MONEY retirement planning

How Today’s Workers Can Dodge the Retirement Crisis

For Millennials and Gen X-ers, it all depends on whether we can rein in spending after we stop working.

Trying to figure our whether mid-career folks like myself are adequately preparing for retirement can get a bit confusing. If you look at Boston College’s National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI), as of 2013 as many as 52% of households aged 30-59 are at risk of falling at least 10% short of being able to produce an adequate “replacement rate” of income.

That doesn’t sound too good, does it? But a discussion of the methodology of this survey and others at a recent meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium in Washington D.C., shows that things might not be so dire after all.

It turns out that the NRRI might be setting an unrealistically high bar for retirement income. The index’s replacement rate assumes that a household’s goal is to maintain a spending level in retirement that is equal to their pre-retirement living standard. It also includes investment returns on 401(k)s and IRAs in its calculation of pre-retirement income, even though those earnings are specifically earmarked for post-retirement. By including those investment gains, the NRRI may be targeting a replacement rate that is too high, causing more households to fall short, as Sarah Holden, director of retirement and investment research at the Investment Company Institute, pointed out in the meeting.

It’s already hard for someone in their 30s or 40s to figure out how much they need to be contributing today to replace the income they will have right before they retire. Adding to this guessing game is the debate over whether spending really goes down in retirement. You’ll pay less for work lunches, commuting expenses, and so on, but you might spend more for travel in the early years of retirement and, later on, more for health care costs.

In contrast to the NRRI calculations, many financial planners assume that would-be retirees will automatically cut spending when their children turn 21, and therefore only need to replace about 70% to 80% of their pre-retirement income. But as Frederick Miller of Sensible Financial Planning explained at the consortium’s meeting, that’s simply not the case anymore. He sees many clients continuing to support their adult children, helping them to pay for health insurance, rent, graduate school or a down payment on a home. While generous, this support obviously detracts from retirement savings.

So which assumption is correct? Should we be saving with the expectation of spending less in retirement or not? In reality, we should certainly prepare for eventually reducing consumption since, in the long run, we may have no choice about doing so. When spending does decline after retirement, it is almost twice as likely due to inadequate financial resources rather than voluntary belt-tightening, as Anthony Webb of Boston College discovered in a small survey of households.

The question of how much is enough will vary greatly by household. But it’s clear that my generation, and those that follow, face stiff headwinds—longer life expectancy, a likely reduction in Social Security benefits, and low interest rates, which greatly reduce the ability to generate income. Cutting back on spending during retirement, as well as during our working years, may be the single greatest contributor to our financial security that we can control.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

MONEY Social Security

Why Millennials and Gen Xers Shouldn’t Diss Social Security

Don't fall for the myth that Social Security runs dry after Baby Boomers retire. You'll still get most of the promised benefits.

Ask your average American born after 1964 what they think about Social Security and they will probably say something like, “I’ll never see any of it. When I get those statements in the mail I just throw them away.” For this we have to thank (among others) novelist Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X, who back in 1991 said in an interview, “I don’t think anyone honestly expects to collect a single penny they pay into Social Security…The day you want to go collect your money the system will have just gone bankrupt buying a jewelled stereo system for Jane Fonda’s walker.”

It is true that timing is terribly unkind to me and my peers—the Social Security trust fund reserves will be depleted in 2033, the same year I will be turning 65, according to the most recent board of trustees report.

And it is equally true that this depletion will be due to ballooning expenditures for Baby Boomer beneficiaries that will begin to create a steeply rising deficit in about 2019. But this does not mean that Social Security will not be there for me when I retire—which is what more than 80% of Millennials and Gen X-ers believe, according to a survey released last monthby the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Social Security gets money to make payments to retirees in three ways: through taxes on current workers, through taxes on the benefit payments, and through interest income on a trust fund of about $2.6 trillion as of the end of 2013. (The Department of the Treasury invests the trust fund in special, non-marketable government securities, which may explain why it only made 3.75% last year—more on that later.) As the program begins to run a larger and larger deficit, the shortfall will be made up by eating into the reserve fund itself. That’s what will be depleted by 2033, but not the entire program, which anticipates being able to pay approximately 75% of scheduled benefits between 2033 and 2088.

