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Retirement— Are you ready?

People look on as President Bush talks about his Social Security reform proposals in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, March 11, 2005. Bush is proposing a system of private accounts which would enable workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into stock market investments. Mark Humphrey / AP

Your Assignment:  Retirement— Are you ready?  Social Security: Are you saving for retirement or are you letting the government save for you?  Are you currently collecting Social Security? How do you use the money? What things do you have to go with out?  What is your plan? 

Your Reports:
I got divorced and raised 2 kids by myself without child support. I lost everything in the divorce due to various familiar legal maneuvers. We owned a home, cars, our own business and made very good money. I worked 2 full time jobs,  the business and a second job. I have worked all my life but starting over even as an educated professional women at 40 still doesn't put you on the curve for a happy financially secure retirement. The real issue is that single women are most likely to end up living in poverty and single women with children are even more like to be in this situation. I am concerned that the retirement issues as well as the proposed Social Security changes do not address the real issues, that the system is set up for the rich and for the married. I am now 56 years old and have been very careful rebuilding my financial life, but I see myself working until my 70's or later. I have invested and own my own home, but a 20 plus year "re-do" doesn't help. All the expenses for my children fell to me, college, weddings, etc. What is a creative and safe way to earn the type of retirement I truly deserve? You cannot predict what circumstances life will give you and even being "smart" and thinking you are prepare is an illusion. Advice welcome. — Lora

Being a baby boomer I am planning for my retirement. I know it is necessary. However, I also know people who are getting Social Security checks for themselves and their kids and, in my opinion, are not entitled to it.  I know one person who is recieving benefits for herself and her child, when she can work just as well as I can.  My coworker's sister is getting social security for her two children, while both parents are still alive and married.  Now if Washington wants to help Social Security, they need to get those people off of it that are not entitled to it yet. —Laurel Willis, Whitehouse, Tex.

I've just recently retired after working for 48 years.  I started working after school at age 16. I haven't saved one red cent because I was a single, divorced mother raising a child.  I never made enough money to pay all the bills, much less put away anything.  My car, bought used, is now 16 years old.  I don't know what I'll do when it breaks down since the great state of Texas has now seen fit to tax auto repairs.  Another instance of raping the poorest segment of society.  What am I doing without?  Almost everything.  I can pay the rent and utilities (no cable tv, that's gone) with about $50 left over each month for food. Not old enough for Medicare so I have no health insurance, no dental insurance.  I do have expensive automobile insurance though, since it's the law.  Odd, isn't it, that we are required by law to have expensive auto insurance, but to hell with you if you can't afford medical insurance or buy food.  Those boys in charge of running things need to get their priorities straight.  There's way too much pandering to insurance companies and big business.  Hopefully, after another 4 years, the people will see the light and be a little more careful with their vote in 2008. —Evelyn W., Houston, Tex.

Well, my story is I could have retired in '95 under disability but I wanted to stay working longer.  I pushed my situation until my company, through cutbacks, piled more work on me by letting others go. Then they got wind of my health being bad and getting worse. They laid me off before I could collect the disability insurance I paid for — which would of been about three thousand a month extra. Now I'm only left with Social Security disability and just breaking even. I'm worried about what the future holds. This company brags about making the stockholders profits, about 30 billion each year, while they screw the employees out of their benefits. —William J. Porciello Sr., Naugatuck, Conn.

I retired at 51. From my first day in the work force I envisioned my retirement and put funds aside for it. I was the main bread winner in our home. My wife and I raised two, very successful children. I am paying the entire college bill for both of them. It is my gift to them. It is the only large gift you should give a child. Matter of fact, other than the small mortgage on one property, I owe no money whatsoever on anything. For those of you wondering, I did not get anything from an inheritance. My parents are both alive and so are my Grandmothers. I always read books on the lifestyles of the rich (not the famous) and how they got there. It paid off. I worked for the state of PA. I got promotions on a regular basis, which really helped out with the additional property purchases and investments. It also gave me a lucrative pension. I did not go on lovely vacations or buy an expensive Harley. I had better investments than that to make. I invested heavily in the Deferred Compensation Plan at work. I did have my share of toys, but usually I bought them used and at bargain basement prices.

You can try to keep up with the Joneses or you can do things the right way. Be willing to tell yourself 'no' once is a while. Pay yourself first. Put money away for retirement from every check. Yes, it can be difficult. Once you are used to it, there is nothing to it. Even in my retirement I am adding money to my investments from my monthly pension. That way I can give myself a raise later on, as needed, from my increased investment return. Young people, read up on the effects of compounding interest over a 35 year period of time. It will astound you. Anyone can do what I did if they fully apply themselves. —John Glasgow, Spring Mills, Pa.

I'm 51-years-old and I've got 30 years seniority.  I would love to be able to retire. But, with Young George's idea of a future with me paying into a private fund and with not knowing if the pension that I'm vested in not being solvent? We workers in the auto industry don't know day-to-day if our companies are even going to be operating in the future, let alone have the time frame left in our lives to fund any programs.  Maybe we should just work until we fall over dead on the job, at least that way our families can collect on an insurance plan.  —Emil H Schatz, Fenton, Mich.

