MONEY Careers

Wish Every Work Day Felt Like a Vacation? For This Guy it Is.

David Harris
"We offer a great product," says David Harris. "It was a matter of getting it in front of the right people.” Benjamin Rasmussen, wardrobe and grooming by Ashley Kelly

After toiling in the tech industry for over three decades, David Harris decided to buy an adventure travel company. Here's how he did it.

For 30 years, David Harris bounced around Silicon Valley, using his sales and marketing savvy to overhaul tech companies. But in 2011 he received a sizable payout from the sale of Tumbleweed Communications, where he had been vice president—and he was ready for a change. Though his work was highly compensated, it was also high pressure. “I wanted to continue to chal­lenge myself,” he says. “But I needed to get out of high tech for my mental health.”

Around the same time Timberline Adventure Tours, a Lafayette, Colo., company offering hiking and biking trips across the U.S. and Canada, went up for sale. Harris and his wife, Kisa, had gone on many vacations with Timberline and had even become friendly with the owners.

For Harris, it was the perfect opportunity. He was looking to do something he felt passionate about, and Timberline filled that bill. Plus, he felt the business had potential beyond its current revenue: “I knew Timberline offered a great product. It was a matter of getting it out to the right people.” While details of the purchase were still being ironed out, Harris moved with Kisa (then an aerobics instructor) and his three daughters to Louisville, Colo., where they lived off investments until he settled into his new role.

Immediately after taking over in January 2012, Harris began boost­ing Timberline’s digital presence—revamping the website and developing strategies for social media and email marketing. He used skills he’d honed in Silicon Valley, only now “product overhaul” meant testing trails and putting together a “fun puzzle of trip itineraries.”

Today Timberline offers 84 tours to about 600 clients annually. Revenues hit $1.2 million in 2013, up from $850,000 in 2011. While Harris isn’t making the big bucks he used to, he’s enjoying going to a job that doesn’t feel like work. “At the end of a trip, when clients are beaming and thanking you for making their vacation,” Harris says, “it’s just such a pleasure.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$500,000: What the company cost

Harris, who bought the business with cash from the sale of Tumbleweed, drew on his sales experience to create a valuation. The owners still cared about the company, and Harris says that made it somewhat harder to negotiate them down to the price he wanted to pay.

84%: how much less Harris earns than he used to

While his family can live off the $100,000 he and Kisa bring in (she’s the VP), they’re still adjusting to the seasonality of the business, which requires intensive budgeting. Harris credits Kisa, who is “as organized as the day is long.”

240: Target number of new clients to add in 2014

Harris is proud of Timber­line’s customer loyalty— 84% of travelers in 2012 were returning—but he’d like to grow the customer base so that 40% of clients are new. He plans to introduce more trip itineraries, and he’s working on building corporate partnerships, hoping that this will help raise revenues to $2 million by 2015.

MONEY Careers

What I Wish I’d Known About My First Paycheck When I Was 22

Tug of War
When you get your first job offer, you can dig in and ask for more (nicely). Paul Kelly—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Earning every penny you're worth when you join the workforce can pay off for the rest of your life. So don't hesitate to negotiate.

For many people, negotiating pay is not a welcome task. In fact, almost half of U.S. workers simply accept the first offer. And when you’ve just graduated from college and are interviewing for your first real job, your focus is probably on landing the job, not demanding top dollar.

I’m here to say that more often than not it’s worth asking for a little bit more. I’ve been there, and if I could sit down with my 22-year-old self, there are a few things I’d tell her about that first salary negotiation.

Employers Expect You to Negotiate

The greatest fear I’ve heard people express is that a job offer might be rescinded if they try to negotiate the pay. As long as you’re respectful and reasonable, that’s very unlikely.

The prospective employer has already expressed interest in hiring you. As in any negotiation, they expect you to do just that—negotiate. It’s okay to simply ask if the salary is negotiable or to suggest a number that is slightly higher than what’s proposed. Most employers will have a salary range in mind when they make you an offer, not a hard-and-fast number. If they are first to float a figure, they usually won’t start at the top of that range.

The best thing you can do for yourself is come to that discussion prepared so that you know what an appropriate counter-offer would be. Do your salary research ahead of time. You want to know the potential pay range based on the job title, city, company size, and industry, as well as what you bring to the table—your education and any relevant experience. Negotiating blindly is not a great plan. Proposing a salary number that’s too high or too low for the position just indicates that you haven’t done your homework.

