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Risky retirement assumptions

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Posted: 9 am ET

Retirement planning isn't easy. Don't assume. Assuming without doing the math is a big mistake.

Here are some retirement assumptions that may be true but are just as likely -- based on your numbers -- to be wrong.

A Roth IRA or 401(k) will save you money in the end. Before you switch or convert your current account, do the math. For young people with their highest-earning years ahead of them, choosing a  Roth individual retirement account, or IRA, will almost certainly pay off. But if you are currently in your highest-earning years, skipping the tax break now is likely to turn out to be a costly mistake. Get your accountant to make some projections before you make up your mind.

Delaying taking Social Security will result in a larger payout. Everybody from the AARP to Social Security itself has been pushing that notion, but for some people, waiting could be the wrong thing to do. Before you decide, educate yourself on potential Social Security strategies, then plug your numbers in to one of the Social Security calculators -- I like It lets you calculate the differences between strategies and is well worth the $50 it costs.

Putting most of your money in bonds creates a safer portfolio. In this uncertain world, volatility is the only sure thing. If you're going to live a long time, you're going to have to invest for the long haul. Putting the grocery money in the stock market is a bad idea, but putting money in the stock market in order to grow it over a couple of decades is less of a risk than putting it in lower-return investments.

Taking a lump sum is the best approach. If your employer is offering you the choice of a lump sum or an annuity when you retire, don't rush to take the lump -- even though you're surrounded by "advisers" assuring you they can maximize your return and free you from the risk that staying with your former employer can offer. Don't underestimate the value of a lifetime guarantee. If your employer is offering an annuity that has a better return than you can get from a private annuity, it's a deal you ought to think hard about taking.

For more on Social Security, see “How to benefit from Social Security.”

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May 15, 2012 at 10:35 am

This is a great post – thanks for publishing it. On a side note, I have taken a retirement from a private sector job about six months ago. Can anyone give feedback about the Garden Spot Village . I heard it is one of the Best Retirement Communities in PA. Any feedback about them is greatly appreciated.

April 04, 2012 at 11:42 am

Choosing not to have a balanced portfolio is a mistake. The idea that cash is the safest investment will lead you to miss on a market rrun like we've had the past 6 months. The trick is to have equity, cash, real investments and debt at the same time. Then, whatever is doing well will offset what isn't performing as well.

I've been helped by dividend-paying stocks and financials, which have helped the softness in cash and debt. Real estate isn't doing much either, but I think it's about to turn.

In any event, the best thing I learned is that successful investing means you don't fall in love with any particular kind of investment. You just use them as tools to move ahead.