By Ellie Kay, Retirement Expert
Our family loves adventure! In fact, we love to go to theme parks as a family and we haven’t met a roller coaster we didn’t like. I believe that a sense of adventure can help consumers face the future with confidence. It seems that our current economy is similar to some of the double looped roller coasters we’ve ridden and time will tell if our country sees a double dip recession. Many consumers are concerned about how the uncertain economy can wreak havoc on their financial future—from having a steady income in retirement to the possibility of losing their homes—threats to financial security abound. But there is hope for those who take steps to plan for their future. Here are some of my basic tips to help you recession proof your retirement:
1. Be Smart: Save Money: I get loads of emails every week from consumers who are cutting hundreds from their household budget by following simple savings tips. From insurance to groceries, there are savvy ways to save at your fingertips. (See the money savings tips on my blog). Saving will help you weather the highs and lows of the economy, as well as prepare you to live on a fixed income in retirement. Use the money you save to pay down debt, fund a fixed indexed annuity (see step 3 below) and build an emergency fund.
2. Be Fully Funded: The 401(k), long known as the ticket to retirement for millions of Americans, is coming under attack in this economic climate. Many retirement savings options have taken a hit in recent years due to market volatility and fluctuations. Recent years have seen 401(k) plans depleted due to poor stock market performance, as well as companies lowering their matching commitments leaving employees to rebuild their nest egg alone. And, many workers just stopped contributing. However, it is important to make sure you don’t shortchange yourself in retirement, whether you are investing in a 401(k)—or a TSP (Thrift Savings Plan—for military and civilian government employees), or in the case of small business owners, a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension). More importantly, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that it is not enough to rely on your 401(k) alone—consider financial products that can survive market fluctuations while giving you a steady lifetime income, like the one highlighted in the next step.
3. Be a Savvy Consumer: Savvy and conscientious consumers who are looking for smart retirement solutions and more control of their long-term finances will recognize the important role that fixed indexed annuities (FIAs) can play in any balanced financial plan. I believe that fixed indexed annuities offer a level of certainty during uncertain times because they provide protection from stock market volatility, offer guaranteed interest and income, and also provide the opportunity for additional interest when markets are up. Understand that FIAs are typically used in addition to other retirement vehicles (such as a 401(k) or IRAs) to add balance to a retirement plan—they aren’t intended to be your only source of retirement income, but to help moderate risk in your portfolio. The insurance industry is state regulated and these regulators have put a number of protections in place to ensure FIAs are sold ethically and fairly to consumers. In my partnership with the IALC (Indexed Annuity Leadership Council), I have found a great option to recommend to my readers and viewers.
4. Be Diligent: Know your FICO: FICO scores can determine auto insurance premiums, whether you’ll get the promotion or the job, the percentage you pay for a mortgage or car, and whether you pay a security deposit for utilities. Even if you downsize a home or a vehicle in preparation for retirement, you’re going to need to have an excellent FICO to get the best APR rates. It is important that you know your score. If you find that your score needs improvement, you can do so in three easy steps:
· Pay On Time – Consider setting up automatic payments online for your credit cards, mortgage and vehicles, so you never have to worry about being a day late.
· Pay More than the minimum – Even $5 to $10 more on your credit cards will be viewed as paying down debt—making your FICO go up!
· Pay Proportionally - Don’t have more than 50% of available credit charged on any one card. For example, a card with a $6000 limit should never have more than $3000 charged on it, even if you pay off the balance each month.
5. Beware: Debt Consolidation Companies: During economically challenging times, an influx of debt consolidation companies arise to help you prepare for the worst. However, some of the for-profit debt counseling companies charge a hefty fee for their services, which is usually tacked onto your debt load. Instead of using a for-profit company, consider going to a nonprofit, like National Consumer Credit Counseling Service. They can help you pay off debt, get you on a budget and even negotiate with your lenders on your behalf.
Which first step will you take today in order to recession proof your retirement for tomorrow?
Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters show. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010)
For money savings links, or to view Ellie’s blog, go to www.elliekay.com