MONEY Financial Planning

Get Free Help Getting Your Retirement Off the Ground

Lipsticks in the shape of a dollar sign
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As a millennial or Gen Xer, you face unique challenges when it comes to retirement. If you need some help getting going, share your story for a chance at a free financial makeover.

The two youngest generations of workers could use a hand with retirement planning.

Gen Xers have had a run of bad luck: a recession that slowed down their careers, a brutal bear market that hit in their early years as investors, and a housing crash that set in just as many had bought a first home.

No wonder they are feeling gloomy about retirement, according to a new survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Only 12% of Gen X workers say they have fully recovered from the recession.

Millennials, on the other hand, are off to a strong start, outpacing Baby Boomers and Gen Xers when it comes to saving for retirement. According to the Transamerica survey, 70% of millennials with jobs are putting money aside. They began saving at a median age of 22. Still, this group faces steep student loan debts, high unemployment, and uncertain entitlement programs in the future.

If you’re like a lot of people your age, you could use some help getting started, whether it’s tips on how to tame your debts and find money to save or advice on what investments to choose and how to best allocate the funds you’ve built up.

For an upcoming issue of Money magazine and Money.com, we’ll pair several novice retirement savers with financial planners to get a full financial makeover. To participate, you should be comfortable sharing details of your financial life, and keep in mind that story subjects will be photographed for the story.

If you’d like to participate, please fill in the form below. Briefly tell us how you’re doing and what your biggest challenges are. And include a little about your family’s finances, including your income, assets, and debts. All of this information will be kept confidential unless we follow up with you for an interview, and you agree to appear in the story.

We look forward to hearing from you.

MONEY Financial Planning

Nearing Retirement, With 3 Tuition Bills to Pay

Read Jonathan Haidt: Your Personality Makes Your Politics Social scientists find many questions about values and lifestyle that have no obvious connection to politics can be used to predict a person’s ideology. Even a decision as trivial as which browser you're using to read this article is imbued with clues about your personality. Are you on a Mac or PC? Did you use the default program that came with the computer or install a new one? In the following interactive, we put together 12 questions that have a statistical correlation to a person's political leanings, even if the questions themselves are seemingly apolitical. At the end of this (completely anonymous) quiz, we'll use your responses to guess your politics. [time-interactive id=political_morality] How it works We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of "openness to experience." They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC's default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression). We also drew on several surveys from YourMorals.org for data about how values correspond to politics. Conservatives, for example, tend to value respect for authority and group loyalty more than liberals do. Conservatives, therefore, typically show less ambivalence about American history and have a stronger preference for dogs, who are more loyal and obedient than cats. Liberals are more universalist than nationalist; they tend to support the United Nations more, and to wish that the boundaries between countries and the divisions between nations would fade away (as in John Lennon's song “Imagine.”) Each of these items is only a weak predictor of ideology. We added them all together (weighting some more than others) to create a short scale with moderate predictive power. But of course people are highly variable. Many conservatives love exotic cuisines and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; many liberals have neat desks and hate cats. And many people can't place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension – such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues. For more in-depth surveys on a variety of subjects, please visit YourMorals.org. Update: Jan. 10, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: It works! Our analysis of 17,000 responses from readers who chose to report their actual ideology found a strong correlation (r=0.604, for those of you keeping score) between a person's self-reported ideology and the output of the quiz. This is a particularly strong correlation given the wide degree of personal variation in taste that is intrinsic to this sort of research. The biggest weakness we discovered is that the results from our survey were less distributed across the spectrum than the figures for people's self-reported ideologies. A person who reported themselves as "very liberal" or "very conservative" tended to receive scores that were artificially close to the center. As of this update, the quiz now employs a basic statistical correction to more accurately reflect the extremity of one's politics. The "direction" of the results—whether you're more conservative or more liberal—is unchanged. See how your preferences in dogs, Internet browsers, and 10 other items predict your partisan leanings.

At 59 and 60, Kim and John Keuning are closing in on retirement — but they aren’t quite ready for it.

Six years out from their target date, the Duluth, Minn., duo have roughly $500,000 saved. Selling the small ad agency they own could net them another $150,000, they figure. (None of their five grown children is interested in taking it over.)