Your Salary Will Level Out Around 40

Typically, your biggest opportunity for pay increases is in the first 20 years or so of your career, so keep negotiating well. When PayScale delved into the data, we found that pay essentially goes nowhere after age 40, once you account for inflation. Your early career is when you have the most opportunity to rise up in the ranks.

Once you’ve reached a certain level in your chosen career, meteoric growth just isn’t as possible as it was when you were starting out. Additionally, even if you continue to see pay increases in your later career, if your raises are not keeping pace with inflation, you may not be able to stretch your paycheck any further year after year. In fact, it could be shrinking.

Not Speaking Up Now Means Working Longer

I know retirement seems a long way off, but the earlier you start considering it, the happier you’ll be later in life. According to the 2013 Wells Fargo Retirement Study, 34% of the middle class expect to work until they are at least 80 years old because they will not have saved enough for retirement.

You don’t want to be one of those people, do you? You want to be in the group that planned early so you can retire in your sixties and travel the world.

Even a small difference in starting salary could mean some serious money over the course of a career, according to a recent study by researchers at George Mason University and Temple University. The study concluded that “a 25-year-old who negotiated a starting salary of $55,000 will earn $634,000 more than a non-negotiator who accepted an initial offer of $50,000” (assuming a 5% average annual pay increase over a 40-year career.)

Just remember to invest that extra $5,000 in a 401(k) plan or other retirement fund, especially if your employer offers a 401(k) match. Your 80-year-old self will thank you.

Lydia Frank is editorial director at PayScale.com, a site that provides on-demand compensation data and software to employees and employers.

MONEY Aging

As You Age, You Need to Protect Your Money — From Yourself

Piggy Bank Locked Up
Andy Roberts—Getty Images

A financial planner explains why he couldn't help his client when she became delusional.

After three decades as a financial planner, I’m seeing more and more clients reach, not just retirement, but their final years. An issue that becomes especially important at this stage of life is how to help clients protect their financial resources from an unexpected threat — themselves.

One of my saddest professional experiences came several years ago when one of my long-time clients, a woman in her late 80s with no family and few close friends, abruptly fired me. Because Mary had no one else, I had helped her in many ways beyond the usual client/planner relationship and even reluctantly agreed to serve as her trustee and power of attorney in case she became incapacitated.

At what proved to be our final quarterly review meeting, Mary initially seemed confused. I was able to reassure her about the stability of her finances, and she seemed clearer by the time we finished. Three weeks later, I received a handwritten letter from her: “You have my finances in a mess. I can’t get to my money. You are fired.”

I was stunned. Yet ethically I was required to comply with her wishes by moving her holdings to another broker.

Several subsequent conversations demonstrated that Mary was suffering from periodic memory loss and delusion. Had she been disabled by a sudden accident or a stroke, I could have stepped in. Yet, because her decision to fire me was made at a time when she was arguably still competent, my hands were tied.

In theory, I could have gone to court with my power of attorney or in my position as trustee and petitioned to have Mary declared incompetent. But that posed a problem: Essentially, I would have been telling a judge, “Mary fired me as her adviser. I’d like to have her declared incompetent so I can re-hire myself as her adviser.” There was no way I was going to ask a judge to do that. I had a clear conflict of interest.

Since this experience, I have confirmed the wisdom, given the potential for conflict of interest, of never serving as a trustee or power of attorney for a client. With the help of suggestions from several other planners, I’ve also learned some strategies to help protect clients from themselves.

One tool is to ask clients to sign a statement authorizing a planner concerned about possible irrational behavior to contact someone, such as a family member or physician, designated by the client. While this would not prevent a client from firing an adviser, it would provide a method of discussing the issue and also involve another person in the decision.

Another possibility is to put clients’ assets into either an irrevocable living trust or a Domestic Asset Protection Trust (in states that allow them) and naming someone other than the client or the planner as trustee. While the client, as the beneficiary, would have the power to fire the trustee, concern about a trustee being fired irrationally could be mitigated to some degree by having a corporate trustee. In addition, with a DAPT, the beneficiary client would not have the power to amend the trust without the agreement of the trustee. This would give some protection against self-destructive choices by a client who was gradually losing competency. One disadvantage of this approach is cost, so it isn’t an option for everyone.

