Suze Orman, Financial Guru
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Retirement Planning

Investors Business Daily
www.investors.com

Smart Money Retirement
www.smartmoney.com/retirement
www.smartmoney.com/estate

On-line Investor Guide
www.investorguide.com
 

American Association of Individual Investors
www.aaii.com

Retirement doesn't necessarily mean sixty-five anymore. Retirement now can mean fifty to fifty-five years of age, when you could be offered early retirement!

If you are fifty-five years of age or older in the year of your retirement, you can withdraw any or all of the money, whenever you wish, from your qualified retirement plan without any penalties whatsoever. This rule of "fifty-five and over" pertains only to money in employee qualified plans, not for any other retirement account, such as an IRA, an IRA rollover, or SEP/IRA. 
 

WARNING: 

If you are 55 or older and transfer your funds from your qualified plan into an IRA rollover, you will also transfer away the right to access these funds at convenience without penalty until you turn 59 1/2 unless you take substantially equal periodic payments. 

If you are not or will not be fifty-five in the year of your retirement, the best way to avoid penalties, if you need to access those funds, is by rolling over your funds into an IRA rollover and taking substantially equal periodic payments. 

If you are presented with an early retirement offer, the following guidelines will help you in deciding if you can retire.
 

Tip: If you are taking early retirement because your spouse or partner's earnings cover your financial needs and you are dependent on those earnings, you should consider purchasing a "level term" life insurance policy on him or her to protect you in case anything happens to your spouse or partner if he or she is not already adequately insured. (You will need the policy only for the number of years your spouse or partner plans to work. If he or she will retire in ten years, take out a ten-year policy.) 
 

Tip: Most early retirement health benefit offers will not include dental or optical care. If your company now covers these two and if early retirement is in the air, get all your dental and optical work completed beforehand. 
 

Tip: At age 70 1/2 you are required to start withdrawing funds if you have not already done so. 
 

Tip: If you and your spouse have set up a living trust (hold your assets in trust), make sure the primary beneficiary named on all your retirement accounts is the individual name of your spouse and not the trust. If you name the trust as the primary beneficiary, it will be subjected to the same rules as a nonspouse and the account will have to be wiped clean within five years. The trust should be named the contingent beneficiary only.

(1) Any financial adviser who calls you cold-whom you don't know and have never heard of-should be sent packing. Hang up. A successful adviser doesn't have to look for clients. Clients seek her or him out. 

(2) If an adviser has time to come to your home, something is probably radically wrong. When I was seeing clients—long before I wrote my first book—I didn't have time to breathe, let alone get in a car and drive for half an hour across town to a client's home and then drive back again. 

(3) You should make it a point to visit a potential adviser's office, in any case. You'll want to pay careful attention to how he or she keeps his or her professional space. Is it neat? Are files in order? Is it busy? 

(4) If you are married or have a life partner, a potential adviser should have found this fact out by asking and should see you only if you agree to bring your partner along or else have a very good reason why you prefer not to. 

(5) A good financial adviser will ask you all—not some, but all—of the following questions: How is your health? (This is No. 1, in my opinion, since if you're not healthy you'll need first and foremost to plan for your medical care and possibly your income if and when you cannot work.) Are you in debt? (This is No. 2.) Are you responsible for aging parents? Do you have a will or trust? Will you inherit money someday? Do you need to make a major purchase like a new car or a new roof for your home? Do you have a retirement plan? Are you funding it to the maximum allowed by law? Do you have adequate insurance? Are you saving for your children's education? Only after an adviser fully understands your financial situation should he or she ask you how much money you have to invest. 

(6) An adviser should be a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP® Professional, just as I am. That means that he or she cares enough about his or her clients to have gone through a two-year certification process, with continuing education requirements mandating that he or she stay up-to-date on the kinds of information that you need. 

(7) You should be told up front how, and how much, a potential adviser will be paid. You shouldn't have to ask. The correct method of payment is by fee only. Any adviser who wants to be paid through commissions charged on the investments he or she makes for you has an incentive to move you in and out of stocks and other investments, perhaps in direct opposition to what's best for you. 

(8) An adviser should never ask you to write a check to him or her. You should write checks only to a brokerage, an insurance company, or another financial services firm. 

(9) If you already have an adviser, that adviser should be calling you in down markets as well as in up markets. Has your adviser called you in the past 12 months?

