees, when the only folks enriched by this scheme is the annuity industry. You will most likely have to work at least another decade -- hopefully at your current employer if they'll keep you on, since you're likely to continue to earn a decent salary. Please click here to go to my website for more info along with the reform we need -- if you agree please forward the reform link to your congressperson.

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