Plan Now For A Comfortable Retirement

Early Planning is Smart — Better Late than Never

Will you be able to live comfortably on your retirement income? Less than half of all American workers have begun to save for retirement and they can expect to live 18 years in retirement. While it is never too soon or too late to save for retirement, many people put it off until about ten years before they expect to retire. At that time they are usually at their peak earning potential and may able to reduce or eliminate mortgage and credit card debt.

People who do not save for retirement during their employment years may face disappointment in the quality of life during their retirement years. Three common sources of retirement income include:

  • social security benefits
  • employer-sponsored retirement plans
  • personal savings and investments

As a general rule, people need 60 to 80 percent of their preretirement income to maintain their present standard of living. Social security benefits may provide about 20 to 33 percent of retirement income and company pension plans may provide another 20 percent. Because income from social security and employer-sponsored plans may not meet retirement income needs, it is important for workers to supplement their social security and pension income with personal savings and investments.

Employer Sponsored Retirement Plans

A growing number of corporations offer defined-contribution retirement plans which put the burden on the employee to contribute to and select among investment options offered in the plan. These savings plans offer the advantage of tax-deferral and possible employer matching contributions.

The 401(k), for employees of private corporations, or 403(b) for employees of non-profit organizations such as schools, universities or hospitals, can become the cornerstone of retirement financial plans. These plans allow you to place a portion of your before-tax earnings in a tax-sheltered investment account. Many of these plans allow you to withdraw or borrow against the account under certain circumstances.

If you do not have an employer-sponsored retirement plan or if you want to supplement your plan, you can consider an individual retirement account (IRA) or a Keogh plan. IRAs allow the employee to contribute up to $2,000 a year in a tax-deferred savings plan with a bank, credit union, mutual fund or insurance company annuity. Keogh plans permit self-employed persons to establish retirement accounts that are tax-deferred. The maximum contribution is 15 percent of net income or $22,500., whichever is lower.

Seven Steps to Your Retirement Financial Plan

Most people accept the fact that they will have less income when they retire. But can we accept a downsized lifestyle that may accompany the reduced income? One key to having adequate resources in retirement is to develop a retirement financial plan. Here are the steps:

Step 1 — Your Net Worth. Calculate your net worth, that is your assets minus your liabilities. See our Net Worth Statement Worksheet. Your net worth will give you a snapshot picture of your current financial condition and help you plan more realistically. A net worth statement should be done each year so you can analyze your present financial position in relation to the previous year. It will also provide an opportunity for you to improve your position by reviewing goals and investment strategy.

Step 2 — Current Spending. Analyze last year's expenditures. If this information is not available, record your expenses for a few months to establish your current spending level.

Step 3 — Recordkeeping. Develop a recordkeeping system for valuable papers such as stock and bond records, mortgage and other debt contracts, insurance policies and birth certificates. This is a good time to review your will and estate planning documents as well.

See our Mini-Lesson on Financial Records – Getting Organized.

Step 4 — Goals and Financial Needs. Establish realistic short-term and long-term retirement financial goals. Consider two important questions: Now many more years will I work, and how much money will I need to maintain my current lifestyle?

See our Mini-Lesson on Map Your Financial Future.

To determine how much money you will need in retirement, estimate your retirement expenses, using your data from your current spending records in Step 2 above. Adjust the expenses to reflect possible changes in retirement expenses. Expenses that may be reduced in retirement include transportation and clothing. Expenses that may increase include hobbies, recreation, travel and medical costs.

Retirees may no longer be financially responsible for children or parents, and housing expenses may be reduced if the mortgage is paid off. At age 65, retirees may be entitled to income tax exemptions and social security income may not be taxable if total income is within certain limits. After age 65, a retiree's earnings do not reduce social security benefits.

Step 5 — Retirement income. Estimate your retirement income by adding together your employer-sponsored retirement income, social security benefits, and income from your personal savings and investments. Admittedly, these estimates will be best guesses, especially if you are years away from retirement. But as planning tools, these estimates of future income can help you decide what actions need to be taken now in order to assure adequate income in retirement.

Step 6 — Comparison of income and expenses. Compare your estimated retirement expenses with your estimated retirement income. This analysis will help you see where you are and how far you are now and what you may need to do to design a financially secure retirement.

Step 7 — Staying on target over time. Review and modify your retirement plan regularly. Monitor spending and continue to build your retirement resources.

Keep the Plan Simple and Flexible

A financial plan will help you estimate how much money you will need in retirement. It will help you determine whether or not you need to increase your personal saving and investment program to supplement the income you will receive from social security and your employee retirement program. A financial plan works best if you keep it simple and flexible so that you can adjust it to reflect changing conditions and goals.

Your retirement financial plan should be personal and flexible. It must reflect your needs, wants and goals. It will help you control your spending and direct resources to goals. You may decide to adjust your current spending patterns in order to save for retirement income. The more time you have until retirement, however, the more your money is likely to grow. Financial planning prior to and during retirement also includes the careful use of consumer credit.

Using Credit in Retirement

A goal of many soon-to-be retired people is to pay off all consumer and mortgage debt before they retire, including credit card debt. They continue using credit cards for convenience and safety, but they see wisdom in paying off the credit card balance each month to avoid high interest charges. It makes little sense to pay 16 to 20 percent interest on credit card balances when savings and investment earnings may be much less.