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) 
601 E Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20049
(800) 424-3410 
www.aarp.com
 

National Academy of Elder Care Law Attorneys
www.naela.com
 

American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly
740 15th Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20005-1022
(202) 662-8690 
www.abanet.org
 

The American Council of the Blind
1115 15th Street NW; Suite 1004 
Washington, DC 20005 
(202) 467-5081 or (800) 424-8666
www.acb.org
 

American Foundation for the Blind
2 Penn Plaza, Suite 1102
New York, NY 10121
(212) 502-7600 or (800) 232-5463 
www.afb.org
 

Braille Institute of America, Inc. 
741 North Vermont Avenue 
Los Angeles, CA 90029 
(213) 663-1111 
www.brailleinstitute.org
 

The Council for Disability Rights
205 West Randolph, Suite 1650 
Chicago, IL 60606 
(312) 444-9484
www.disabilityrights.org
 

National Council on Aging
409 3rd Street, SW; Suite 200 
Washington, DC 20024 
(202) 479-1200 
www.ncoa.org
 

New Eyes for the Needy
P.O. Box 332 
549 Milburn Avenue 
Short Hills, NJ 07078
(973) 376-4903
 

Family Caregiver Alliance 
690 Market Street, Suite 600
San Francisco, CA 94104 
(415) 434-3388 
www.caregiver.org
Serving the families of people with Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions. 
 

National Legal Aid and Defender Association
1625 K Street NW; Suite 800 
Washington, DC 20006 
(202) 452-0620 
www.nlada.org
 

National Parent to Parent Support and Information System, Inc.
P.O. Box 907 
Blue Ridge, GA 30513 
(706) 374-3822 
Devoted to linking parents of children with special health-care needs and rare disorders.

Administration on Aging 
330 Independence Avenue, SW 
Washington, DC 20201 
(800) 677-1116 
www.aoa.gov
 

National Aging Information Center
330 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 4656 
Washington, DC 20201 
(202) 401-4634 
www.aoa.dhhs.gov/naic
 

National Institute on Aging 
Building 31, RM SC27 
31 Center Dive, MSC 2292 
Bethesda, MD 20892 
(301) 496-1752 
www.nia.nih.gov
 

Social Security Administration 
640 I Security Boulevard 
Baltimore, MD 21235 
(800) 234-5772
www.ssa.gov
 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 
1801 L Street NW 
Washington, DC 20507 
(800) 669-4000
(800) 669-6820 (NY) 
www.eeoc.gov
 

Department of Veterans Affairs 
245 West Houston Street 
New York, NY 10014 
(800) 827-1000 
www.va.gov
 

Internal Revenue Service
(800) 829-3676
www.irs.ustreas.gov

For "The Older Americans' Tax Guide," also known as Publication 544, and/or IRS Publication 915, which provides you with a number of worksheets to use to calculate the exact taxation of your benefits.

ALABAMA
Commission on Aging 
770 Washington Avenue, Suite 470
Montgomery, AL 36130 

(334) 242-5743 

Fax: (334) 242-5594 
 

ALASKA 
Commission on Aging 
Department of Administration 
Juneau, AK 99811-0209 

(907) 465-3250 
 

ARIZONA 
Aging and Community Services Division 
Economic Security Department 
1789 West Jefferson Street, #950 A 
Phoenix, AZ 85005 

(602) 542-4446 
 

ARKANSAS
Aging and Adult Services 
P.O. Box 1437, Slot 1412 
Little Rock, AR 72201 

(501) 682-2441 
 

CALIFORNIA 
Department of Aging 
1600 K Street, 4th floor 
Sacramento, CA 95814 

(916) 322-3887 
 

COLORADO
Aging and Adult Services Division 
110 16th Street, Suite 200 
Denver, CO 80202 

(303) 620-4147 
 

CONNECTICUT 
Elderly Services Division 
25 Sigourney Street, 10th floor 
Hartford, CT 06106-5033 

(860) 424-5277 
 

DELAWARE
Aging Division 
1901 North Dupont Highway 
New Castle, DE 19720 

(302) 577-4791 
 

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Aging Office 
441 4th Street, NW, Suite 900 
Washington, DC 20001 

(202) 724-5622 
 

FLORIDA 
Department of Elder Affairs 
Building B, Suite 152 
4040 Esplanade Way 
Tallahassee, FL 32399-7000 

(904) 414-2000 
 

GEORGIA 
Aging Services Office 
2 Peachtree Street, NE, 18th floor 
Atlanta, GA 30303 

(404) 657-5258 
 

GUAM 
Division of Senior Citizens 
Dept. of Public Health and Social Services
P.O. Box 2816 
Agana, Guam 96932 

(011) (671) 475-0263 
 

HAWAII 
Hawaii Executive Office on Aging
250 S. Hotel Street #107 
Honolulu, HI 96813 

