Poor preparation puts retirement burden on others

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Survey after survey shows too many of the baby boomers approaching retirement age don't have the financial resources to stop working and maintain the lifestyles they have grown accustomed to.

Not that it isn't possible. There are Americans who have put aside a portion of their earnings throughout their working lives. There are Americans who have taken full advantage of tax incentives, such as IRAs and 401(k) accounts, to prepare for retirement. There are Americans who have avoided heavy debt and have relied upon cost-saving, pay-as-you-go buying habits.

Those examples of thrift and planning for the future, however, are far too rare. In a series of Associated Press reports, some grim statistics were presented: On average, Americans are currently saving less than 1 percent of what they earn. At the same time, minimum payments on the average debt of Americans takes 18 percent of disposable income.

Meanwhile, the world's No. 2 economy -- Japan -- follows a different model, one where a comparatively high savings rate is matched by disdain for credit. Showing this, only a third of Japanese homes have mortgages.

What does America's obsession for spending and credit hold in store for the future? No one knows for sure, but economists predict many Americans will have to work well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 just to make ends meet.

And bankruptcy lawyers worry that more and more Americans will be forced to seek relief under a revised bankruptcy code that will make life for spendthrifts significantly more unpleasant.

Most financial experts say the first step out of the financial mess so many Americans find themselves in is to: (1) Find ways to get out of debt; and (2) To follow that with a strict savings plan.

Far too many Americans, however, are likely to do nothing until it's too late. At that point, the burden of poor money management by so many will likely fall on those who have spent prudently and saved for a rainy day as well as retirement.

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