Saving for retirement in the good ole U.S.A. wouldn't be so hard if folks didn't have to spend their entire pay check as if there isn't a tomorrow.  I'm not talking about the people barely getting by — my heart goes out to all of them.  I refer to the two income homes where mom and dad are pulling down good money (say 45k plus per person, reasonable here in Ohio).  Those same folks have the two SUVs, the timeshare in Orlando, the HD motorcycle with trailer (for that once a year trip to Sturgis) and the 2,500 square foot house in the new allotment.
Those people could fund their entire retirement without Social Security — but they wont.  As for me, I've got a plan and it doesn't include working full-time past 57.  —Bernie Pressman, Akron, OH

I'm 37 and although retirement seems far away, it will be here before I know it.  My wife and I are not planning on social security and currently our main approach is 401k.  To be honest it is really difficult trying to find the extra money to put away.  We have three kids that we'll have to put through college so that is our first goal.  It seems like we are getting stretched in fifty diferent directions.  Health care costs continue to rise.  My company 401k match just dropped.  The expected cost for a four year college continues to rise.  Someone asked me today when I planned to retire.  Honestly, I don't have a clue.  Most of the calculators that I try tell me that I need to have at least $1-2 millon. I guess I better start buying some lottery tickets. — Randy, Va.

I collect Social Security and that is what I live on.  I am a 73-year-old widow and I cannot even afford my meds. Thanks to my doctor, I get Freebies.  My husband and I invested in stocks and lost three-fourths of our money.  Then he became very ill and passed away in 1998.  Pension money was eaten up.  I do not get assistance of any kind because my SS is just OVER the line to qualify.  Cute huh?  I did put some money from the sale of my home into a policy where I must now take out a certain amount a year.  That is a small 9000 fund.  Know where I can meet a rich senior male companion? It really isn't funny!!!! —Berndine DeLap, Sussex Wis.

I am 25 years old, a full time employee and full time student. I have been saving 10% of my pay in a 401k for the past 3 years.  Money is extremely tight now with school, and rent, and everything else, but I know it will be a lot tighter if I wait to start saving until it's too late. I am not counting on ever receiving a Social Security check, but I understand that this government made a promise to (and took the money) of those who came before me.  I would prefer a system where we are responsible for ourselves.  Americans need to start thinking about the consequences of high interest debt and lack of savings.  So does the government.—Marguerite Wolf, Tacoma, Wash.

I am a Deputy Police Chief in New Jersey. I had planned to retire at age 55. I am eligible for a 70 percent pension from the state. I will get no Social Security, as receiving the state pension negated being eligible for social security. I would be able to live nicely on the 70 percent. However, I have to pay 80 percent of my health insurance upon retirement.  That would have been fine if the cost of N.J. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had not gone up 105 percent in 3 years. Now my 70 percent after the cost of health benefits is deducted equates to 54 percent before taxes. It is cheaper for me to continue to contribute pension payments then it would be to pay the health insurance premiums upon retirement. It is good that I like my job because I would need to get a part-time job if I retired to help pay the health insurance premiums. My health benefits as a fulltime employee are paid for by the town. Like I told the mayor, I guess the towns people should get used to an aging police department, since there is no economic incentive to retire. I have worked for the police department for 33 years. —Arthur McLaughlin, Cresskill, N.J.

I got my first good job at age 21. I had health insurance and a good pension plan. I put as much as I could afford into the pension plan hopping to retire at age 55. I worked my way into a lower management position which gave me an option to get in a better plan. so I paid into both. I received an update yearly showing that if I retired at 55 I would be making a little less than I was making working but at age 65 with Social Security I would be making more than I was working. I left that company for a better job but left my pension plan with them. A few years later I found out the company was split up and sold to various other companies. The only thing I could get out of my pension was what I contributed plus a small amount of interest.  I took that and invested it in an index fund. The owner of the company I went to work took the extra profits from the company and put them in a retirement plan. When he turned the company over to his son we all got an IRA account and he rolled that money into that account and we were forced to learn about the stock market. It looked like I was back on track to retire at 55 again but 2001 came and the Internet bubble burst. I wasn't quite fast enough and lost a good portion of my profits. If nothing bad happens I will be able to retire at 60 and live on the same salary I'm making now until I'm 88. Any youngsters out there? Start saving now, stay out of debt, and have your fun when you really have the time.  55 and 60 isn't old anymore if you keep fit and eat right. — JFW, Salt Lake City

I am 41 and my husband is 43.  We have been saving for retirement since we were in our 20s and should have over $1m available at retirement age.  We are lucky because we were smart enough to take advantage of our employers 401(k)'s and start saving in them when we were young. We have also taken advantage of Roth and Traditional IRA's.  We had to do this though, since our companies terminated their pension plans so a traditional Pension was never in the cards for us.  We have never counted on Social Security. Even 20 years ago when we started working there were warnings that it would not be around. So we took advantage of the private route and will be safe.  Unfortunately, there are  alot of Americans in the middle who lost their pensions and didn't have alot of time to save into 401(k)'s or other retirement plans and who took Social Security to be a given that would support them. My children will be told that they have to start saving for retirement as soon as they start working.  For them there is absolutely no hope of Social Security being able to support them at all — with or without Bush's plan.  Count on yourself, live more simply and save money — don't depend on the government. —Louise, Vt.

