YOUR PENSION? A LIABILITY FOR YOUR EMPLOYER

If you have been fortunate enough to work for an employer long enough to qualify for a pension, and your boss offers you one big check when you leave, in exchange for the smaller – and everlasting — monthly checks, would you take it?
J. Scott Trubey, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has found that many big Atlanta companies are doing that. His report was published in the Oct. 14, 2012, edition.
On its face, it appears that the employers are bearing a big cost now, in lieu of mounting costs later. If the companies fund their pension plans, they won’t have to contribute nearly as much in the future by paying workers off now. If the numbers work well for the company, that’s all well and good.
But should the workers take the offer? There are several schools of thought. First, if you are ill and not expected to live a long life, you might think about taking the big payment now to cover your medical costs, presuming your employer doesn’t provide retiree insurance beyond Medicare. Of course, that would leave less for your spouse, if you are able to cover him or her in your pension. Then again, if you are a healthy, active retiree, expecting to live a long life in retirement, those monthly checks would be very nice to have for as long as you live. And, if you are fortunate to live a long and healthy life, you’d have collected so much more than that lump sum over time.
But let’s look at things a different way. Obviously, if you are not a careful money manager, or are not a savvy investor, or feel that having that much money in your pocket at once is too much temptation to spend frivolously and quickly, then the monthly pension payouts are best for you.
WHAT COULD $200,000 AT ONCE DO FOR YOU?
But if you have some financial smarts, or get good, reliable financial advice, you could invest that money with a return greater – even much greater – than your pension plan would get. To use round numbers, a $200,000 lump-sum payment in your hands could double every five years, whereas it might double every 10 years in the pension plan’s overly cautious investments. Naturally, pension plans have to be careful with their investments. But having the money in your hands give YOU power to invest it as YOU would want, with potentially more attractive returns.
Using those same numbers, if the $200,000 lump-sum investment doubled every five years, and you lived 20 years in retirement, you’d have a $3.2 million nest egg if you didn’t touch it. If that’s not practical – you need the money to live the retirement of your dreams – you can live off the returns of your money. An 8 percent annual return is not unheard of in the investment world, so you would make $18,000 a year to live on – and still have your lump sum. Compare that to your monthly benefit, multiplied by 12.There may not be much difference, or there could be a big difference in your favor.
The bonus: you would ALWAYS have that lump sum in its entirety working for you, no matter how long you lived. Just think if you took a part-time job you enjoyed. You might be able to put, say, $5 every paycheck from that job into that account to augment it. If you are money-savvy, you’d been saving all your life. It would be no big deal to keep it up.
If you already have decent savings over and above your pension and Social Security, and you add that lump sum to augment your account, how much more interest, dividends and capital gains would you make? Would your monthly pension matter?
So, if you are in a position to take a lump-sum payment in exchange for your monthly pension, give it a lot of thought. Get some good, trustworthy advice from someone other than a representative of your employer. Think about it from the perspective of control. If you like to control your own destiny, the choice you would make might be different from a person who doesn’t want the worry of financial management, or who budgets based on knowing what he gets every month.
Either choice has risks. You risk market performance with the lump sum, and you risk pension plans going belly-up with the monthly payment. Many pension plans are in trouble today and, even if you worked for a government agency or a very solvent company, that pension might not always be what you think it will be.
One more idea: what if you took the lump sum and invested a small portion of it into something that would give you a potentially substantial residual income that would dwarf your monthly pension? There are several ways to do that. To check out one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
Most of all, if you get that choice,be thankful. So many people work hard and have NO pension. If you are young, don’t PRESUME you’ll get a pension, even if your employer promises it. Lots can change over time.
Peter

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