Taking Retirement Planning Into Your Own Hands

Everyone loves a little DIY project, but does that independent spirit extend to retirement planning?  Time Warner Cable News’  Tara Lynn Wagner look at how you can take your future into your own hands in this Money Matters report.

With pension plans becoming fewer and further between, experts say workers need to take a do-it-yourself approach to saving for retirement. Unfortunately, for many, that idea can be daunting.

"They get really confused and they don't do anything and that's the worst part of anything is not doing anything about it," says Ken Mahoney, president of Mahoney Asset Management.

The key is to take the first step. If your employer offers a 401k, start there.

"If you're fortunate enough to have a 401k, where the company will match your savings in the 401k, that's fantastic and you've got to take full opportunity of that. If not, it's actually leaving money on the table," says Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations at FINRA.

Beyond that, you need to open an IRA - or individual retirement account. Axelrod suggests enlisting the help of a professional, like a brokerage firm, a mutual fund company or even your local bank.

"That's what firms are there to do, to walk you through the process, to help you through the process, to explain your options, to walk you through probably what's a lot of paperwork that you have to go through, and give you the ability to ask questions about what your options are," says Axelrod.

Ken Mahoney agrees.  As author of the book "A GPS for Your Retirement," he says a financial advisor can also serve as your guide and cheerleader along the way.

"Almost like going to the gym without a trainer, you know keeping you on that treadmill, keeping you going.  I think that's where professional advice really can help," says Mahoney.

Another way to stay on track is to set up an automatic payment plan so that you are making regular contributions without any effort.

While you should keep track of how your portfolio is doing, experts say resist the urge to make constant changes. Mahoney likens it to people trying to outsmart traffic.

"They are in the left lane, the middle lane, the right lane and meanwhile you stay in one line and you get past them. It's like that in the market also. Sometimes you time it and you end up mistiming it. It's really hard to time the market," he says.

Instead, Axelrod suggests you check in with your advisor periodically to discuss the big picture and make adjustments as needed. But at the end of the day, she says, success is up to you and how committed you are to saving.

"You've got to do it on your own. It has to come from here, instead of somewhere else forcing you to do it," she says.

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