I’ve been espousing a consistent retirement savings message since I began my tenure as Assistant Secretary: Start saving now, no matter how much, ask plenty of questions to anyone who claims to be a financial advisor or investment expert, and make sure you understand the fees you’re paying. It’s particularly important to make sure you understand the fees that you’re paying, because a small difference adds up over time and can mean a dramatic difference in your account balance when you retire. To that end, EBSA has issued rules to require the disclosure of fees to workers. http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fsparticipantfeerule.html.
It was with this savings message in mind that I traveled to Atlanta last weekend for the second in a series of retirement forums. EBSA teamed up with Spelman College to host the free forum titled, “African Americans and Retirement: What You Should Know Before it’s Too Late,” on Saturday, April 28. I was there along with fellow federal officials, consumer advocates and retirement experts who were all eager to share retirement tips and savings strategies with our audience. From the reaction we received both during and after the session, audience members were equally excited to get answers to their questions.
A few things became clear early on in the forum. The first is that while saving for retirement is challenging for all of us, some demographic groups face unique challenges. For instance, African-Americans, while just as likely as others to work for employers that offer retirement plans, are less likely to participate. And women live longer than men and are often in and out of the workforce more often over the course of a career. We need to have more money in our retirement accounts, but unfortunately are often saving less than men.
The second is that no matter who you are, the marketplace can be tough to navigate, and many people do seek out the advice of a financial professional. But too often, a so-called advisor may not be working in the best interest of his or her client. Panelist after panelist pointed out common pitfalls in the retirement marketplace. These ranged from the seemingly benign, but ultimately costly, actions of an advisor who steers a client into a pricey yet underperforming investment; to the outright criminal schemes of those who would defraud workers of their hard-earned savings.
Finally, and fortunately, it became clear that we can all achieve a secure retirement by arming ourselves with the tools and knowledge needed to make good decisions. Start saving today, ask tough questions of any financial advisor http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fsfiduciaryoutreachconsumers.html and remember, it is never too early to start saving, and it is never too late.
Atlanta was the second in a series of retirement forums that EBSA will host around the country in the coming months. Each will be free and open to the public, and all will offer information on saving for retirement. Keep an eye on www.dol.gov/ebsa for information on when and where the next event will take place.
The Writer is Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security