The sale of a vacation cabin and office building could add $250,000 to the pot. Even so, they’ll likely come up short.

Saving more — they now put away $12,000 of their $150,000-plus income — will be tough. The Keunings carry hefty loans on their home ($334,000) and office ($156,000).

Plus, they’re trying to pay off $40,000 in credit card debt from home repairs. And they’re helping support their three youngest kids with college tuition, student loan payments, and rent. Total outlay: $32,000 annually.

“We know we spend a lot on them, but it’s something we want to do,” Kim says. “So how do we do that and everything else?”

Three fixes

Mortgage the plastic. The average rate on Kim and John’s plastic is 15%. To pay off the cards, Indianapolis financial planner Michael Kalscheur suggests they take out a $40,000 30-year mortgage on their paid-off vacation cabin.

At 4%, the loan would cost about $200 a month vs. their current payment of $1,300.

Related: How much will you need for retirement?

They plan to sell the cabin just before retirement, and when they do they can use the proceeds to pay the rest of the mortgage.

Redirect the payments. In the meantime, they can use the extra $1,100 in monthly cash flow to pay off their car loans. Once that $10,000 debt is wiped out, they’ll have $1,600 a month to build their emergency fund. Kalscheur wants them to have at least $20,000.

When this is complete, in about nine months, they should max out their Simple IRAs (in 2013, they can each put in $14,500).

Related: How often should you check your retirement investments?

Assess income needs. Following this plan, Kim and John will have almost $1.6 million in six years, after selling the business, office, and cabin. That will allow them to retire with about 72% of their income.

If they want more room in their budget — to, say, escape Minnesota’s winters — they’ll have to work a little longer. Or they can beef up the business to sell it for more by nixing debt, locking clients into contracts, and recruiting employees who’ll be indispensable to the next owner, Kalscheur says.

MONEY Financial Planning

Twins Stretch Couple’s $110,000 Income Thin

With twins, Rachel Hopper and Josh Williams, 39 and 38, now have a bigger family and a tighter budget. Mike McGregor

For years, Rachel Hopper and Josh Williams had hoped for a sibling for their son, Espen, who was born in 2005. So the Minneapolis couple were thrilled when they learned that Espen would have two sisters: twins Elsa and Rory, now 1.

“It’s wonderful — and it’s very hard,” admits Josh.

The couple’s income of $110,000 (Josh is a city planner; Rachel works for Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources) is stretched to capacity. They struggle to cover all their costs, including day care for the kids — $376 a week — and a loan for a car that comfortably fits the whole family.

No longer saving for retirement, they have also depleted their cash stash and racked up $7,800 in credit card debt. “We’re smart people with good jobs,” says Josh, “but we’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

Time for a new game plan, says Indianapolis financial planner Elaine Bedel: “What may have worked for their family of three isn’t working for their family of five.”

Three fixes

Squeeze the budget. Over the next two and a half years, Josh and Rachel must focus on eliminating credit card debt and creating an emergency fund — even at the price of delaying other savings, says Bedel. “They’re in a precarious situation,” she adds.

They now put $575 a month toward their card debt. Though their budget is tight, the couple should be able to pay down an extra $300 by utilizing Rachel’s upcoming raise and trimming some discretionary spending. That would erase the balance in 10 months.

Create a cushion. Once the credit card is zeroed out, that $875 should go toward emergency savings.

Bedel recommends three months of living expenses, or $18,000, knowing that Espen’s 529 plan could also be tapped if needed (though they’d incur taxes and a 10% penalty on earnings). This will take about 20 months to build.

Catch up on retirement. In 2016, Josh and Rachel should redirect the $875 to their retirement plans, for annual savings of roughly $13,000 pretax; they should also up their total contribution 2% annually. Combined with Social Security, that should give them $50,000 in annual after-tax income (in today’s dollars), provided they retire at 70.

A wildcard: If they stay with their employers, their pensions could provide significant income. But Bedel hopes they will find new jobs. Josh could earn 15% more in the private sector, which would seriously ease the family’s budget.

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