Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Job losses, early retirements hurt Social Security

by Steven Olemacher
posted by Jameel Murray

WASHINGTON — Big job losses and a spike in early retirement claims from laid-off seniors will force Social Security to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes the next two years, the first time that's happened since the 1980s.
The deficits — $10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011 — won't affect payments to retirees because Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion. But they will add to the overall federal deficit.
Applications for retirement benefits are 23 percent higher than last year, while disability claims have risen by about 20 percent. Social Security officials had expected applications to increase from the growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement, but they didn't expect the increase to be so large.
What happened? The recession hit and many older workers suddenly found themselves laid off with no place to turn but Social Security.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Workers discover 401(k) plans are failing them in retirement

By Brian J. O'Connor / Detroit News Finance Editor
Posted by Alma Zhumagulova

If you're one of the more than 66 million workers covered by a 401(k) retirement plan, Nancy Hwa has some news for you.

"It was a tax shelter for end-of-the-year bonuses for bankers," says Hwa, spokeswoman for Retirement USA, a group working to improve retirement plans. "The 401(k) was never even intended to be a retirement plan."

And now, many workers are discovering, it isn't.

By the end of last year, the average 401(k) balance dropped to $57,200, down 28 percent from $79,600 in 2007, according to consulting firm Hewitt Associates. Forty-four percent of workers lost at least 30 percent.

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The new ‘retirement’ plan: Just keep working

Posted by Quang Nguyen

When Kathy Corrigan, 64, was let go last September from her job with a trade association, she already had begun to think about retiring after a 25-year career as a meeting planner.

But when she sat down and looked over her savings, she realized the 30 percent hit she took from the market meltdown meant her shrunken nest egg wouldn’t go far enough.

“The numbers just were not crunching right,” she said. “I don’t think I ever intended to fully retire. But it’s definitely not an option now — at least not for the immediate future. I’m still hoping that it will be no more than 5 years, but you have to continually reassess.”

Even before the collapse of the housing and financial markets last year, Americans were woefully unprepared to pay retirement in the traditional sense of a post-career period of leisure and personal pursuits supported by a pension, well-managed nest egg and Social Security.

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The old people are coming back!

by Jonathan Tse

The current economic situation of America is leading to many different changes. Probably one of the most drastic is the retirement plans of the elderly. No longer are people past the age of retirement staying at home relaxing and going on vacations all over the world. In fact, the new retirement plan for the elderly is to stay in the workforce.
The recession has made it so that the elderly cannot support themselves after retirement, so they are left with only two choices: to reduce their standards of living and spend less or to re-enter the workforce. Many more senior citizens are choosing to continue working and delay retirement either because of the fact that they are not able to reduce their spending by much, or because it is humiliating to admit a loss of wealth in front of family and friends. The current generation of senior citizens were expected to be growing and among the richest. Due to the recession, they are not pouring nearly as much into the economy as predicted earlier.
Many elderly people are re-entering the workforce in fields that they did not previously work in. In order to gain more of an advantage, more elderly people are also re-educating themselves by attending community colleges and attaining quick degrees so that they may quickly start working again. With the increasingly competitive working environment, and also stereotypical beliefs about older people, it is becoming much more difficult for the elderly to find and maintain long-term occupations.




As work force grays, employers lag behind

posted by Jonathan Tse

Older workers need flexibility, training, but often fail to get it

By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9:56 a.m. ET, Thurs., July 30, 2009

Eve Tahmincioglu
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Anne Staats was 75 when she took a year off work to care for her ailing husband.

After her husband passed away, she was ready to go back to her job as a receptionist for a home care and medical staffing company but didn't want to work full time. Fortunately for her the company, Interim HealthCare in Sunrise, Fla., had a program in place to hire older workers and allowed her to return to work three days a week with full benefits, including vacation and sick time.

“I was lucky to be working for Interim,” says Staats, now 85. “Other companies would look at you and say, ‘You’re too old.’”

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Retirement Planning Has Changed

By Jorden Meltz

After the events of last year, many soon to be retirees were left asking how will I still be able to retire at the age that I previously planned on retiring at? The realization for some is that they won't and instead face several more years of working ahead of them. Since 1992 there has been a dramatic drop in company pensions, 40% to 17%, and a rise in 401k Plans, 32% to 80%. The reason why the change in the two has affected so many is that 401k Plans depend upon how successfully the employee has invested their money and unfortunately even prior investing success did not prevent many from losing large percentages of their retirement funds. It is estimated 401k Plans lost 40% as the country entered into a recession over the past year. With a much greater emphasis now on 401k Plans people will be forced to take a more active role in their investments and it is now recommended people look to bond indexes and stocks that pay dividends for better performing investments. The events of the past year has lead most people looking to retire towards reevaluating their plans and investments and has hopefully left many of those people more knowledgeable and prepared to deal with the market then before.