(808) 586-0100 
 

IDAHO 
Idaho Commission on Aging 
3380 Americana Terrace, #120 
Boise, ID 83706 

(208) 334-3833 
 

ILLINOIS 
Department on Aging 
421 East Capital Avenue, Suite l00 
Springfield, IL 62701-1789 

(217) 785-3356 
 

INDIANA
Disability, Aging, and Rehabilitative Services Division
Family and Social Services 
402 West Washington Street, Room W 454 
P.O. Box 7083 
Indianapolis, IN 46204 

(317) 232-7000 
 

IOWA 
Elder Affairs Department 
Clemens Building, 3rd floor
200 10th Street 
Des Moines, lA 50309-3609 

(515) 281-5187 
 

KANSAS
Department on Aging 
New England Building 
503 South Kansas Avenue 
Topeka, KS 66603-3404 

(785) 296-4986 
 

KENTUCKY 
Aging Services Division 
Social Services Department 
275 East Main Street, 6 West 
Frankfurt, KY 40621 

(502) 564-6930 
 

LOUISIANA 
Elderly Affairs Office 
P.O. Box 80374 
412 North 4th Street, 3F 
Baton Rouge, LA 70802 

(504) 342-7100 
 

MAINE 
Bureau of Elder and Adult Services 
35 Anthony Avenue 
State House, Station 11 
Augusta, ME 04333 

(800) 262-2232 and (207) 624-5335 
 

MARYLAND
Aging Office 
State Office Building, Room 1007 
301 West Preston Street 
Baltimore, MD 21201-2374 

(410) 767-1100 
 

MASSACHUSETTS 
Executive Office of Elder Affairs 
1 Ashburton Place, 5th floor 
Boston, MA 02108 

(617) 727-7750 
 

MICHIGAN 
Aging Office P.O. Box 30026 
Lansing, MI 48909-8176 

(517)373-8230 
 

MINNESOTA 
Minnesota Board on Aging 
444 Lafayette Road 
St. Paul, MN 55155 

(612) 296-2770 
 

MISSISSIPPI
Aging and Adult Services Division 
750 State Street 
Jackson, MS 39202 

(601) 359-4925 
 

MISSOURI 
Aging Division 
Social Services Department
P.O. Box 1337 
615 Howerton Court 
Jefferson City, MO 65109 

(573) 751-3083 
 

MONTANA 
Senior and Long-term Care Division 
Department of Public Health and Human Services
P.O. Box 4210 
111 Sanders, Room 211 
Helena, MT 59604 

(406) 444-7788 
 

NEBRASKA 
Department of Health and Human Services
Division on Aging 
P.O. Box 95044 
301 Centennial Mall South 
Lincoln, NE 68509 

(402) 471-2307
 

NEVADA 
Aging Services Division 
Human Resources Department
State Mail Room Complex 
340 N. 11th Street, #203 
Las Vegas, NV 89101 

(702) 486-3545 
 

NEW HAMPSHIRE 
Elderly and Adult Services Division
115 Pleasant Street Annex 
Building 1 
Concord, NH 03301-3843 

(603) 271-4680 
 

NEW JERSEY 
Department of Health and Senior Services 
Division of Senior Affairs 
P.O. Box 807 
Trenton, NJ 08625-0807 

(609) 292-7837 
 

NEW MEXICO 
State Agency on Aging
La Villa Rivera Building, 4th floor 
224 East Palace Avenue 
Santa Fe, NM 87501 

(505) 827-7640 
 

NEW YORK 
Aging Office 
Empire State Plaza, Building 2 
Albany, NY 12223-1251 

(800) 342-9871 
 

NORTH CAROlINA
Resources for Seniors
1001 Navaho Drive 
Raleigh, NC 27609 

(919) 872-7933 
 

NORTH DAKOTA 
Aging Services 
600 South 2nd Street, #1C 
Bismarck, ND 58540 

(701) 328-8910 
 

OHIO 
Aging Department 
50 West Broad Street, 9th floor 
Columbus, OH 43215-5928 

(614) 466-5500 
 

OKLAHOMA 
Aging Services 
P.O. Box 25352 
312 NE 28th Street 
Oklahoma City, OK 73125 

(405) 521-2327 or (405) 521-2281
 

OREGON 
Senior and Disabled Services Division 
500 Summer Street, NE 
Salem, OR 97310-1015 

(503) 945-5811 
 

PENNSYLVANIA 
Department of Aging 
555 Walnut Street, 5th floor 
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1919 

(717) 783-1550 
 

PUERTO RICO 
Office of Elderly Services
50063 Old San Juan Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00902

