Friday, June 5, 2009

GM's bankruptcy makes your retirement harder too

Financial planners like to use the image of a three-legged stool when they talk about retirement planning.

The metaphor and idea behind it are simple. To live comfortably in retirement, most of us need income from three different sources: Social Security, our employer's pension plan, if there is one, and additional money that we should be saving or investing.

Now, wreckage from Detroit's imploding automakers is knocking some of the legs out from under that stool, according to contributors who've taken an in-depth look for the Financial Times of London. You don't have to be in the auto industry, or even own a Chevy, to feel the tremors.

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich draws some strong parallels between what's happening with GM and in the rest of the economy. And you don't have to agree with his politics to wonder, as he does, what taxpayers may be be buying with our $60 billion investment.

But I think an unsigned editorial raises a more interesting idea - the U.S. has no real retirement-security plan because we've relied on our employers' pension plans to carry that load. Even Poland has a surer plan, reports Forbes.

Mending the mess is possible, but will take time and some presumably unpopular tax changes, say commentators such as Thomas Mackell Jr. at We each have our own heavy lifting to do as well.

If you have time, and a job, you also have resources to deal with the most challenging problems, says the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards. If not, there is a fourth leg under the stool too. Good luck with the job hunt.

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