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Health Care Costs and Retirement

by Leah Gorham

Proper planning for retirement is not only important for retirees to maintain the lifestyle they had before retirement, but may also be crucial for paying for the high cost of health care. Retirement health care costs are rising due to factors such as the increased use of technology and prescription drugs and at the same time, personal savings are decreasing and the Social Security system will likely fail to provide adequate support in the future.

In 2008 an analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute said that a couple currently at the age of 65 would need $635,000 to cover healthcare costs in retirement, not including long-term care costs. This estimate gives the retired couple a 90 percent chance of having enough money to cover all health bills beyond what Medicare covers as opposed to lower estimates.

Options for paying for health care and long-term care include Medicaid buying long-term care insurance, selling the family home when long-term care is needed, or tapping into the value of the home through a reverse mortgage. Many poor seniors will rely on Medicaid, while those with a higher income may prefer to buy insurance, which can cost about $3,500 a year if acquired at age 65. According to the American Council of Life Insurers approximately 48% of long-term care recipients and their families pay long-term care costs out of their own pockets, 41% qualify for Medicaid, 8% are getting temporary coverage provided by Medicare. and only 3% are paying with private long-term care insurance.

It is important to think about the options for long-term health care before the need is dire and prepare adequately for retirement health care costs early.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

The "Working Retirement" Conundrum

By Mary Clare McGraw

An increasing number of retirees are taking up a second job, even a second career, often totally unrelated to their pre-retirement career, with the underlying motivation of paying the bills. For a variety of reasons, surveys have shown that the majority of aging baby boomers are planning on working in retirement. That second job can be a great way for a retired individual to take up what was perhaps just an enjoyable hobby earlier in life and turn it into a source of income that acts as a security net in this unsure recession. Although it may be a necessity in order to maintain an income during a longer life expectancy, that second job owning a restaurant or a floral shop can be a pure joy and a way to stay occupied almost.
As enjoyable as a hobby-turned job can be, it is dangerous to depend on the possibility of that supplemental income later in life because there are a number of things that can happen to prevent an individual from being able to work. Studies have shown that one in four Americans won’t be able to work in retirement for one reason or another, whether it is a health problem, accident, or any unforeseen event. Working in retirement can be a blessing or a curse, but regardless of whether or not an individual plans to work in retirement, it is essential to save and invest years in advance.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

7 Ways to Mess up Your 401K

posted by Leah Gorham

By Liz Pulliam Weston

Not contributing at all is the biggest mistake people make, but there are others that can cost you substantially as well.

In many ways, the 401(k) picture looks bright.

Most folks who have access to a 401(k) take advantage of their workplace retirement plans. Average balances are up over the past few years. And workers seem to have finally gotten the message that company stock is not their best investment option.

But millions of workers are still blowing it every day when dealing with their retirement plans. Here are the seven biggest blunders you can make:

1. Not signing up
I've seen a few awful 401(k) plans in my time. One was run by a dentist who forced his employees to help him buy raw land. (That was their only investment option.) Another offered only high-cost, poorly performing variable annuities with surrender charges that lasted 16 years, meaning workers often had to forfeit a good chunk of their money if they left their jobs and wanted to roll over their accounts.

But such truly heinous plans are few. Most participants get a decent range of investment options (17 choices is typical), reasonable fees and a company match. About 98% of the large-company plans that Hewitt Associates surveyed contribute to employee plans, with two-thirds offering matches.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

How to make your money last

Posted by Nick Porcell

Once you have your Social Security strategy down, there's just one little retirement question left to consider: How can you make the money that you've so diligently saved provide the life you want for as long as you live? Oh. That.

Figuring out how to draw secure retirement income from a portfolio is a challenge in the best of times; today it's made more complicated by fear. Having seen the worst-case scenario unfold in the past year, you've probably gone into loss-avoidance mode. But deflecting market risk leaves you vulnerable to inflation risk -- and the risk that you'll outlive your money. So hiding in cash won't save you.

"No one investment can protect you from every risk you'll face," says John Ameriks, head of Vanguard Investment Counseling & Research. What you need, rather, is a basket of investments that provides:

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how Individual Retirement Acccounts (IRAs) help you save for retirement.

