retirement

Take this quiz to test your retirement savings IQ

Man taking a quiz | Monashee Frantz/OJO Images/Getty Images

You might be gifted when it comes to street smarts, people smarts or book smarts. But how do you rate when it comes to retirement savings smarts?

Do you know when to start saving and when to stop? How often to look at those account statements? Or what some of the most important numbers on those sheets mean to your security and comfort in retirement?

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Answer these 8 questions to test your understanding of retirement savings.

First Question

1. When do you stop investing for retirement?

ANSWER: D. Never. "You don't invest to retirement, you invest through retirement," says Ric Edelman, chairman and CEO of Edelman Financial Services and author of "The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs."

After you stop working, you can't continue making deposits to your IRA and 401(k), he says. But if you're smart, you keep investing that money and the interest.

Your goal is to at least beat the rate of inflation, he says. "Investing is a lifelong activity."

2. In retirement, you'll likely spend:

ANSWER: A. About the same as today. "Many people believe their expenses will decrease," says Edelman. But "expenses generally stay the same."

Instead, you may discover you're spending that money on different things. So instead of a work wardrobe, lunches out and funding your retirement plan, you might be traveling, spoiling the grandkids and enjoying activities and hobbies. Plus, you may spend more on healthcare, and inflation can take a big bite out of savings -- especially some fixed-return options such as annuities.

3. What's the best time to start saving and investing for retirement?

ANSWER: A, B or D. "There's an old proverb: What's the best time to plant a tree? Seventy years ago," says Barry Picker, CPA and CFP professional, president of Picker & Auerbach, CPAs. "What's the second best time to plant a tree? Today."

Likewise, the best time to start saving and investing for retirement is with your first job or first post-high-school or post-college job. But if you haven't started yet, then right now is the right time.

"You have to do what you can, starting now," says Picker.

4. If you're savvy, you can always tap your retirement money for:

ANSWER: D. Nothing else. "Don't use the money for things other than your retirement," says Picker. "It's not a fund to be raided."

Too many times, people loot their retirement accounts to pay for a child's wedding or education. "It's for retirement and should only be used for that," he says.

But give yourself some credit if you picked "buying a home" as your answer. Using retirement funds for a down payment is one off-label use of retirement money that's less problematic, says Picker, who's done it himself. "Real estate is an investment, so you're sort of moving it from one to another."

5. What is dollar-cost averaging?

ANSWER: B. Buying a fixed dollar amount of an investment on a regular basis. Remember "buy low, sell high"? Similar principle. You're regularly investing a fixed amount. So when prices go up, your money buys less. When those prices fall, your dollars buy more.

This is exactly what you're doing when you invest through your 401(k), says Picker. "And, historically, that's the way to go."

6. When financial planners ask, "What's your number?" they mean:

ANSWER: C. The dollar amount you need to retire. And when it comes to this particular piece of information, ignorance is definitely not bliss, says Wayne Bogosian, president and managing director of The PFE Group, and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to 401(k) Plans."

"People sometimes get scared of that number," Bogosian says. But if you want to boost your retirement savings IQ, "You can't be ignorant of the facts," he says. "The only way you can achieve your number is to ask 'how much do I need, and when do I want it?'"

7. How often should you check your retirement accounts?

ANSWER: C. Quarterly or annually. "No more than quarterly," says Bogosian. Otherwise, "you will drive yourself crazy."

Where you do want to use the "set it and forget it" approach: Account deposits. "Save often, and put it on auto-pilot," says Bogosian.

"And if you don't know what to do with your money, just find a good balanced fund," he says.

8. What do you want to check on your retirement account statement?

ANSWER: D. All of the above. When you break out the statements, scan the personal data to make sure it's correct. And you always want to check out your account balance to make sure all of your contributions were deposited. Your rate of return will help you determine if your investments are keeping pace with your needs and expectations.

But don't neglect that retirement account score, says Bogosian.

"Almost all of the vendors now are including a number -- a score," he says. It may be called a wellness score or a retirement readiness score. It incorporates such data as your balance, savings rate, age, return on investment, etc.

Using that score, "with a very high level of confidence, they can conclude where you're headed," he says. "It's almost like a credit score."

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