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  10 Steps to a Secure Retirement

Planning for retirement — it doesn't have the appeal of planning a vacation or planning a wedding, and many reaction is to put it off. But here are some of the first steps that experts say workers should take to ensure that they can afford to enjoy the future.

  1. Find out what you have coming. Start with Social Security which provides the single largest source of income — more than 40 percent — for the average retiree. You can request a Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement online at http://www.ssa.gov and receive a response by mail in two to three weeks. Or you can print out a copy of the form and mail your request, or request a copy of the form by mail from the Social Security Administration, WilkesBarre Data Operations Center, P.O. Box 7004, WilkesBarre, Pa. 18767-7004.

  2. Once you've gotten over the shock of comparing that sum to your monthly expenditures, find out what you can expect to receive from your pension plan and what the options are for how it will be paid — as a lump sum, as an annuity, to yourself alone or to your survivors as well.

  3. Then calculate what you have in savings plans such as 401(k) plans and ndividual etirement ccounts and in assets such as real estate. With employer-sponsored pretax savings plans, make sure you take advantage at least of the amount that the employer will match. Your employer counts that money as part of your compensation — and offsets it by lowering pay or benefits elsewhere, so you don't want to leave that money lying on the ground.

  4. If you haven't already, start saving automatically no matter how old you are. You're never too old nor too young to start, say planners. "It will never get any easier," said KPMG's Martha Priddy Patterson, "and you'll be surpried how quickly it does mount up."

  5. Calculate your expenditures and how much of your current income you will need to meet your goals for retirement. Depending on whom you ask, the rule of thumb is that you'll need somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of your current income. According to Gregory Anderson, second vice president of TIAA-CREF Trust Co, lowerincome workers need a higher percentage of their current income for retirement — just to pay for necessities, while higherincome workers with more disposable income can live comfortably on a smaller percentage.

  6. Think about when you plan to retire and how long you might live after retirement and plan accordingly.

  7. While you're at it, write a will, sign a power of attorney for health care, investigate whether long-termcare insurance, which provides assistance for people who have difficulty with such daily tasks as bathing or cooking, makes sense and look into estate planning.

  8. Think about where your savings are invested and whether you should diversify those investments. The rule of thumb is that you should move away from higher-return, riskier investments as you move toward retirement since you won't have as much time to recover from a risk that pay off.

  9. Develop a tax strategy to minimize the taxes you pay and to maximize your retirement income. For instance, if you are single and earn more than $34,000 a year after you start receiving Social Security benefits, up to 85 percent of those benefits could be taxed. That's something to keep in mind if you're negotiating salary for a post-retirement job.

  10. Factor in special considerations, such as whether you'll be paying college tuition for a child after you retire, whether you want to sell your house or move to another location, whether you might receive an inheritance and, if you are married, how your retirement planning might be changed by the death or divorce of your spouse. On top of difficult coming to terms with the end of career and mortality, financial planning for retirement also is complicated. "Unfortunately, you need to know a lot to know anything," said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, professor of economics at Boston University.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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