Posted by Mary Clare McGraw

A traditional IRA (individual retirement account) is a critical retirement planning opportunity. Tax-deferred growth and a potential tax deduction are among its most important features. Traditional IRA considerations include:
Why Open an IRA

A traditional IRA is particularly attractive to those who are not eligible for a workplace retirement plan (like a 401(k)) or whose earnings limit their ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. With opportunities for tax-deferred growth limited, a traditional IRA can be a great way to increase the likelihood that your retirement years are prosperous ones.

How and Where to Open an IRA

You can open an IRA at nearly any bank or brokerage house, either in-person or online. Opening an IRA is a very simple process, typically with help readily available. Often, there are just a few forms for you to complete. Bring your Social Security number with you as well as the Social Security numbers and addresses of any potential beneficiaries of your account.

Click here to learn more about IRAs

Putting the eggs back in the nest

Posted by Jorden Meltz

Like millions of Americans who have painfully watched their home's value collapse and their 401(k) crumble, the Lineberrys are being forced to make major lifestyle changes they never imagined.

It's natural when you lose money to want to make it back. Research shows that the pain of financial loss is much more acute than the satisfaction of a gain. Losses of course are particularly hard on retirees, who no longer have the time to recoup them and need regular income from a portfolio.

Do you really want to know the quickest ways to replace lost wealth? It's not by pouring money into stocks or other speculative investments. The answer is to follow a financial plan that brings down the cost of your lifestyle.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Investing Safely for Retirement: If there Is Such a Thing

By Jorden Meltz

With many having lost large portions of their retirement savings last year, the question on most peoples minds is how do I make it back? To some the answer is to invest in riskier securities in hopes of making the money back sooner and to others the answer is to avoid risk and work longer. There is no wrong or right answer and instead it is truly a matter of opinion and personal comfort zone. Experts have spoken out about the issue though, and have made strong cases for both sides. Economist Zvi Bodie believes that stocks are always risky and contrary to common belief do not lose their risk over time. It is with this mindset that might lead some to believe investing in treasuries or high rated bonds is their best bet, even at the expense of working several years more. Another less risky approach some are advising their clients to take on is bringing their stock to bond ratio closer together: having a 54% to 46% split versus a more traditional 60% to 40%. With the market still in a state of uncertainty, bonds have continued to perform well, and thus some believe currently they are the better investment. Lastly, since many consider bonds safer investments, are high yield bonds the way to go?. Granted they bring higher returns, but they also have a higher chance of defaulting and thus become a risky investment. Year to date high yield bonds, also known as junk bonds, have been the top performer in the bond category and it will be interesting to see if that statement holds true for the rest of the year. With retirement on the minds of many, there are many questions all having a variety of answers. Although the answer may not be what they want to hear, with retirement approaching quickly for many, they are answers that must be taken into consideration.

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Retirement Savings Challenges for Women

by Leah Gorham

Studies have shown that women tend to lag behind men in saving for retirement. In a 2008 survey of over 1,300 workers or retirees over age 25 by nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Matthew Greenwald & Associates it was found that 58% of women and 64% of men said they were contributing to a workplace retirement account. Also, while 70% of men said that they were "currently saving," only 59% of women said the same.

There are several factors that account for why women save less then men for retirement. First, the wage gap between men and women result in lower median pay for women, then resulting in a reduced ability to save for retirement. However, behavioral differences can also impact the gender gap in retirement savings. Many women make choices to provide care for their children and/or aging family members and in doing so may give up their careers or significantly decrease their earnings. Women are also more likely to work for non-profits and small firms that are less likely to offer employer-based retirement plans. Women need to consider these challenges seriously when thinking about saving for their retirement. Another factor to consider is that women generally live longer then men and therefore need to plan for a longer retirement.

There are several strategies that women can use in order to ensure a secure retirement and lessen the gender gap in retirement savings. These strategies include:
-Starting your own retirement account and putting your retirement savings first.
-Seek employment with retirement benefits.
-Always keep a portion of investments in stocks.
-Consider opening a spousal IRA.
-Check your Social Security record.
-Continue to play an active role in the financial planning process.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Social Security's Underfunding Means for Your Retirement

The baby boomers will get their payouts, but what about the rest of us?

Posted by Mary Clare McGraw

Social Security and Medicare's annual checkup revealed that the recession
and longer life expectancies are taxing the health of the entitlement system. The Social Security Board of Trustees report found that program costs will exceed tax revenues in 2016, a year sooner than predicted in last year's report. The trust fund will be exhausted in 2037, four years sooner than the 2008 estimate. Here's a look at how the projections could affect your retirement plans.

Smooth sailing for the baby boomers. In 2037, the year the trust fund is currently projected to be depleted, the youngest baby boomers, currently age 45, will be 73. It's highly unlikely that baby boomers will face a rise in the retirement age or cuts in benefits. "The good news for current beneficiaries and those nearing retirement is that your benefits will remain secure and intact for the foreseeable future," says Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans.