(787) 721-5710 
 

RHODE ISLAND 
Elderly Affairs Department 
160 Pine Street 
Providence, RI 02903 

(401) 277-2858 
 

SOUTH CAROLINA 
Office on Aging 
P.O. Box 8206 
Columbia, SC 29211-8206 

(803) 253-6177 
 

SOUTH DAKOTA 
Adult Services and Aging Office
Kneip Building 
700 Governors Drive 
Pierre, SD 57501-2291 

(605) 773-3656 
 

TENNESSEE 
Aging Commission 
500 Deaderic Street, 9th floor 
Nashville, TN 37243-0860 

(615) 741-2056 
 

TEXAS 
Aging Department 
4900 North Lamar, 4th floor 
Austin, TX 78751 

(512) 424-6840 
 

UTAH 
Aging and Adult Services 
120 North 200 West 
P.O. Box 45500 
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0500 

(801) 538-3910 
 

VERMONT
Aging and Disability Department 
103 South Main Street 
State Complex 
Waterbury, VT 05676 

(802) 241-2400 
 

VIRGINIA 
Aging Department
1600 Forest Avenue, #102
Richmond, VA 23219-2327 

(804) 662-9333 
 

WASHINGTON 
Adult and Aging Services 
P.O. Box 45050 
Olympia, WA 98504-5050

(360) 586-8753 
 

WEST VIRGINIA 
West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services 
Holly Grove Building 
1900 Kanawha Boulevard 
Charleston, WV 25305-0160 

(304) 558-3317 
 

WISCONSIN 
Aging and Long Term Care Bureau 
P.O. Box 7851 
Madison, WI 53707 

(608) 266-2536 
 

WYOMING 
Aging Division 
117 Hathaway Building, Room 139
Cheyenne, WY 82002-0710 

(307) 777-7986

Social Security Administration 
(800) 772-1213 
www.ssa.gov
To get a Social Security estimate.
 

U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Retirement Information Office
(202) 606-0400 
For information about Social Security application forms and/or benefits packages
 

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management Employee Services and Records Center
Boyers, PA 16017 
(202) 606-0500 
If you are calling for answers to questions that do not directly involve your or your spouse's employment history 
 

Publications 
Call your local Social Security office and ask for:

How Your Retirement Benefit Is Figured (Publication 05- 10070)

Understanding Social Security (Publication 05-10024) 

The Appeals Process (Publication 05-10141) 

Retirement Benefits (Publication 05-10035) 

When You Get Social Security Resources or Survivor Benefits: What You Need to Know (Publication 05-10077) 

You can order publications from the American Association of Retired Persons by contacting:
 

AARP Fulfillment
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049 
(800) 424-3410

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)
(202) 326-4000
www.pbgc.gov
A federal agency that protects employer-sponsored defined-benefit plans. The PBGC invites people to call their customer service representatives for assistance.

Pension Rights Center
www.pensionrights.org
 

Pension Plans: Knowing Your Rights

I've heard stories about companies mismanaging pension plans and their employees being left with nothing, and that makes me nervous. How can I keep track of what my company does with my retirement plan? 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for pension plans in private industry. ERISA requires retirement plan administrators-the people who run the plans-to provide you with written information explaining the most important facts about your pension plan. The plan administrator is required to keep you regularly informed. This includes a summary plan description (SPD), which you should get when you begin participating in the plan. The SPD is a comprehensive document that tells you exactly what the plan provides and how it operates. The SPD should show when you began to participate in the plan, how your service and benefits are calculated, when your benefit becomes vested, when and how you will receive payments, and how to file for your benefits when you need to. If there are any changes to the SPD, your plan administrator is required to give you a revised summary plan description or a separate document detailing the modifications. Both the original SPD and any changes to it must be given to you free, and you should read everything carefully. 

In addition to the SPD, the plan administrator must also give you a copy of the plan's summary annual report, a summary of the annual financial report that most pension plans must file with the Department of Labor. Finally, you should also receive, free of charge every year, an individual benefit statement that describes your personal total accrued and vested benefits. 

If this does not answer the questions you have about your plan, there is more information available, but you must request it from your plan administrator. 

I haven't been able to get the summary plan description, the summary annual report, or the annual report from my plan administrator. How do I figure out what is going on? 

If no one else you know in your plan is receiving this information either, there is potentially a serious case of mismanagement of your plan. Because the annual report has to be filed with the government, you may be able to obtain a copy of it by writing to the

Department of Labor, PWBA, Public Disclosure Room
Room N-5638, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

When you make this request, try to provide as much information as possible about the plan. The Department of Labor will charge you a modest fee to cover copying costs. 