75% isn’t as good as 100%, but I’ll take it. (I’m not as sure about deferring benefits to age 70, even though the economic advantages of doing so make Michael Kitces describe deferral as “the best annuity money can buy.”)

According to projections done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, between 73% and 76 % of people in 401(k) plans will still have a “successful” retirement (defined as being able to replace between 60% to 80% of pre-retirement income) even with reduced Social Security benefits, compared to between 83% and 86% of people reaching “successful” retirement at current Social Security benefit amounts.

Those projections assume a retirement at age 65. They also assume that nothing will be done to “fix” the projected shortfall, such as raising taxes or more actively managing the trust fund investment to get a higher return, both of which would be extremely controversial solutions. Something must be done, if only, as the trustees warn, to avoid the increasing strain that the trust fund deficit will also put on the unified Federal budget. If there’s one fiscal issue Millenials and Gen Xers could both rally around, this should be it, and yet the problem seems to be met with apathy, perhaps owing to the misunderstanding that we no longer have anything at stake.

I used to like getting those statements of estimated benefits, the ones called “what Social Security means to you.” After suspending those mailings due to financial cutbacks, Social Security will once again send estimates but only at five-year intervals (you can also get them online.) Don’t disregard them. Social Security will still mean an awful lot.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management.

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MONEY 401(k)s

Why This Popular Retirement Investment May Leave You Poorer

140718_REA_TARGETFUNDS
slobo—Getty Images

Target-date funds are supposed to be simple all-in-one investments, but there's a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Considering my indecision about how to invest my retirement portfolio (see “Do I Really Need Foreign Stocks in My 401(k)?”) you would think there’s an easy solution staring me in the face: target-date funds, which shift their asset mix from riskier to more conservative investments on a fixed schedule based on a specific retirement date.

These funds often come with attractive, trademarked names like “SmartRetirement” and are marketed as “all-in-one” solutions. But while they certainly make intuitive sense, they are not remotely as simple as they sound.

First introduced about two decades ago, the growth of target-date funds was spurred by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which blessed them as the default investment option for employees being automatically enrolled by defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s. And indeed, investing in a target-date fund is certainly better than nothing. But the financial crisis of 2008 raised the first important question about target-date funds when some of them with a 2010 target turned out to be overexposed to equities and lost up to 40% of their value: Are these funds supposed to merely take you up to retirement, or do they take you through it for the next 20 to 30 years?

The answer greatly determines a fund’s “glide path,” or schedule for those allocation shifts. The funds that take you “to” retirement tend to be more conservative, while the “through” funds hold more in stocks well into retirement. Still, even target-date funds bearing the same date and following the same “to” or “through” strategy may have a very different asset allocations. For a solution that’s supposed to be easy, that’s an awful lot of fine print for the average investor to read, much less understand.

Then there is the question of timing for those shifts in asset allocation. Some target-date funds opt for a slow and gradual reduction of stocks (and increase in bonds), which can reduce risk but also reduce returns, since you receive less growth from equities. Others may sharply reduce the stock allocation just a few years before the target date—the longer run in equities gives investors a shot at better returns, but it’s also riskier. Which is right for you depends on how much risk you can tolerate and whether you’d be willing to postpone retirement based on market conditions, as many were forced to do after 2008.

In short, no one particular portfolio is going to meet everyone’s needs, so there’s a lot more to consider about target-date funds than first meets the eye. If I were to go for a target-date fund, I would probably pick one that doesn’t follow a set glide path but is instead “tactically managed” by a portfolio manager in the same manner as a traditional mutual fund. A recent Morningstar report found that “contrary to the academic and industry research that suggests it’s difficult to consistently execute tactical management well, target-date series with that flexibility have generally outperformed those not making market-timing calls.”

Maybe it’s the control freak in me, but I prefer selecting my own assortment of funds instead of using a target-date option where the choices are made for you. Granted, managing my own retirement portfolio was a lot simpler when I was young and had a seemingly limitless appetite for risk. But even as I get older and diversification becomes more important, I still want to be in the driver’s seat. Anyone can pick a target, but there is no one, single, easy way to get there.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management.

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MONEY retirement planning

Saying No Put Me on the Path to Financial Independence

House key in ring box
Dmytro Lastovych—Alamy

How I learned delayed gratification means opening the door to your true goals, like a home or a comfortable retirement.