Changes for younger people. Social Security and Medicare will still be around for younger generations. But there is some uncertainty about whether there will be tax increases, benefit cuts, some combination of the two, or other fixes to correct the underfunding.

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Not much retirement security from government

Posted by Leah Gorham

Federal entitlement programs are critical to retirement security, but these programs are rapidly moving into the red. New projections by the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds released May 11 indicate that both funds will run out of money even sooner than estimated in last year's report.

The Social Security trust fund is in better shape than Medicare. Revenues still exceed benefits by a comfortable amount. Unfortunately, the wave of baby boomer retirements will change that picture. The new trustees report still expects the surplus to continue until 2015 but move into deficit thereafter. This report projects that by 2037, revenues will be only 75 percent of benefit payments.

An increase in average retirement age could help extend the period of surplus, but probably not by much. If workers delay retirement, they will continue to pay taxes into the system and not take money out, but when they do retire they will also get higher benefits. A net improvement in the trust fund results, but the change mostly delays the problem rather than reduces it.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Posted by Nick Porcell

Tapping 401(k) retirement funds to meet expenses is a last resort for many investors, but the relentless economic downturn took its toll this year, as hardship withdrawals saw double-digit increases, according to record keepers.

Hardship withdrawals among the 2.8 million participants in 1,500 plans served by Bank of America Merrill Lynch increased 23 percent year to date through August 31 compared with the year-earlier period, said Kevin Crain, managing director of plan participant solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the institutional retirement, philanthropy and investments business unit at Bank of America.

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Retirement: Goal-Based Investing Gains Traction

Posted by Jorden Meltz

As defined benefit plans fade into history, more American workers are confronting the fact that they will need to be much more active in deciding how to marshal their retirement savings than their parents had to be. But how best to line up what you have now with what you'll need later?

That's where goal-based investing, or what some people call liability-driven investing, comes in. This increasingly popular approach is yet another example of the retail investing world borrowing a page from institutional investors' playbook—trying to manage people's assets so they better match their liabilities, which has long been a focus of pension funds.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Points to Remember When Saving For Retirement

By Mary Clare McGraw

Saving and planning for retirement is no walk in the park, although one may think putting money aside is enough, it is essential to adequately plan for risks and road blocks that may occur along the way. It is crucial to take into account the possibility that inflation will deplete the value of your income in the future, as well as the troubling effects of outliving your assets. Experts estimate that in order to maintain the same standard of living after retirement as before, you would have to maintain at least 70% of your preretirement income, which is very generous and not always possible to obtain.
The possibility of outliving your assets is strengthened by the fact that health care costs are rising and simply the fact that people are living longer postretirement lives. A longer life is often accompanied by increased medical expenses, so the two go hand in hand, draining a retiree’s assets completely.
A major goal in retirement planning should be to not only put aside money and assets for your retirement years, but to ideally create a sustainable, predictable stream of income that even has the potential to increase over time. A way to maintain a steady income could be to hold a part-time job doing something you enjoy and may not have had the opportunity to pursue earlier in life when you had a career. It is never too early to plan for retirement and there are limitless ways in which you can save, with proper planning, retirement should be a relaxing, stress-free time in your life, and well-deserved of course!

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The Retirement Dilemma: Keep Working?

Posted by Mary Clare McGraw

As the first cohort of the baby boom generation this year hits 63—which is the average age of retirement in the U.S.—the big question is: Are they financially ready to retire? That question is only going to gain urgency in the next several years as more and more boomers jump into the pool of retired Americans. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that retirement isn't going to be nearly as comfortable as most boomers had hoped.

Declining wealth, brought about by lower stock prices and falling home values, has hurt older households substantially. Americans lost 18% of their net worth last year, and the decline has disproportionately hit households of those nearing retirement. But even before the asset bubble burst, Americans looked ill-prepared for retirement. A year later the situation is no better.

The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College estimates that 43% of Americans are "at risk," meaning they would be unable to maintain their current standard of living in retirement. The good news: Most Americans seem to understand their situation. Only 19% of the population says they are prepared when they really aren't, according to a CRR survey. The bad news is that they don't seem to be doing much about it, whether through saving, paying off debt, or taking advantage of preretirement investment opportunities available to them.