Meanwhile, make sure that you have made your requests to your plan administrator in writing and have kept copies of the requests. If a plan administrator refuses to comply with your request for documents, and the reasons for the delay were within his or her control, a court could impose penalties on the administrator of up to $100 per day. 

Is it possible for my retirement plan to be terminated? What would that mean for my retirement savings? 

Pension plans are supposed to continue indefinitely, but employers are allowed to terminate plans. You do have some protection if your plan is canceled. If your plan is qualified, your accrued benefit must become 100 percent vested when the plan terminates, to the extent that it is funded-meaning what has so far been contributed by you and your employer. This is also true if your employer partially terminates a qualified plan, say if one division of a company is closed and a substantial number of plan participants are affected. All affected employees' plans become 100 percent vested, to the extent they have been funded, effective as soon as the plan terminates. 

When my sister's pension plan was terminated, the company she works for didn't have enough money to pay out all the benefits. How can I make sure this doesn't happen to me? 

If you have a defined-benefit plan, ask your plan administrator if it is insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). If it is, the PBGC guarantees that you will receive your vested pension benefits, up to certain limits. If additional benefits that exceed PBGC's limits or that were not guaranteed are due to you, whether you receive them and how much you receive will depend on the plan's funding and how much the PBGC can recover from your employer. If you find yourself in this messy situation, contact the

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
Administrative Review and Technical Assistance Department
1200 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

(202) 326-4000, for more information.
 

Rumors of a possible merger are flying around my office. Should I be worried about my pension plan? 

If your employer merges with another company, the two companies may merge retirement plans as well. But if your company's plan is the one that gets terminated, you would most likely receive benefits under the new plan that are at least equal to the benefits you were entitled to before the plans merged. By all means, ask your plan administrator what's going on. 


What if I lose my job but I am vested in my pension? Will I keep receiving information about my pension? 

If you leave an employer with whom you have a vested pension benefit that you won't be eligible to receive until later in life, your plan administrator must report that information to you and to the IRS, which, in turn, will inform the Social Security Administration. You can check with the Social Security Administration to ensure that you were reported as having a deferred vested benefit . (Call the Social Security Administration toll-free at 800-772-1213.) Even if you don't request this information, Social Security will automatically fill you in when you retire and apply for Social Security benefits. Still, I think it is a good idea to double-check after you leave your job . Stay in touch with the plan administrator, keeping him or her informed of any name or address changes to ensure that you will receive your full pension benefit. 


I have read the literature about my pension and benefit accrual, but I don't really understand how it works. Can you explain it? 

When you participate in a pension plan, you earn and accumulate - or accrue - pension benefits. Your accrued benefit is the amount that has been accumulated or allocated in your name under the plan as of a particular date. Plans can use any definition of service for the purpose of calculating your benefit accrual, as long as they use basically the same definition for all participants. Usually, a company calculates your years of service for purposes of benefit accrual from the date you became a plan participant, not necessarily from your date of hire. 


If I work part-time, how are my years of service calculated? 

Employees who work at least 1,000 hours per year but do not work full-time must be credited with a pro rata portion of the benefit that they would accrue if they were employed full-time. In other words, if your plan requires that employees work at least 2,000 hours of service per year for full benefit accrual but you work only 1,000 hours per year, you will be credited with 50 percent of the full benefit. Check your summary plan description to see exactly how your plan calculates service credit. 


Can my plan reduce my future benefits? 

Your employer may amend your plan to reduce the rate at which benefits accrue in the future. For example, a plan that pays $10 in monthly benefits at age 65 for each year of service up through 1999 can be amended to say that benefits for years of service beginning in 2001 will be credited at a rate of $8 each month. If you are participating in a defined benefit plan, you must receive written notice of any significant reduction in the rate of future benefit accruals after the plan amendment is adopted and at least 15 days before the effective date of the plan amendment. That notice is supposed to describe the plan amendment and the date it becomes effective. 


I was employed by one company for 15 years before leaving for a job that I thought would be terrific but which turned out to be a disaster. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get my old job back, but what will happen to my service credit? 

If a break in your employment lasts long enough, it can have serious consequences for your pension if you were not fully vested when you left. However, your accrued benefits are normally protected if you have a short break, usually less than five years. If you are actually planning a leave of absence, you need to examine the rules of your plan carefully so that you do not lose pension benefits unnecessarily. 


When can I count on beginning to receive benefits from my qualified retirement plan? 

