Wednesday, September 29, 2010

5 Ways to Get Your Retirement Back on Track

A lot of Americans have seen their retirement plans interrupted in the bad economy. According to CNN, nearly half of the taxpayers in this country worry they will not have enough money to retire comfortably. This is up from 29% in 2007, a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found.

But the truth is, you can still get to your destination. "Not everyone is going to be able to retire exactly the way they want," says Denver financial planner Mark Brown. "But I talk to people all the time who overestimate the scope of their problem and underestimate their ability to do something about it."

Here are a few strategies for navigating five of the most common retirement roadblocks.

Roadblock #1: You're carrying a big mortgage

The problem: It used to be that Americans aimed to cross into retirement free of debt. But if you're in your fifties or sixties, chances are you aren't planning a mortgage-burning party anytime soon. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard says that 63% of homeowners ages 55 to 64 have mortgage or home-equity debt, up from 49% in 1989. In addition, a third of retirees carry credit card balances, reports the Federal Reserve. Such liabilities can be a dead weight in retirement -- you'll have to make the payments even if your expenses soar or your portfolio plummets.

Solution #1: Erase the debt if you can. Assuming you have cash savings in excess of the balances (besides emergency funds, that is), it usually makes sense to pay debts off around the time you retire. But zero out HELOCs and credit cards first. "You don't want a variable rate going into retirement," says Scottsdale financial planner Jacob Gold.

How 3 couples bust through retirement roadblocks

As for your mortgage, if you're two-thirds through the term, you're not benefiting much, if at all, from the interest write-off. And after taxes you're unlikely to earn more in risk-free investments than the cost of the debt, a recent Center for Retirement Research study found. That said, if you'd have to pull from tax-sheltered accounts to pay off the balance, you may want to consult a financial planner about whether doing so would be worth the tax bite.

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