I was raised around a lot of money—not my own, but other people’s. Granted, by any reasonable national standard my family was well-off, but growing up in New York City meant that my playmates were the children of media moguls and Wall Street titans, so my comparison group skewed upwards several tax brackets. For a while this environment created both a sense of longing and, unfortunately, entitlement. Everyone else has a summer home, why can’t we?! That feeling of financial inadequacy turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, because it taught me what those moguls and titans probably already knew, which is that the most satisfying wealth is the kind that you create for yourself, dollar by dollar by dollar.

Financial independence is certainly easier to achieve with a good income. But you can also get there, or at least come close to it, by saving and investing no matter what your salary is. (See The Millionaire Next Door.) And so at the most fundamental level, independence requires that you always live well within your means. If you are not living within your means, then you are not saving, and if you are not saving, then you are not creating wealth, you are creating the opposite: need. Financial independence means not having need.

There is no saving without delaying gratification, saying no when you want to say yes—not just every once in a while but pretty much constantly. Saying no not just to the big trips or a car, but also to the expensive haircuts and the overpriced appetizers and the ballet flats with the big logo on them when a pair from DSW will do just fine. It means being chronically cheap and enjoying it. Because every no is a yes to getting things that you really, really, really want and can truly fulfill need, no matter what stage of life you are in.

In my 20s and early 30s, my biggest need, after I had established myself on a career track, was to have a place of my own. I had bounced from illegal sublets to 4th floor walk-ups and had literally begun dreaming of “discovering” an extra room in whichever cramped apartment I was occupying, a dream that I later found out was shared in the collective unconscious of similarly space-starved young Manhattanites.

At the outset, buying my own one bedroom seemed an impossibility. But after a job switch and salary raise, I began automatically withdrawing money from my checking account into a house fund. After several years, I had saved $60,000, at which point several of my relatives generously gave me gifts to increase my down payment and create enough of a cushion to meet co-op board approval. Buying that apartment at age 32 was my first major milepost on the road to financial independence, but I didn’t do it alone.

Related: Where are you on the Road to Wealth?

They helped me, I believe, because I had shown them that I understood what building wealth entailed: being a good steward of your own money, understanding that you have to teach yourself the things you don’t know, whether that’s fixed-rate versus adjustable mortgages or the value of compound interest, and yes, delaying gratification. Granted, timing was on my side—I bought the apartment in the early stages of the real estate boom as was able to later profit not only on its sale but the sale of a subsequent, larger apartment.

But having saved for a purpose once, I know that I can do it again in the future, although not whenever I want but whenever I am able. I would love to be putting aside money to install a master bathroom in my house, but right now it’s more important that my children, with whom I currently share a bathroom, have good childcare, and that I increase my funding to my retirement accounts. The master bath will have to wait.

So here’s where I’m going to get really preachy, because there’s actually another important lesson that all this delayed gratification has taught me. There will always be more and more things to save for: sleep-away camps, college funds, maybe even someday a summer cottage. Today, as I write this on a beautiful day at the end of June, I can honestly say that the path to financial independence also means being profoundly grateful for what you already have.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a fortysomething journalist and consultant to Arden Asset Management, writes weekly about retirement planning.

MONEY retirement planning

Your Biggest Financial Asset Is You. And That May Put Your Portfolio At Risk.

A lot could go wrong at once if you invest in the same industry that employs you. Work in real estate? Avoid REIT stocks.

You may think of your chosen career as something completely separate from your investing strategy. But according to David Blanchett, the head of retirement research at Morningstar Investment Management, your profession should play a bigger role in your investment decisions, and not just as a measure of future income. By ignoring the connection, you may be taking on more risk than you should—especially these days.

In economists’ terms, the value of an individual’s skills and talents is called “human capital,” a field pioneered by Gary Becker, a Nobel-prize winning professor at the University of Chicago who died last month. Becker’s models of human capital became the underpinning for the generally-accepted rule that young people should invest in stocks since they are still building human capital, while those in retirement who have “depleted” their human capital should have a more conservative asset allocation (although that theory is now being challenged by financial adviser Michael Kitces, among others.)