Perhaps the most important strategy is to work with clients to create a contingency plan in the event of mental decline. It could include arrangements to consult with family members or other professionals such as physicians, social workers, and counselors. For clients without close family members, the plan might authorize the financial adviser to call for an evaluation, by professionals chosen in advance by the client, if the client’s behavior appeared irrational. This team approach might alleviate clients’ fears about being judged incompetent by the person managing their assets.

The possibility of mental decline is something no one wants to consider. Yet it’s as essential a financial planning concern as making a will. Helping clients build financial resources for old age includes helping them create safety nets to protect those resources from themselves.

—————————————–

Rick Kahler is president of Kahler Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning firm. His work and research regarding the integration of financial planning and psychology has been featured or cited in scores of broadcast media, periodicals and books. He is a co-author of four books on financial planning and therapy. He is a faculty member at Golden Gate University and the president of the Financial Therapy Association.

MONEY Planning

When Conventional Wisdom About Retirement is Good Enough

Retirement investing isn't an exact a science. Rather than worrying whether the rules need to be tweaked, just start saving.

What keeps you up at night?

As a money manager, I recently polled my clients on several questions, and that was one of them. Replies ranged from “my bladder” to worries about the Federal Reserve printing too much money.

The most common answer, though, was fear of outliving one’s savings.

For decades, people have confronted the issue of how much they need to retire. Today the topic hits with special force. People are living longer, and the financial crisis of 2007-2009 set millions of people back twenty squares on the economic game board of life.

Now, there’s much debate about whether traditional retirement planning advice needs to be tweaked.

The traditional advice on income, for instance, is that people in retirement need about 60% to 70% of their old annual income to keep roughly the same standard of living. Remember, when you retire, your taxes may be lower, your children may be grown, your commuting and clothing expenses may shrink, and you may move out of a big house into a smaller house or apartment.

If savings and investments were your sole source of income, you would need – again, by conventional wisdom – about 25 times that sum in hand when you start your retirement. That is based on the traditional assumption that you can safely withdraw 4% of your initial nest egg each year and still have it last at least 30 years, regardless of market conditions.

That means if you earned $100,000 a year at the peak of your career, you would need about $65,000 a year in retirement, and 25 times that amount is $1,625,000.

Of course, inflation may increase your costs as years pass. If inflation runs at a 3% clip, a loaf of bread that costs $2.50 today will cost $4.50 in 2034. At 5% inflation, the same loaf would cost you $6.62.

You can offset some of the effects of inflation by your savings and investments, post-retirement. My father retired at 77 but invested in the stock market, logging prices and trends on charts he kept by hand. When he died at 98, his net worth had increased 75% from the day he retired.

Social Security can help, too. Despite doomsayers’ screeds, I believe the Social Security system will be around in 30 years. But benefits may be a little less generous than they are today.

These days, I see a lot of articles by financial planners questioning the guideline that it’s prudent to withdraw 4% a year.

I’ve seen planners argue for anything from a 2.8% withdrawal rate to a 5% one.

Those arguing for a smaller withdrawal rate — which implies the need for a bigger nest egg — say it’s hard to earn 4% a year after taxes without wading into risky investments. Savings accounts are paying a paltry 1% to 2%, and that’s before taxes.

But I think that’s a short-term view. Savings rates probably won’t stay as paltry as they are – just as inflation didn’t stay sky-high, as it was in the early 1980s.

For the long run, I think the 4% rule provides a decent, if crude, approximation.

Let’s be realistic here. Accumulating a pre-retirement hoard of 25 times the expected annual need is an ambitious target to start with.

But it’s something to strive for.

MONEY Financial Planning

What My 3-Hour Lunch Says About Good Financial Advice

Women at a lunch meeting
Colorblind—Getty Images

Financial planning isn't about investing for retirement or saving for college; it's about turning your vision into reality.

It was Suzanne’s birthday. I really wanted her to have the next best thing to a day off. So I, the adviser, and Suzanne, my client, scheduled our meeting at Guglhupf, a lovely local restaurant.