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Investment Decisions for Those Nearing Retirement

By Jorden Meltz

During the current recession, and the past year more specifically, exposure to equities has left many retirement portfolios with substantial losses that could take years to make back.
For those not planning on retiring in the near future, they can follow the cyclical nature of the market and hope to make back their money over time; but those looking to retire in the near future lack this luxury. In the beginning of the year 2008 the Employee Benefit Research Institute released a study saying 40% of investors between the ages of 56 and 65 had 70% of their retirement accounts in equities. This age range is a crucial point where many begin to contemplate retirement, and thus heavy exposure to equities has left many of these people adjusting their retirement plans. Advisors are now recommending reducing equity possessions by 1-2% each year after a certain age; in an effort to minimize potential losses as one nears retirement. With that said though, it is still important to maintain a diversified portfolio, as this can be the key to your retirement portfolio’s recovery. A recent study showed that the combination of delaying retirement by one to two years and maintaining a well diversified portfolio would help those looking to retire in the near future return their portfolios to an adequate level faster then if the same people would have converted their money to cash, as they will be required to work even longer. For those looking to invest wisely as their potential retirement date approaches, it seems making adjustments towards safer levels of diversification each year may be the most effective way to keep one on their route to retirement.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Planning for Late Retirement

By Leah Gorham

The vision of retirement in the United States is rapidly changing and we are beginning to see the workforce age as many people continue to work well into their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. According to the AARP Bulletin, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between the years 2000 and 2008 the number of workers aged 65 to 69 rose 25 percent. Moreover, increases for workers in their 70’s were even higher- the 70 to 74 age group rose by 32 percent and 75 to 79 rose by 38 percent. As our economy struggles and drug and health care costs rise, many baby boomers and even Gen X-ers may not be able to comfortably retire in their lifetime. Debt is also a huge issue for Americans and recent studies show that many workers are approaching retirement with large amounts of debt. This is not the ideal situation one would like to be in as they approach retirement age.

However, late retirement may not always be a bad thing. Many people reach peak earning power in their 60’s and their expenses decrease as their kids finish college and they finish paying off mortgages. It is possible to rebuild savings and plan for a late retirement even in your 50’s and 60’s. In order to successfully plan for retirement in a relatively short time it is important to take stock of your current financial situation, think about potential opportunities and risks, look ahead and forecast where your current plan will take you, and then revise your plan with investment vehicles that fit suit your needs.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

Are fees draining your 401(k) retirement savings?

Posted by Leah Gorham

Quick question: How much are 401(k) fees removing from your retirement nest egg each year?

If you are either unaware of such fees or don't know their amounts, don't worry: Nearly 83% of Americans don't know, either, according to AARP.

But the coming months may change that.

Congress and the Department of Labor are working on legislation and regulation that would require employers to disclose more information about administration and management fees in an understandable way. And an independent website, Brightscope.com, seems to be gaining traction as it aims to provide workers with company 401(k) plan ratings that include fee information.

More workers are relying on 401(k) plans for retirement funding, as pension plans are frozen or no longer offered. The recession and stock market losses battered 401(k)s over the past year. But associated fees — often hidden or extremely confusing to find and understand — haven't helped.

Click here to read more

Sunday, September 6, 2009

3 Ways Obama’s Saving Initiatives Will Affect Your Retirement

Posted by Nick Porcell

President Obama announced several new federal initiatives to promote retirement savings today. “I’ve heard from so many who’ve had to put off retirement, or come out of retirement, to make ends meet,” Obama said during his weekly radio address today. “And having too little in savings not only leaves people financially ill-prepared for retirement, but also for whatever challenges life brings.” Obama cited the approximately $2 trillion in retirement savings Americans have lost over the past 2 years.

The changes give employers an easier way to automatically enroll workers in retirement plans and the option to contribute compensation for unused vacation and sick days to 401(k)s, but doesn’t require companies to do so. Taxpayers will also get a new way to save their tax refunds. “Working Americans should be able to retire with dignity and security, but nearly half of the nation's workforce has little or nothing beyond Social Security benefits to get by on in old age,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in a statement. “The measures we are announcing today will give more choices to families who want to save.” Here is how the new retirement savings options could affect your retirement plans.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

The future of the 401(k)

Posted by Jorden Meltz

The average 401(k) investor lost under a third of their assets in 2008; and returns have obviously been much more positive this year than they were last year. The reduction in volatility and generally the positive momentum in the stock market has gone a long way to reassuring plan participants.

Nonetheless, I think participant anxiety over the dramatic move downward does highlight a very real issue, which is the importance a guaranteed income that allows you to plan for a floor on your spending in retirement. This guaranteed income in essence functions much more like a defined benefit program.

So while I would say that the events of 2008 were not catastrophic for the majority of 401(k) investors, they offer us an opportunity to recognize some of the deficiencies in the 401(k). Sponsors are now looking for a way to provide guaranteed income.

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