Blanchett believes that we need to go one step further and look more specifically at which industry workers are in to measure the inherent risk of an individual’s human capital. At the recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago, he unveiled model portfolios for different professions (my nominal profession, journalism, wasn’t one of them, although “manufacturing” might work as a proxy—more on that later.)

How exactly do you measure the risk of human capital? Blanchett and his co-author Philip Straehl started with an equation for the variability of its return created by Roger Ibbotson. They then plugged in industry-specific wage growth rates, along with a bunch of other factors, such as the yield on the corporate bond index, for each industry to measure its relative health. (“We assume that the certainty with which the average worker within an industry gets paid a salary is the same as the certainty, priced into the bond market, with which the average company represented in the corporate bond index is able to meet its coupon and/or principal payments,” the authors explain.)

Blanchett and Strael then examined at the correlations between industry-specific human capital and the returns of 13 different asset classes. Some of the connections were intuitive—construction and real-estate had the highest correlation to REITs and high-yield bonds, while utilities had the lowest correlation to large and small growth stocks.

For investors, there are obvious implications: You should reduce your exposure to the asset classes with which your industry is already highly correlated, and increase your exposure to those with low correlation. “It’s sort of an extension of the rule that you should not hold a large amount of your own company’s stock in your portfolio,” explains Blanchett. “People tend to want to “buy what they know,” so someone who works in the tech industry buys tech stocks. I would recommend against this, with the exception of a small ‘play’ portfolio.” The same applies for health care, real estate, finance, etc., so it makes sense to prune your portfolio of specific stocks that are too closely tied to how you get your paycheck.

At a portfolio level, try to think of your profession as an asset class. In some examples Blanchett cited, if you’re a tenured professor, your job is more bond-like—low-risk but low-return—but if you work for a hedge fund, your job is more stock-like, so allocate accordingly.

When I later asked Blanchett what journalism was akin to, he responded, “Journalism would be an interesting case study. Our initial analysis is based on historical risk/correlations so I don’t think it would capture the risk of journalism today. I’m pretty sure both manufacturing and journalism are not likely to grow at the same rate as other occupations, so that’s a different risk that’s included in our model, and definitely complicates the issue.”

The fact that Blanchett and others are now looking at occupations to build portfolios points to a larger trend, which is that since 2008 human capital in general has gotten riskier across almost all professions. “In the past, a tenured professor was probably 100% bond-like, but today it might be more like 80% bond-like and 20% stock-like,” notes Blanchett. In today’s disruptive economy, stable jobs may not remain that way. Your human capital may need replenishing in the future, just like any other asset.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a fortysomething journalist and consultant to Arden Asset Management, writes weekly about retirement planning.

MONEY 401(k)s

Do I Really Need Foreign Stocks in My 401(k)?

Foreign stocks are supposed be a great way to diversify and get better returns. But these days? Not so much.

It’s long been a basic rule of retirement planning—allocate a portion of your 401(k) or IRA to international stocks for better diversification and long-term growth. But I’m not really sure those reasons hold up any more.

Better diversification? Take a look at the top holdings of your domestic large-cap or index stock fund. You’ll find huge multinationals that do tons of business overseas—Apple, Exxon, General Electric. Investing abroad and at home are close to being the same thing, as we saw during the financial crisis in 2008, when all our developed global markets fell together.

As for growth, we’ve been told to look to the booming emerging markets—only they don’t seem to be emerging much lately. Even as the U.S. stock indexes have been reaching all-time highs, the MSCI emerging markets benchmark has had three consecutive sell-offs in 2012, 2013 and 2014, missing out on a huge recovery. That’s diversification, but not in the direction I want for my SEP-IRA that I’m trying to figure out how to invest. (See “My 6 % Mistake: When You’ve Saved Too Little For Retirement.”)

Some market watchers have pointed out that after two decades, the countries that were once defined as emerging—China, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea—are now in fact mature, middle-income economies. If you’re looking for high-octane growth, you should really be considering “frontier” markets, funds that invest in tiny countries like Nigeria and Qatar.

That’s all well and good. But when it comes to Nigeria, I don’t really feel confident investing in a country where 200 schoolgirls get kidnapped and can’t be found. As for Qatar, it’s awfully exposed to unrest in the Middle East. (Dubai shares just tumbled, triggered by escalating violence in the Iraq.)