About one year ago today my son was in a car accident.  He has ended up with Tramatic Brain Injury.  He is struggling to get his high school credits.  But without Social Security my son would never survive.  So what are we going to do with all the people who have no choices where life takes them on an adventure that they never hoped or planned — whose lives are just totally changed?  I have been reading that it's not fair that some are complaining about giving their money away to people who don't want to work. Perhaps they're are people who love to if they could.  I hope they or their loved ones don't find themselves in this position.
Debbi, Thief River Falls, Minn.

I just received my first Social Security Check.  I am 62.  My check will be $1087 a month.  I have two college degrees.  I am a Vietnam era veteran. In my 30s and 40s I had good jobs.  When I turned 50, I lost my last good good job and I have been underemployed since then.  I would have kept on working until 65 but there is definite age discrimation in today's work place.  Luckily, my wife still works and we have health insurance.  We have managed to save a little money but our old age seems bleek.  Our plans are like many we know.  Just try to do the best we can and hope we don't get sick.  We are worried about where this country is headed and nobody seems to have an answer. —James Wilson

We are retired. We planned for it. This is something folks don't even think about till 50-ish (and this subject should be taught throughout a child's school history).  My husband has two pensions and I will receive one in two years.  We are living in a rural setting with all material things paid for and $2,400 per month to live on.  It can be done if you are not greedy and you get to pat yourself on the back for a job very well done! —Pat Manley, Crawfordville, Fla.

At 62 and a half, I am scheduled to receive Social Security in April if all goes well with the paper-work. I have had late in life job loss and age discrimination. I have a job and my wife works, we will get by. But the Social Security will play a big part in how we get by. I would like to remind everyone to look at history.  In the early '80s my mother had her money invested in "safe" accounts. Inflation ran rampant and she lost the value of the investments. I have met many people with 401(k)s who had retired and then had to take jobs again after 9/11.  The stock market may do well over a 20 year period, but what if you turn 65 or 70 at the wrong time of the 20 years?  Maybe just increasing the retirement age is the best way to go about mending the Social Security budget. We do live longer, and work longer. It would be pretty boring to sit home all day anyway.  —Jeff Johnson, Palm Coast, Fla.

I am an educator who taught for many years in a state where educators paid into the Social Security system. The state retirement plan for educators was very minimal because of this. When my husband's place of work closed and we moved to another state I did not know that when I started teaching there I was jeopardizing my benifits from Social Security. In this state we do not pay into Social Security and do have a separate retirement plan. Due to a law I did not know existed, because I do not pay into Social Security now, I will get greatly reduced benefits and will also not be able to get much in the line of survivor benefits in the event my husband dies. I paid into Social Security from 1976-1996. Why should my benefits be taken away and why should I and my children loose survival benefits? This applies to about 17 states. For those that teach in those state all of their working lives it may not be a problem, but for those who have worked at other jobs or move from another state, it is a problem.

I am approaching 50 and I have a plan in place that will let me retire at 55. I won't have to start collecting Social Security until I am 65, but that IS and has always been an integral part of my plan.  Since there is no Social Security crisis, I wish the right wing radicals in Congress that are trying to destroy our country would shut up.  Let's be clear. The only Social Security crisis is that the right wing is trying to destroy it. If you remove the wage cap, Social Security instantly becomes solvent forever. End of story.  The right wingers simply hate paying for anything that doesn't directly affect themselves right now. They are un-American and selfish. They are immoral and greedy. And their every-man-for-himself philosophy has been the root of ruin for every major civilzation in earth's history.  —TekBoss

During the 1980s, I was a (non-Military) federal employee paying Civil Service Retirement Tax. A reform took place to phase out Civil Service Retirement.  All new employee's would pay Social Security Tax. All current employee's were given an option (with an incentive) to convert to Social Security. The incentive? The Federal Gov. would match your contribution to a Thrift Savings Plan up to 5%. It is a good plan for those who took it. However, that 5% comes out of every tax payers pocket.   —Aileen Bailey, Clearwater, Fla.

I'm on Social Security and I receive $559.00 and $42.00 in food stamps.  I have been advised that the private accounts that Bush will put in place will affect my little amount I receive by an unknown percentage as soon as it is put in force.  As far as Medicare goes, out of that small amount I receive I must pay premiums of $67.00 and a co-pay of $10.00 each visit.  My gosh that is more than private.  But there is no choice.  I am unable to pay utilities. I have to beg for help. Still with help it costs about 100.00 a month.  Phone  — minimum of $30.  I am complaining for thousands like me who are also handicaped.  Now Bush wants to increase tax at the pump, increase utilities , and tax on phone and on cable.  I and many others will not be able to even exist.  I sometimes don't even have enough to eat. I don't mean to sound like a cry baby but what are we going to do?  —Pat, Anacortes, Wash.

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