In 2005, when I formed my company, I was sitting at one of Guglhupf’s upstairs tables when I came up with the tagline of my firm: “Driven by a Vision.” Now, years later, spending a sunny afternoon on Guglhuph’s patio with Suzanne, I had a powerful moment of living that ideal.

Suzanne is a visionary, an entrepreneur. She first came to me as a client because she wanted to be sure that the various ventures she had underway didn’t encumber too much of her wealth — that her assets wouldn’t all be at risk and that she would have enough set aside for her family’s future needs and her own retirement.

At its core, financial planning is helping people realize their vision. And for my entrepreneurial clients, I’m helping them navigate some very complicated waters at a time that’s emotionally charged due to hope, desire, exhaustion, and frankly, being stretched too thin.

These conversations can’t happen inside financial planning software, and they don’t happen on the pages of a financial plan. They aren’t about “Do I have enough money to fund my financial goals?” These conversations are about figuring out how to make those goals come to life.

And this is without my being a business consultant. I don’t know the trades of the businesses my clients start. What I do know is that there are risks associated with what they’re doing, and that likely their venture’s cash flow isn’t going to be as healthy as the projections project. I expect that there’ll be a need for another capital infusion. All of these things are going to impact their other financial planning goals: paying for their child’s education, for example, and being financially independent one day. They know all this too.

However, I believe that when a person has a strong vision for a world they want to impact — their community, their life’s energy making that impact — that inner urge trumps saving for retirement. It doesn’t trump it to the point of being reckless and blinded by today’s enthusiasm, but we recognize that they’re standing at the center point of the see saw, one foot on either arm, finding that balance between today and the long-term tomorrow.

I’ve never snuffed out their flame by saying, “You can’t do that.” I think that’s because I know what it’s like to be driven by a vision. It is my role to identify the risks I see, offer suggestions of how to look at it from another angle, ask them to name a Plan B, and beat the drum of the importance of managing cash flow. Then, I support them in their new venture, in whatever way reasonable.

At this meeting with Suzanne, there was an extra-special payoff. While I do try to stay out of the specifics of my clients’ businesses, over the course of our three-hour lunch we brainstormed about how she might finance one of her new ventures. I realized I knew some people who might be interested in funding it, and I promised to put Suzanne in contact with them. I later did, and they ended up providing money to Suzanne for this project.

So this meeting epitomized my work: My clients are driven by a vision, and I am driven to help them achieve that vision. And if we can enjoy a decadent dessert together, that’s even better.

MONEY financial advice

How Listening Better Will Make You Richer

140724_HO_Listening_1
Ruslan Dashinsky—iStock

A financial adviser explains that when you hear only what you want to hear, you can end up making some bad money choices.

Allison sat in my office, singing the praises of an annuity she had recently purchased. She was 64 years old, and she had come in for a free initial consultation after listening to my radio show.

“The investment guy at the bank,” she crowed, “told me this annuity would pay me a guaranteed income of 7% when I turn 70.”

I asked her to tell me more.

Allison had invested $300,000 as a rollover from her old 401(k) plan. She was told that at age 70, her annuity would be worth $450,000. Beginning at age 70, she could take $31,500 (7% of $450,000) and lock in that income stream forever.

“And when you die, what will be left to the kids?” I asked.

“The $300,000 plus all my earnings!” she said.

Suddenly my stomach began to sour.

Allison, I was sure, had heard only part of what the salesperson had told her.

I followed up with another question: “Besides the guaranteed $31,500 annual income, will you have access to any other money?”

“Oh yes,” she answered. “I can take up to 10% of the account value at any time without paying a surrender charge. In fact, next year I plan to take $30,000 so I can buy a new car!”

This story was getting worse, not better.

It was time to break the news to Allison.

I asked her to tell me the name of the product and the insurance company that issued it. Sure enough, I knew exactly the one she bought, since I had it available to my clients as well.

That’s when the conversation got a little tense.

I explained that if she withdrew any money from her annuity prior to beginning her guaranteed income payment, there was a strong likelihood she wouldn’t be able to collect $31,500 per year at age 70. Given the terms of the annuity, any such withdrawals now would reduce the guaranteed payment later.

She disagreed.

I explained that, with this and most other annuities, if she started the income stream as promised at $31,500, she would not likely have any money to pass on to the children.

