College costs are always a popular complaint of students. After all, who is happy with higher parking fees, the inflation of textbook prices through “bundling” or the Student Government’s waste of student fees?
But while students seem to be well informed on these issues, there is a post-graduation cost that few seem to consider: the cost of retirement. And if a new survey is correct, students shouldn’t look to other Americans to educate them on how they should plan for old age.
On Tuesday, the Employee Benefit Research Institute released their 16th Annual Retirement Confidence Survey. Sixty-eight percent of the 1,000 workers surveyed indicated they were confident they would have enough money to retire but more than half had saved less than $25,000. Perhaps most alarming, as Marketwatch.com reported, “Sixty-one percent of workers say they expect to receive a traditional pension when they retire, despite the fact that just 40 percent of those surveyed said they or their spouses have such a plan.”
So just to reiterate, American workers who have no pension plan think that somehow they will be covered by one once they reach retirement.
Sounds a little absurd and irrational? It should, but students can learn from these irrational responses even if it seems silly to think about retirement before entering the labor force.
Accepting that first job may seem overwhelming, but increasingly it is the benefits that matter and not just the bottom line dollar amount. Be able to judge just how generous a job offer really is.
One of the major reasons for the erosion of retirement security in America is the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans. Find out which one your employer provides. Defined benefit plans are based upon a predetermined formula, usually based on longevity with the company. The bottom line responsibility for funding the plan rests with the employer.
Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, depend on contributions by employees and sometimes employers as well. If the underlying investment goes south, so too does your retirement nest egg. Sounds like a big risk? Well it certainly can be, as evidenced by the numerous former Enron employees who found their retirement plans over-concentrated in company stock that lost value quickly.
But pension plans aren’t the only way to fund retirement. Social Security, signed into law in 1935, has been depended on by many to make it through the retirement years. While it has served its purpose well, its very nature of being a government program makes it subject to political tinkering. Especially Republicans and their think tanks have advocated plans to partially privatize the system, but to this point have not succeeded.
So in addition to finding out about employee pension benefits and figuring Social Security’s impact on students’ retirement, they must also consider personal savings. Once again, this is an area where Americans seem to be challenged. Last year the personal savings rate in this country was -0.5 percent, which means Americans spent more than they earned.
The optimistic part for college students nearing graduation is that entering the job market is a great place to start building savings. Without belaboring the numerical proof, suffice it to say that it pays to save a little bit over a long time rather than trying to play catch up later in life. It is often said that it is important to always pay yourself first.
Unfortunately, for too many it is easy to be assimilated into the “keep up with the Joneses” mentality. Many Americans are so present-oriented that the accumulation of “stuff” has become their prime objective. College graduates are susceptible to this as well, although to do so ignores the costs of preparing for your retirement future.