How to Prepare for Retirement

What’s the best way to motivate Americans to save, invest and prepare for retirement? Some behavioral-finance experts suggest using a carrot. Others suggest using a stick. And still others suggest using a combination of carrot and stick.

As for me, I suggest the use of statistics. Consider just a sampling of the numbers that were released last year:

IRAs and 401(k)s
There is $4.23 trillion in individual retirement accounts, but that figure hides the fact that relatively few Americans contribute to IRAs and that even when they do, the amounts are small.

Only 14% of U.S. households contributed to IRAs in 2006, according to the Investment Company Institute. You might think that’s not so bleak given that working Americans are presumably saving for retirement using employer-sponsored plans, such as a 401(k), a 403(b) or the federal Thrift Savings Plan. But again, the numbers are somewhat depressing.

Run the numbers on your retirement. There are nearly 100 million Americans age 21 to 64 with full-time, year-round jobs. But of that number, just 60%, or 58.4 million, work for an employer that sponsors a retirement plan, and only 52.7%, or 50.8 million, participate in a retirement plan.

That means roughly half of all working Americans don’t participate in a retirement plan or don’t have an employer-sponsored plan in which to participate. It also means that a huge number of adult Americans – by my estimate, 150 million of a potential 200 million – aren’t saving for retirement in any meaningful way, if at all.

If you are among the 150 million who are saving little or nothing for retirement, now would be a good time to do so.

If you are among those who aren’t worried about health-care costs, inflation or maintaining a standard of living in retirement, now would be a good time to start worrying.

If you are among those who worry about retirement risks, now would be a good time to do something about it. Set aside money for health care, for instance.

And if you are among those who don’t know what your sources and composition of retirement income will be, now would be a good time to figure that out. After all, waiting to see how things might work out isn’t the world’s best plan.