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Americans can no longer count on pensions

Financial experts say in today's climate of unstable and underfunded pensions, millions of Americans should be worried about their retirements. NBC's Mark Mullen reports.

For Janice Whiffen, it's time for a retirement reality check. She's 57, has worked for a company that offered no pension, and sits down now with a financial planner to discuss how she'll fund her retirement.

"I no longer have the earning capacity that I once did," Whiffen says.

Financial experts say in today's climate of unstable and underfunded pensions, millions of Americans just like Whiffen should be worried.

"There's a high risk that you would not have a pension plan from your current or your future employer," says Shlomo Benartzi, a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. "That Social Security may or may not be there for you," he adds, "depending on the financial soundness of the system, and that people are not saving enough on their own.”

Enter financial planners like Jennifer Openshaw, who are trying to scare their clients into action.

"That's a real sad, harsh reality for Americans," Openshaw says, "because here, 44 million Americans are facing underfunded pensions. And what are they going to do?"

The best advice, say experts, is "do something."  Commit to saving on your own, consider a financial planner and, if your boss does have a 401(k), participate heavily. Many, surprisingly, don't.

"Even if they put money aside," says Professor Benartzi, "sometimes they invest it all in a single stock, like company stock, which they have the risk of losing their job and their retirement savings at the same time if the company does not perform well."

That happened to many Enron workers.

And financial planners say some nearing retirement might even consider major lifestyle changes to save money — not just downsizing homes, but even moving to more affordable states with no state income tax.

"People need to wake up that they're going to have to take financial responsibility," says Whiffen.

Or they could end up broke, if they let the system determine their financial future.