While young families sometimes carry credit card debt that exceeds 15% of household income, this would be unwise for retirees on fixed or declining incomes. If you are faced with credit card balances, shop for the lowest interest rate that meets your credit needs, and consider making adjustments in your routine spending patterns. As with all households when debt becomes a burden, the choices are to increase income or reduce spending.

Federal Consumer Credit Laws Protect Retirees

While credit costs vary significantly from institution to institution, retirees can shop for the best credit deal because the following credit information must be disclosed under the federal Truth in Lending Act:

  • amount financed
  • total number of payments and their amounts
  • a description of any security held by the creditor
  • annual percentage rate (APR) expressed as a percentage which reflects all the costs of the loan
  • finance charge stated as a dollar amount
  • other loan terms and conditions such as date on which payment is due, late payment, and prepayment penalties

In addition, the Truth in Lending Act regulates advertising of credit terms, prohibits credit card issuers from sending unrequested cards, limits a cardholder's liability to $50 for unauthorized use of their card, and requires written itemization of the amount borrowed and all charges not included as a part of the finance charge.

All finance companies, stores, banks, credit unions, or credit card companies are required to disclose this information so that you can shop around for the best credit deal.

Age Discrimination is Illegal

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination against an applicant for credit on the basis of sex, martial status, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or income from public assistance. The Act does not give you an automatic right to credit, but it does require that creditors apply the same standards of creditworthiness equally to all applicants. Prior to this law there were problems such as credit being cut off or reduced for retirees, no matter what their financial situation.

Summary — The New Retirement Reality

Several important trends will affect the adequacy of your financial resources in retirement.

  • Growth of defined—contribution plans by corporations shift the responsibility for retirement planning to employees.
  • Concern that the social security system may not be able to meet the demands of an increasing percentage of retirees compared to those paying into the system. Americans are living longer and are collecting social security payments for a longer period of time.
  • Employees change jobs more frequently, making it more difficult to accumulate, track and consolidate employee retirement plans.
  • Many Americans would rather "charge it" than save for it. While consumer credit remains an important financial tool in retirement, it must be carefully managed to avoid overspending of limited household resources.

Financial planning to maintain your desired lifestyle in retirement requires careful consideration and balance among the three major sources of retirement income—your employer-based retirement plan, social security, and personal savings and investments.

Questions to Think About

  • Why it is a good idea for people to begin retirement planning early in their employment years?
  • What are three common sources of income that retirees can expect to receive in retirement?
  • Why is it important for employees to review and compare employer-sponsored retirement plans?
  • What are the steps in developing a retirement financial plan?
  • In what ways do federal credit laws protect retirees who use credit?

When planning for retirement, it helps to know in advance how much money you can expect to receive each month in Social Security benefits. Check out the U.S. Social Security Administration's "Retirement Planner" site at and use one of its online calculators to estimate your future Social Security benefits under different scenarios, such as how many more years you're likely to work.

Government Help for Your Golden Years

  • Agencies on Aging around the country direct older Americans to government offices and other community resources that can help with financial problems and questions. To find your nearest Agency on Aging, call the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), a service of the federal Administration on Aging. The Administration on Aging also has a useful Internet site with links to the Eldercare Locator plus other on-line sources of financial information.
  • The Consumer Information Center is a clearinghouse for free and low-cost booklets published by various federal agencies. For a free catalog, write to Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009, or call toll-free 888-878-3256. Or, if you have access to the Internet, you can get the full text of the publications free.
  • The FDIC and other federal banking agencies publish information about retirement savings and can respond to questions and complaints about discriminatory lending practices or other consumer matters.
  • The Internal Revenue Service can assist with tax-related questions, such as when you can withdraw from a retirement account without a penalty. The toll-free phone number for IRS publications is 800-829-3676. Recorded information about commonly asked tax topics is available at 800-829-4477. Help also is available at the IRS Internet site. If you still have questions, you may call your local IRS assistance number listed in your telephone directory or try the central office at 800-829-1040.
  • The Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, part of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, protects consumers by enforcing federal laws governing pensions and other employee benefits. For inquiries, contact a nearby office (in the federal government listings in your phone book), call the Washington headquarters (202-219-8776), or write to the PWBA, Office of Program Services, Department of Labor, Washington, DC 20210. For publications only, call the PWBA toll-free (800-998-7542) or visit its Internet site. protects consumers by enforcing federal laws governing pensions and other employee benefits. For inquiries, contact a nearby office (in the federal government listings in your phone book), call the Washington headquarters (202-219-8776), or write to the PWBA, Office of Program Services, Department of Labor, Washington, DC 20210. For publications only, call the PWBA toll-free (800-998-7542) or visit its Internet site.
  • The Social Security Administration can provide information about your Social Security benefits or about how to file a benefit claim. Call or visit a nearby SSA office (listed in the phone book) or call the agency toll-free 800-772-1213. The SSA also has an Internet site with lots of information, including answers to commonly asked questions. If you need more help by mail, write to the SSA, Office of Public Inquiries, 6401 Security
    Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235.

Note: The links on this page that go to web sites outside of this agency's control are provided as a convenience only. The Department takes no responsibility for their content.