Twenty years ago, I was more than game for emerging markets and loved getting the prospectus statements for funds listing then exotic-sounding companies like Telefonas de Mexico and Petrobras. But I just don’t think I have the stomach, or the long time horizon, for it anymore.

My new skittishness around international stocks may be signaling a bigger shift in my investing style from growth to value, the gist of which is this: since you can’t always predict which stocks will grow, the best thing you can do is to focus on price. Quite simply, value investors don’t want to pay more for a stock than it is intrinsically worth. (Growth investors, by contrast, are willing to spend up for what they expect will be larger earnings increases.) By acquiring stocks at a discount to their value, investors hope profit when Wall Street eventually recognizes their worth and avoid overpriced stocks that are doomed to fall.

As Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, wrote in his 1949 classic, “The Intelligent Investor,” “The habit of relating what is paid to what is being offered is an invaluable trait in an investment.” (Warren Buffett, among many others, consider “The Intelligent Investor” to be the investing bible. ) “For 99 issues out of 100 we could say that at some price they are cheap enough to buy and some other price they would be so dear that they should be sold,” Graham also wrote. And he famously advised that people should buy stocks the way they buy their groceries, not the way they buy their perfume, a lesson in price sensitivity that I immediately understand and agree with.

Looking at the international question through a value vs. growth lens, my choice is seems more clear—at least on one level. If emerging markets are down, now is probably a good time to buy. But the biggest single country exposure in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index is China, at 17%, and it might be on the brink of a major bubble.

It seems a bargain-hunting investing approach isn’t always that much safer, and I’m wondering if it might be worth paying more at times to avoid obvious trouble. Still, I’ve only just discovered my inner value investor. I’m going to keep reading Benjamin Graham and will let you know.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a fortysomething journalist and consultant to Arden Asset Management, writes weekly about retirement planning.

MONEY 401(k)s

Whoops! I Forgot to Rollover My 401(k)

The hidden costs of keeping a retirement plan with a former employer.

Up until recently I had two old 401(k) plans from former jobs, one that I haven’t contributed to since leaving the company 10 years ago. I used to have three such dormant accounts, but then I started having anxiety dreams about “losing” one of them—I felt like someone who had too many children to keep track of at an amusement park. So I converted the 401(k) account from my first job into a Roth IRA long ago.

As for the other two accounts, I had kept them in place because I liked the investment options, they performed well, and there seemed to be no reason to do otherwise. In fact, I was always a bit wary of the rollover marketing letters that would arrive after leaving a job—suspicious that if I left the corporate plan, with its bargaining power, I would fall prey to higher fees. And I felt kind of savvy knowing that I didn’t have to rollover.

It turns out that sense of savvy was actually semi-informed inertia. Yes, it’s true that no-load and low-fee funds have now become standard at all the IRA platforms, thanks in part to a fierce rivalry between Fidelity and Vanguard, the top 401(k) providers. But companies have actually become less generous about continuing to house former employees in their employee-sponsored 401(k)s and have begun passing on administration fees.

And yet people are still a bit more likely to leave their money in plans with their former employers than they are to rollover, according to a survey of job changers over 50 published last month by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. More than 27% left money in their old 401(k)s vs 25% who rolled over. Only 0.5% transferred the money to a new employer’s plan—but I don’t have that option as I’m freelancing at the moment. (Some 26% elected to start receiving benefits since they were retiring, and 17% withdrew the money, which, in case you don’t know, is a VERY BAD IDEA.)

You might be very surprised to learn that you may be paying administration fees for the record-keeping and custody of your dormant plans on top of the costs of the underlying investments. I certainly was. As soon as I got that tip-off, which I found in an investing book, I quickly called the retirement benefits offices for my two dormant accounts to find out if I was being charged.

The first, a large media company, acknowledged that it cost me $42 dollars a year for the privilege of keeping my money in the account that they sponsor through Fidelity, whereas I could roll over that money into a Fidelity IRA invested in the exact same funds with no administration charges. That $42 was a stealth fee (or at least, I hadn’t noticed it), and while not large, it deeply offended my sense of transparency and disclosure.

