Twenty percent of respondents to a recent online survey at Morningstar.com came clean that they don’t intend to invest in their IRA this year. Another 34% said they hadn’t gotten around to it, but planned on ponying up the contribution before the April 15; though those responses were clocked before the Dow nose-dived below 7,000 yesterday.
Look, there’s no denying that investing right about now is as fun as root canal, but bypassing your IRA is not going to help matters one bit. If there’s one thing that is a 100% guarantee in light of the 50% drop in the stock market it is that you need to invest more, not less, to have a shot at retirement security. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute less than 20% of individuals over age 55 have more than $250,000 in retirement assets (and just to be clear, this factoid was circa early 2008 before the carnage). That works out to an annual income stream of no more than $10,000 a year based on a conservative-and rational-4% withdrawal rate.
That’s not going to make for a comfy retirement, folks.
Unless you are in a serious financial squeeze due to a layoff, you simply can’t afford to bypass saving as much as you can for retirement; stuff the 401(k) and plump up your IRA. Don’t qualify for a Roth IRA or a deductible IRA? So what. Put the money in a non-deductible; you get tax-deferred growth and starting in 2010 you’ll be able to convert into a Roth.
And no one says you have to dive off the deep end into stocks; invest in fixed income if that’s all you're up for at the moment. Ideally you can stick with your long-term allocation strategy and not totally give up on stocks, but right now if that’s going to interfere with your sleep, then at least fund your IRA with bonds or cash. For a list of recommended stock and bond funds, check out this Morningstar post.
-- Carla Fried