She told me I was wrong — and defended the agent who sold her the annuity. She said that she bought a guaranteed death benefit rider so that she could protect her children upon her death.

I encouraged her to read the fine print. As expected, she reread the paragraph that stated that the “guaranteed death benefit” was equal to the initial investment plus earnings, less any withdrawals. When I told her that her death benefit in all likelihood would be worth nothing by age 80, she quickly said, “I need to call my agent back and check on this.”

I have conversations like this a lot, and not just with annuities. When it comes to investments, whether they’re annuities, commodity funds, or hot stocks, people often hear only what they want to hear. At various points in his sales pitch, the annuity salesman had probably said things like “guaranteed growth on the value of the contract,” “guaranteed income stream,” “can’t lose your money,” and “heirs get everything you put in.” What she had done was merge the different parts of the sales pitch together and ignore all the relevant conditions and exceptions.

When people hear about a product, there’s an emotional impact. “I want to buy that,” they think. They focus only on the benefits of the product; they assume the challenging parts of the product — the risks — won’t apply to them.

This story has a happy ending. Before Allison left my office, I asked when she received her annuity in the mail. “Three days ago,” she said.

I reminded her of the ten-day “free look” period that’s given to annuity buyers as a one-time “do-over” if they feel that the product they purchased isn’t right for them.

She called me back within two days. “The agent doesn’t like me very much,” she said. She had returned the annuity under the “free look” period and expected to get a full refund. The annuity salesman had just lost an $18,000 commission.

And I once again saw the wisdom of something I tell my clients every day: Prior to ever making a financial decision, it is absolutely critical you evaluate how this decision integrates into your overall financial life. That’s what’s important — not falling in love with a product.

———-

Marc S. Freedman, CFP, is president and CEO of Freedman Financial in Peabody, Mass. He has been delivering financial planning advice to mass affluent Baby Boomers for more than two decades. He is the author of Retiring with Confidence for the GENIUS, and he is host of “Dollars & Sense,” a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9 in Beverly, Mass.

MONEY Financial Planning

The One Time Raiding Your Kid’s College Savings Makes Sense

Broken money jar
Normally, breaking into your college savings accounts is a no-no. Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

It's never a great idea, but in an emergency tapping funds earmarked for education beats sabotaging your retirement plans.

Lauren Greutman felt sick.

She and her husband Mark were about $40,000 in debt, and were having trouble paying their monthly bills. As recent homebuyers, the Syracuse, N.Y. couple were already underwater on their mortgage and getting by on one income as Lauren focused on being a stay-at-home mom.

“We were in a really bad financial position, and just didn’t have the money to make ends meet,” remembers Greutman, now 33 and a mom of four.

There was one pot of money just sitting there: their son’s college savings, about $6,500 at the time. That is when they had to make a tough decision.

“We had to pull money out of the account,” she says. “We thought long and hard about it and felt almost dishonest. But it was either leave it in there, or pay the mortgage and be able to eat.”

It is a quandary faced by parents in dire financial straits: Should you treat your kids’ college savings—often housed in so-called 529 plans—as a sacred lockbox, or as a ready source of funds that may be tapped when necessary.

Precise figures are not available, since those making 529-plan withdrawals do not have to tell administrators whether or not the funds are being used for qualified higher education expenses, according to the College Savings Plans Network. That is a matter between the account owner and the Internal Revenue Service.

TIAA-CREF, which administrates many 529 plans for states, estimates that between 10% to 20% of plan withdrawals are non-qualified and not being used for their intended purpose of covering educational expenses.

It is never a first option to draw college money down early, of course. Private four-year colleges cost an average of $30,094 in tuition and fees for 2013/14, according to the College Board. Since that number will presumably rise much more by the time your toddler graduates from high school, parents need to be stocking those financial cupboards rather than emptying them out.

Joe Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, has a message for stressed-out parents: Don’t beat yourselves up about it.

“The plans were designed to give account owners flexible access to their funds,” Hurley says. “I imagine parents would feel some guilt. But I don’t think they should. After all, it is their money.”

Why the Alternative Might Be Worse

Keep in mind that there are often significant financial penalties involved. With non-qualified distributions from a 529 plan, in most cases you are looking at a 10% penalty on the earnings. Withdrawn earnings will also be treated as income on your tax return, and if you took a state tax deduction on the original investment, withdrawn contributions often count as income as well.