According to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, you must begin to receive plan payments from a qualified plan not later than the 60th day after the close of the plan year in which the last of the following events occurs:

  • You turn 65 (or the normal retirement age specified by your plan);
  • you have participated in your plan for at least 10 years; or
  • you terminate your service with the employer.

"Normal retirement age" is defined as the earlier of:

  • the age specified in the plan as normal retirement age; or
  • age 65 or the fifth anniversary of the employee's participation in the plan, whichever is later.

Normal retirement age is also the point at which a participant must become 100 percent vested in the plan. So for most people, being 100 percent vested in a qualified retirement plan is the factor that determines normal retirement age. These rules apply for both defined contribution plans and defined benefits. 


Does the type of plan I have affect when or how I can start receiving benefits if I want to access them before I reach normal retirement age? 

Yes. Again, check your summary plan description for the specific details of your plan, but generally, there are several conditions under which your plan might allow you to begin receiving payments "early." A defined benefit plan could permit earlier payments by, say, providing for early retirement benefits, which might have additional eligibility requirements. A defined benefit plan might also allow benefits to be paid out when you terminate your employment, suffer a disability, or die. Often, 401(k) plans allow you to withdraw some or all of your vested accrued benefit when you leave your job, reach age 59H, become disabled, retire, die, or suffer some other hardship that may be defined in the summary plan description. Profit-sharing or stock bonus plans may allow you to receive your vested accrued benefit after you leave your job, reach a specific age, become disabled, die, or after a specific number of years have elapsed. 


Can my plan force me to start receiving benefits? 

If the total value of your vested accrued benefit is greater than a specified minimum, the plan cannot force you to start receiving benefits before you reach the normal retirement age. If your vested accrued benefit is below that minimum, though, you might be required you to take this money as soon as possible, often when you leave your job. If your plan is qualified you must generally begin taking benefit payments by April 1 of the calendar year following the calendar year in which you reach age 70H, whether you want to or not. 


Do I have any choice about how my benefits are paid out? 

Your plan will establish the forms in which you can receive your benefits, but it usually offers a variety of options. If you have a defined benefit plan and you are not married, by law, your benefit must be made available at least in the form of a life annuity - equal monthly payments for the rest of your life. If you are married, your benefit choices must include monthly income after your death to your spouse. Some defined-benefit plans may also allow you to take all your benefits in a single payment. Most likely will have the right to choose any of these options.
 


I think I should have begun receiving my benefits already, but I'm not getting them. What can I do? 

First of all, examine your summary plan description. All plans are required by law to provide participants with written instructions describing how to make benefit claims and how to appeal when claims are denied. If you don't understand the plan description or it doesn't include a procedure, write a letter making your claim directly to the plan administrator. If you make a claim for your benefit and it is rejected, your plan is required to notify you in writing of the rejection, along with specific reasons for the denial. The denial letter is also required by law to explain how you can appeal the decision. 


My plan administrator hasn't officially rejected my claim for benefits, but he keeps saying that my claim is still under review. How long can this go on? 

Not for long, at least not legally. If your plan has a legitimate reason for needing additional time to examine your claim, they have to send you written notification within 90 days explaining why additional review time is necessary and give you a date by which a decision is expected. If the plan is trying to deny or is delaying your claim because it needs information, they are required to inform you, in writing, what information is needed. If you don't hear anything from the plan within 90 days of making your claim, legally, you can appeal as though your claim had been officially denied. 


Once my claim has been denied, how long do I have to appeal? 

Again, check your summary plan description for details. Your plan is required to give you at least 60 days to appeal a denial, and the administrator is usually required to make a decision within 60 days of the appeal. If you find yourself in this situation, you should be communicating with the plan in writing and keeping copies of all correspondence. Just as in the initial review stage, the plan has to give you its decision, along with reasons for it, in writing. 


What if the plan denies my claim again, but I know I'm entitled to my benefits? 

At this point, you need to consult a lawyer; you may have to file a lawsuit. It is crucial now that you complete all necessary stages of administrative appeal available before you turn to the courts. This is another reason for you to make sure you understand the rules in your specific plan and to keep careful records of all your communications regarding your benefit. 


I worked for my company for many years without any problems. Then, out of the blue, I was fired. I suspect it was done so my employer could avoid paying my pension. Can they really do this? 

No. It's illegal. Employers are absolutely not allowed to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against you or any of your beneficiaries for the purpose of interfering with any benefits that you are entitled to under their retirement plan, and they can be fined for doing so. If you think your employer is interfering with your benefits, consult a lawyer who has expertise in labor law and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. 

Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.
2020 K Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20006 

Request a copy of "Your Pension: Things You Should Know About Your Pension Plan" 

Department of Labor's Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration
U.S. Department of Labor 
Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration 
Washington, DC 20210 
(800) 998-7542 
www.dol.gov/dol/pwba
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for pension plans in i private industry, including 401 (k)s. The U .S. Department of Labor is the agency that oversees these standards. Contact them for information about pensions. You can request a copy of the Department of Labor's Protect Your Pension: A Quick Reference Guide by writing to the address above: 

Dept of Labor, PWBA
Public Disclosure Room
RoomN-5638
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20210


If you have not received the summary plan description, the summary annual report, or the annual report from my plan administrator you cam obtain a copy by writing to the address above.

If you live in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Puerto Rico, Mississippi, or Florida, contact: 

PWBA Atlanta Regional Office
61 Forsyth Street 
Suite 7854 
Atlanta, GA 30303 

(404) 562-2156 

or 

PWBA Fort Lauderdale
District Office 
8040 Peters Road 
Building H, Suite 104 
Plantation, FL 33324

(954) 424-4022 
 

If you live in Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, most of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and central or western New York, contact:  

PWBA Boston Regional Office
J.F.K. Building, Room 575 
Boston, MA 02203 

(617) 565-9600 
 

If you live in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, or Wisconsin, contact: 

PWBA Chicago Regional Office
200 West Adams Street 
Suite 1600 
Chicago, IL 60606 

(312) 353-0900 
 

If you live in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, or southern Indiana, contact: 

PWBA Cincinnati Regional Office 
Suite 210, 1885 Dixie Highway 
Ft. Wright, KY 41011 

(606) 578-4680 

or 

PWBA Detroit District Office 
Suite 1310, 211 Fort Street 
Detroit, MI 48226-3211 

(313) 226-7450 
 

If you live in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas, contact: 

PWBA Dallas Regional Office 
Room 707,525 Griffin Street 
Dallas, TX 75202-5025 

(214) 767-6831 
 

If you live in Colorado, southern Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wyoming, contact:

PWBA Kansas City Regional Office
1100 Main Street 
Suite 1200 
Kansas City, MO 64105-2112 

(816) 426-5131 

or 

PWBA St. Louis District Office 
Room 338, 815 Olive Street 
St. Louis, MO 63101-1559 

(314) 539-2693 
 

If you live in American Samoa, Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, or southern California, contact: 

PWBA Los Angeles Regional Office 
Suite 514, 790 East Colorado Boulevard 
Pasadena, CA 91101 

(626) 583-7862 
 

If you live in eastern New York, southern Connecticut, or northern New Jersey, contact: 

PWBA New York Regional Office 
U.S. Customs House 
Room 625, 6 World Trade Center 
New York, NY 10019 

(212) 637-0600 
 

If you live in Delaware, Washington, DC, Maryland, southern New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania, contact: 

PWBA Philadelphia Regional Office 
Room M300, Gateway Bldg. 
3535 Market Street 
Philadelphia, PA 19104 

(215) 596-1134 

or 

PWBA Washington District Office 
Suite 556, 1730 K Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20006 

(202) 254-7013 
 

If you live in Alaska, northern California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, or Washington, contact:  

PWBA San Francisco Regional Office 
Suite 915, 71 Stevenson Street 
P.O. Box 190250 
San Francisco, CA 94119-0250 

(415) 975-4600 

or 

PWBA Seattle District Office 
Room 860, 1111 Third Avenue 
Seattle, WA 98101-3212 

(206) 553-4244

This section will be premiering soon!

CNN and Money Magazine Retirement Calculator
http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools 

Smart Money IRA Calculator
www.smartmoney.com/retirement/roth/index.cfm?story=whichira 

Smart Money 401K Planner
www.smartmoney.com/retirement/401K/index.cfm?story=planner

My wife (53) and I (49) have been married for 20 years and live in the San Francisco Bay area. We live simply, have no children, have no debt, own our home (3,000 sq. ft. in a nice area), are in good health, have a long-term care policy, and have $1.2 million in cash equivalents and tax deferred investments. At age 65 I will be eligible for Social Security and approximately $43 thousand a year in pension benefits. At age 56 my wife will qualify for $43 thousand a year in inflation-adjustable pension benefits. 

We have listened to your specials on KQED and have benefited from your wisdom. Lately we ask ourselves, "When can we realistically retire?" Do you have any advice? 

Whether or not you're ready to retire depends on the answers to two questions. One is emotional; the other is financial. The emotional question is, Do you know how you want to spend your time after you stop defining yourself by your career and start identifying yourself by who you are? Thinking this through is more difficult than most people imagine. Please give it a lot of thought. 

