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Retirement Glossary

Here is a short glossary of some of the most commonly used terms and financial instruments used in retirement planning:

401(k) -- A tax-deferred savings and investment plan in which employees may choose to contribute up to about $10,000 in 1999. Employers often match a percentage of an employee's contributions. Employees control how the assets are allocated among different types of investments. All taxes plus a 10 percent penalty are usually imposed on withdrawals made before age 59.

ANNUITY -- A contract that guarantees fixed or variable payments over time. Some investors buy annuities to provide them with a stream of income in the future.

CERTIFICATE OF DEPOSIT (CD) -- A bank instrument that enables a depositor to earn interest on his or her money during a fixed a period of time. The rate varies depending on the amount invested and the duration of the CD.

CIVIL SERVICE RETIREMENT SYSTEM -- A pension plan for federal workers hired before 1984. Most workers hired since then go into the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS).

DEFINED BENEFIT PLANS -- Pension plans that guarantee a specific retirement benefit.

DEFINED CONTRIBUTION PLANS -- Pension plans that require specific rates of contribution but do not guarantee a specific retirement benefit.

ESTATE PLANNING -- Planning for the orderly handling, disposition and administration of assets that are left behind after an individual's death. Includes drawing up a will, setting up trusts and figuring out ways to minimize estate taxes.

INDIVIDUAL RETIREMENT ACCOUNT (IRA) -- A personal retirement account set up by an employed person with a contribution of up to $2,000 a year (or $4,000 for a couple). Contributions may be tax-deductible, and earnings are not taxed until the funds are withdrawn at age 59 or later. Variants are the Simple IRA and Roth IRA (see definitions below).

INFLATION INDEXED -- Benefits that rise over time to offset increases in the cost of living, usually as measured by the Labor Department's consumer price index.

KEOGH PLAN -- A tax-deferred pension account for self-employed workers or employees of unincorporated businesses.

PENSION FUND -- A fund set up and invested by an employer or a labor union to provide retirement income for workers. The funds accumulate income and capital gains tax-free which are used to pay benefits.

POWER OF ATTORNEY -- Authorization of one person to make legal decisions and take other actions -- such as signing legal documents -- on behalf of another person.

REFINANCING -- Revising a payment schedule, usually to reduce monthly payments. A common way to do this is to reduce the interest rate on a mortgage.

ROTH IRA -- New in 1998, these IRAs are funded with nondeductible contributions and are not taxed upon withdrawal. Only singles with adjusted gross income of less than $95,000 may make a full contribution (partial contributions may be made up to income of $110,000). Likewise, only couples with income less than $150,000 may make a full contribution, with partial contributions allowed yp to $160,000.

SIMPLE IRA -- Savings Investment Match Plan for Employees for companies with up to 100 employees. Allows workers to put aside up to $6,000 per year; their employers can choose to match contributions dollar for dollar up to 3 percent of the worker's pay or make an across-the-board contribution of 2 percent to each eligible worker. Employers opting for the 3 percent match can cut it to 1 percent for two out of any five years.

SIMPLIFIED EMPLOYEE PENSION PLAN (SEP) -- A pension plan in which both the employee and the employer contribute to an Individual Retirement Account.

TAX DEFERRED -- An investment which accumulates earnings that are not subject to taxes until the investor takes possession of the earnings, often at a point at which the investor is in a lower tax bracket than before, such as retirement.

THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN -- A savings and investment plan for federal workers.

VESTING -- Reaching the point, through length of service, at which an employee acquires the right to receive employer-contributed benefits such as pensions.

Sources: Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms; J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax; The Washington Post

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