Not ideal, of course. But if your other option for emergency funds is to raid your own retirement accounts, tapping college savings is a last-ditch avenue to consider. That’s not only because you do not want to blow up your own nest egg, but because it could make relative sense tax-wise. And as the saying goes, you can borrow money for college, but not for retirement.

“If you think about it, a parent who has a choice between tapping the 529 and tapping a retirement account might be better off tapping the 529,” says James Kinney, a planner with Financial Pathway Advisors in Bridgewater, N.J.

If the account is comprised of 30% earnings, then only 30% would be subject to tax and penalty, Kinney explains. And that compares favorably to a premature distribution from a 401(k) or IRA, where 100% of the distribution will be subject to taxes plus a penalty.

Lauren Greutman’s story has a happy ending. She and her husband made a pledge to restock their son’s college savings as soon as they were financially able. It is a pledge they kept: Now eight-years-old, their son has a healthy $12,000 growing in his account.

She even runs a site about budgeting and frugal living at iamthatlady.com. Still, the wrenching decision to tap college savings certainly was not easy—especially since other family members had contributed to that account.

“We tried to take emotion out of it, even though we felt so bad,” Greutman says. “Since we didn’t have money for groceries at that point, we knew our family would understand.”

Related: 4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Saving for College Just Yet

MONEY Ask the Expert

Help, My Spouse Is Afraid of Stocks. What Should I Do?

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I just got married, and my husband and I are both contributing to 401(k)s. But he is very conservative with his investments and keeps very little in stocks. We have more than three decades till retirement. How can we align our 401(k)s so we both feel comfortable?

A: It’s certainly not unusual for a couple to have different attitudes about how to manage their money. Spouses often aren’t on the same page when it comes to personal finances. But when you are investing for retirement, being too conservative can make it harder to reach your long-term goals.

“You need some of the risk that comes with investing in stocks, or you won’t have enough growth to fuel your portfolio for the long run,” says San Diego financial planner Marc Roland. And the younger you are, the more risk you can afford to take with your retirement money.

That’s because you have more time to ride out the anxiety-inducing downturns in the markets. Financial planners recommend using your age and subtracting it from 110 to get the percentage of your portfolio that you should keep in stocks. A 30-year-old, for example, should have roughly 80% of their holdings in equities.

So how do you mesh that guideline with an asset allocation that doesn’t panic your husband when the market drops?

First, understand that asset allocation isn’t the only important factor you should consider. How much you put away has more impact on your retirement savings success than how you invest your money. When you’re decades from retirement, it’s hard to know exactly how much you’ll need for a comfortable lifestyle at 65. But one rule of thumb is that you’ll need 70% of your pre-retirement salary to live comfortably. You can get a good ball park estimate with a calculator like this one from T. Rowe Price.

The more you are contributing to your 401(k)s, the less risk you have to take on, says Roland. If you’re both saving at least 10% of your income, and you boost that rate to 15% or more as you get older and earn more, a balanced portfolio of about 60% in stocks with the rest in bonds would work, says Roland. (That ratio of stocks to bonds is a bit conservative for investors in their 20s, who could reasonably stash as much as 80% in equities.)

To achieve that overall mix, the more aggressive spouse can invest 80% in stocks, while the risk-averse spouse can hold the line at 40%, assuming you are contributing similar amounts to your plans. “That blend will give them an appropriate asset allocation but each portfolio is tailored to each person’s risk tolerance,” says Roland.

Related links:

MONEY 401(k)s

Stock Gains (and Saving) Push 401(k)s to Record Highs

Staying the course has rarely paid off so well as average retirement account balances soar.

The financial crisis is so yesterday. Retirement savings accounts have never been plumper, according to a new survey of 401(k) plans and IRAs at Fidelity Investments.

At mid-year, the average 401(k) balance stood at a record $91,000, up nearly 13% from a year ago. The average IRA balance stood at $92,600, also a record, and up nearly 15% from the previous year.

These figures include all employees in a plan, even those in their first year of saving. Looking just at long-time savers the picture brightens further. Workers who had been active in a workplace retirement plan for at least 10 years had a record average balance of $246,200—a figure that has grown at an average annual rate of 15% for a decade.