Can you guess whom I called next? 1-800-FIDELITY. It only took a few minutes to arrange for the rollover. The money was available in a few days to invest, at which point I created a similar portfolio, with some rebalancing between domestic and international equity funds, which was probably a good idea anyway.

The second company, also a large media conglomerate, told me that there are custodial costs for administering their plan through T. Rowe Price but that I was not being billed for them. My hunch is this company, being privately owned, has not been under quite as much pressure to cut benefits costs. Or perhaps it’s because I signed up for the plan in 1998, and as such I have been grandfathered into a more generous version. I’m leaving that 401(k) in place for now. There’s no way of really knowing why one employer bills dormant account holders and another doesn’t, but I have a feeling that I won’t have many more jobs where they won’t.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a fortysomething journalist and consultant to Arden Asset Management, writes weekly about retirement planning.

 

 

 

MONEY 401(k)s

My 6% Mistake: When You’ve Saved Too Little for Retirement

A Gen X-er discovers that it's halftime at the retirement bowl, the home team is behind, and the rules have changed.

I thought I was doing the right thing. In my early 20s, when I barely made enough from my measly salary to buy lunch, I signed up for the 401(k) plan. My employer matched 50% of my contributions up to 6% a year, and all the personal finance gurus of the day whose books I consulted—I’m looking at you, Jane Bryant Quinn—exhorted me to max the match.

Do not turn down free money! they said.

So I sucked it up and elected to contribute 6% of my salary for that plan and all subsequent ones and I forgot all about my savings rate. After all, I was starting early and investing aggressively—wasn’t I being prudent?

Two decades later, I now have more years of saving behind me than I do in front of me. It’s halftime at the retirement bowl, and the home team is down. For as it turns out, that 6% wasn’t nearly enough. In his new book, The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs, Ric Edelman recommends contributing at least 10 percent. And in his recent manifesto for Millennials, If You Can, William J. Bernstein says that if you start saving at age 25 and hope to retire at 65, you will need to put away 15% of your salary. That’s almost three times the amount that my cohorts were advised to save as twentysomethings in the 1990s. So even though I avoided some other major mistakes, such as selling out of equities after market crashes, or picking funds with loads, my basic starting point, I’m just now finding out, was apparently way off.

How did I not realize this earlier? As my retirement funds crossed the six-figure mark, I likely fell prey to the illusion of wealth. The lump sum seemed much larger than its equivalent monthly income stream, giving me a false sense of security. This phenomenon, well-documented by behavioral economists, is a good argument for why plans should not just automatically enroll participants but also automatically increase contributions, a feature known as “auto-escalation.” According to a recent article by Anderson School of Management professor Shlomo Benartzi in Pensions and Investments, overcoming inertia to open a retirement account is just the first step. What’s missing in most plans, including Obama’s MyRA proposal, is a mechanism to overcome the inertia of not increasing your contribution. The tendency to stick with your initial savings rate is compounded, says Benartzi, by “the fact that the default settings are often seen as implicit endorsements.”

I can’t correct my 6% mistake, and there’s no single way to make up for the shortfall. I can maximize my current 401(k) contribution, but only up to this year’s deferral limit of $17,500. When I turn 50, I will be allowed to contribute a catch-up amount, currently $5,500. (“You don’t need to be “behind” in your plan contributions in order to be eligible to make these additional elective deferrals,” the IRS kindly clarifies.) I can open a non-deductible IRA, although they require annual tax reporting and Ric Edelman says “they’re not worth the hassle.” I have a Roth IRA that I converted from a former 401(k) but the earning limit makes me ineligible. And I also have a SEP-IRA that I opened when I was writing a book, which may be my best bet. But after a quick spin through IRS Publication 560, I still can’t figure out whether non-freelance income is eligible and whether you can contribute to an employer’s 401(k) plan at the same time. Stay tuned for answers.

In retrospect, I don’t know if I would have been able to contribute more than 6% back in my 20s—I was making so little at the time that every dollar was precious. But by my 30s I would certainly have had the income and discipline to get to 10%, especially if I knew that 15% was optimal. I’m all for setting high bars, even if you fall slightly short. I just wish that they hadn’t moved the goalposts so far into the game.

________________________________________

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a fortysomething journalist and consultant to Arden Asset Management, writes weekly about retirement planning.

 

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