Now to the financial part. Since the average life expectancy of a person in good health extends in to the late 80's, many of us will spend more years in retirement than we spent working. For you, right now, retirement might mean a period of 30 to 35 years or longer. So the following question has to be asked and answered: How long will your retirement income last? Will it last for 35 years-or for 45 or 50 years if you're one of the growing number of people who live into their 100s? Twenty-five years from now, will you and your wife still be able to live on a combined $86,000 in pension income, plus Social Security and the conservatively estimated interest income that can be taken from your investments? I say that this interest income must be "conservatively estimated" because I want you to calculate your future income based on interest from very safe investments, and also to be sure that you project a level of interest that it's realistic to believe you can obtain. In this environment, I would not project above 6 percent a year. Please also be sure that you won't have to invade your principal. 

About your tax-deferred accounts: Take into consideration that, if and when you start withdrawing money from those accounts, you must first pay taxes on that money. After taxes, how much will really be left to generate income for you and your wife? Also, take into consideration what would happen if one of you were to die. Would one pension stop or be reduced? Finally, please remember to calculate that the one who remains will also be losing one social security check. 

So this is how to figure out whether and when to retire. Calculate your true living expenses today and what you project into the future. Remember to add in expenses that you may not be incurring now, such as medications, additional help around the house, etc., and take into consideration future inflation of at least three percent a year. Next calculate your income and expenses if one of you should die. Bottom line: If the surviving spouse or life partner has more than enough money to meet the bills today and 30 years or more into the future, happy retirement, my friend! If not, keep a working and saving.

Maxed out on your retirement plans and looking for other ways to catch up and make your retirement dreams reality? Most advisors will tell you that the best thing to do is look into such alternative tax-deferred vehicles as annuities, but to my mind, buying an annuity is failing to see the forest for the trees. One reason advisors like to recommend this kind of investment is because most tax-deferred savings vehicles pay a 5-percent commission on the amount of money invested. But think about this: Most growth vehicles, whether or not they are called tax-deferred, carry with them at least some of the benefits of deferral. Let's say you buy a good no-load mutual fund geared toward growth, being careful to choose a fund that traditionally doesn't make big, taxable capital gains distributions at the end of every year. And let's say you let your money grow in this fund for the next ten years. For the most part, you won't pay taxes on this money while it's still sitting in the fund. And when you do eventually sell the fund, you'll pay the lower capital gains tax rate on the gains you've made, which ends up amounting to far less than the ordinary income tax you pay on withdrawals from a tax-deferred vehicle such as a variable annuity. In the long run, you'll be much better off deferring your taxes in good long-term growth funds or stocks than you would be with a typical tax-deferred investment. 

An added incentive: Your family will benefit, too, because when you leave money in a good growth mutual fund or in individual stocks, heirs are only liable for capital gains tax rates on profits when they liquidate the holdings. With a typical tax-deferred investment like an annuity, they have to pay ordinary income tax on any gains. 

In short, though my advice may seem unorthodox, this planner urges the following: 1) Invest the absolute maximum in your 401K or other retirement plan, starting now. 2) If you are 50 or older and playing catch-up, also try to pay off your home mortgage as quickly as possible; that way, you won't have your mortgage payment as an expense when you turn eligible to collect Social Security. 3) If you have at least ten years or more until retirement, start dollar cost averaging (for an explanation, see ROAD TO WEALTH, pages 366-368) into a good no load mutual fund or individual stocks geared toward growth. I promise you: You'll catch up.

Biracree, Tom and Nancy. Over Fifty: The Resource Book for the Better Half of Your Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 

Dychtwald, Ken, and Joe Flower. Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

Matthews, Joseph L. Social Security, Medicare and Pensions. Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press, 1996. 

Ottenberg, Robert K. Kiplingers Retire and Thrive: Remarkable People Share Their Creative, Productive and Profitable Retirement Strategies. Washington, DC: Kiplinger Press, 1995. 

Picker, Barry. IRAs at 70I/2: Barry Pickers Guide to Making Timely IRA Decisions. Order on line at www.BPickerCPA.com, or call (800) 809-0015. 

Quinn, Jane Bryant. Making the Most of Your Money. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

This exercise will take some time to complete, but please, lets put time and money in perspective. You have worked all your life to earn the money that you have. I am asking you to spend a few hours to bring your understanding of your money out of the darkness, to see the light of reality, to know exactly where you stand. That is the only way to protect your money and your future. Don't just read these pages. Pick up a pen and take action now! 

Click here to view/download our "Where You Stand With Your Money" form

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