Over the past year, the resurgent stock market accounted for 77% of the higher average balance in 401(k) plans, Fidelity said. Ongoing employer and employee contributions accounted for 23% of the gain. The typical worker socks away $9,590 a year—$6,050 from her own contributions and $3,540 from an employer match.

Of course, the financial crisis still weighs on many Americans. Employment has been an ongoing weak spot and wage growth has been all but non-existent. Meanwhile, those in or nearing retirement may have fallen short of their goals after losing a decade of market growth at just the wrong point in their savings cycle. Many had to sell while prices were down.

But the Fidelity data reinforces the value of steady savings over a long period. By contributing through thick and thin, savers were able to offset much of the portfolio damage from the crisis. They not only held firm and enjoyed the market’s robust recovery but also were buying shares when prices were low. They earned a spectacular return on new money put into stocks the last five years. In calendar year 2013 alone, the S&P 500 plus dividends rose 32%.

Despite continuing contributions, savings balances did not rise as fast as the S&P 500 due to plan fees, cash-outs and broad plan exposure to lower-return investments like bonds and cash. Roughly a third of job switchers do not roll over their plan savings; they take the money, often incurring taxes and penalties. The average 401(k) investor has 33% in fixed-income securities.

Related:

 

MONEY Kids and Money

The Surprising Place Your Kid Should Save His Summer Earnings

Pitcher of lemonade and a money jar
Your teen's summer earnings may not seem like much now, but they can serve as a cornerstone for his retirement 50-odd years in the future. Somos/Veer—Getty Images

Get your teen started off now in a Roth IRA for a big payoff down the road, says financial planner Kevin McKinley.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to figure out how much money you need to become financially independent, and how the process could help you teach your kids to reach the same goal.

But talking the talk only goes so far. You can walk the walk by helping them start saving for retirement in…drumroll, please…a Roth IRA.

Why a Roth IRA?

For most younger workers, the Roth IRA is preferable to a traditional IRA for two reasons.

The first is that contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn at any time for any reason with no taxes or penalties whatsoever. Therefore, that portion of the account can be taken out for other expenses, such as college or a down payment on a house, without a severe cost.

The second reason the Roth IRA rules is that younger workers typically are in a low tax bracket, and therefore don’t need the deduction that a traditional IRA provides. But once they get to retirement, all the money in the Roth can generally be withdrawn with no taxes at all.

How much your kid can save

Children of any age can open a Roth IRA account—as long as they have legitimate earned income. Flipping burgers and bagging groceries certainly counts, but so does self-employment like babysitting and yard work, especially if it’s done for someone other than you.

Just make sure to keep track of what your kid makes so you know how much can be deposited in to the Roth IRA. For 2014 the contributions to a Roth IRA are limited to the lesser of the kid’s earnings, or $5,500.

Technically, for the 2104 tax year, the money doesn’t have to be deposited until April 15, 2015, the usual deadline for the federal income tax filing.

What you can do to encourage him

Congratulations to you—and your child—if you can convince her straightaway to put her hard-earned paychecks into an account that isn’t meant to be tapped for another 50 years.

But even if you can’t immediately get your teen into the savings habit, you may be able to motivate her by using some of your own money. The money for the Roth IRA doesn’t necessarily have to come from her. She can spend her earnings, and you can deposit into the Roth on her behalf.(Just remember that your deposits then become her money, and she’s free to do with it as she pleases once she reaches adulthood.)

Also, keep in mind that the source of the deposit to your child’s Roth IRA doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You may want to tell your kid that you will match every dollar she contributes with one of your own.

For further motivation, try showing your child how time can turn a relatively-small amount of money into a small (or large) fortune.

For instance, let’s say you and your child deposits $5,000 into a Roth IRA when he’s 15 years old, and it grows at a hypothetical annual rate of 6% per year.

By the time he’s 65 (and it will happen sooner than he thinks), the account would be worth over $92,000.

But if he has the earnings and discipline required to set aside $5,000 in to the same account every year until he turns 65, the Roth IRA will provide him with a tax-free total of $1.6 million.

And if that doesn’t get his attention, no amount of walking and talking will.

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Kevin McKinley is a financial planner and owner of McKinley Money LLC, a registered investment advisor in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He’s also the author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire. His column appears weekly.

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