Retirees should look both ways when crossing Wall Street

Mario Henry

Special to Valley News

Most Americans don’t trust Wall Street, yet many will put the bulk of their retirement savings in the stock market’s hands.

The increasing disappearance of company pensions and the growing popularity of the 401(k) have shifted the retirement-planning paradigm from employer to employee over the last 30 years, pouring billions of dollars into the stock market. Now nearly half of the 127 million American workers who put in at least 35 hours per week participate in 401(k)s.

On the other hand, less than a third of Americans in a recent Bloomberg National Poll said they had a favorable view of Wall Street. The low approval rating, 31 percent, is unchanged since the 2008 financial crisis.

Against this backdrop of cynicism are the vagaries of the stock market itself. Some financial experts think that, given market unpredictability and a less clear financial path to retirement than it was decades ago, leaning on stocks primarily for retirement funds poses a heightened risk.

The ceiling always falls. And whereas pensions provided a measure of stability – set payouts based on a percentage of income – the 401(k) is a huge gamble. Meanwhile, according to Benefits Pro, about $5 trillion is invested in 401(k) accounts managed by Wall Street, but who’s really benefiting? An individual pays into a personal investment account with no guarantees. Everything points back to people investing in stocks that ultimately make Wall Street wealthier. Too many people who invest their retirement savings in the market aren’t able to retire and prosper.

I have three reasons why taking a retirement road down Wall Street can be bumpy or worse.

First, retirement needs minus a pension equals a pressure to invest. Pensions brought certainty for generations of retirees. Then the economic model shifted dramatically, putting much more of the planning pressure on the employees. We are living in the first generation that largely will be without a pension. People who are in a quiet panic about having enough for retirement are vulnerable to bad investment advice and high fees. Often they get caught up in the idea of a long-term bull market and don’t know about or explore other investment options.

Next, remember the recession? Many people haven’t recovered from the 2008 debacle. It was more than a cautionary tale. It had a huge impact on retirement savings. Going forward, it’s important to note a 401(k) usually benefits the higher earners because the middle- and lower-income workers often don’t have the tools to manage their accounts successfully.

Also, fickle or underfunded 401(k)s are poor choices. Many workers aren’t able to put enough into their retirement plans. The ante has gone up with people generally living longer and needing funds for 25 to 30 years or more. Also, it’s impossible to be immune from the risk that the stock market can dive as you approach retirement. And, some people will inevitably make bad investment choices.

I do believe Wall Street has a part to play in someone’s investment portfolio, but to be 100 percent dependent on a system for your retirement saving that isn’t proven to perpetuate your income is not a wise strategy.

Mario Henry, a former National Football League player, is a financial services professional with 18 years of experience in the industry and author of “How to Hire Your House,” an innovative guide on how to create a tax-free pension and sustain sufficient income through retirement. Henry also is a licensed insurance broker and a national motivational speaker. For more information, visit www.cya411.com.

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