Go Long with Your 401k to Avoid Low-Rate Bank Savings

These days, the talk on bond trading desks is higher interest rates. The thinking is that as the Federal Reserve winds down its fiscal stimulus spending, banks and lenders will have to hike rates to attract investors to fill the breach.

That’s one theory, and it may or may not play out. But our current situation is saving rates are at historic lows, to the point they’re threatening the financial security of Americans heading into retirement.

According to current data, rates remain down across the board on bank savings vehicles. Look at this week’s rates of return on these savings vehicles:

One-year CD rates: 0.28%

Interest checking: 0.04%

Money market accounts: 0.10%

Bank savings: 0.07%

Those are measly returns that don’t even begin to counter the eroding effects of inflation, and they’ve pretty much been that way since 2008 at the breakout of the Great Recession.

In a research paper, Prudential, says Americans may see their “retirement prospects eroded by prolonged periods of low interest rates.”

The paper, Planning for Retirement: The Impact of Interest Rates, taps into Prudential’s National Retirement Risk Index to estimate that 53% of U.S. households face diminished investment returns when they stop earning a paycheck.

Who’s most at risk? Prudential points to middle-income Americans (the biggest users of 401k plans in the U.S.), who generally aren’t as aggressive with their 401k plans as more are more affluent Americans, who don’t seem to mind the risk.

Prudential says:

Research concluded that interest rate levels alone would have only a modest impact on the [National Retirement Risk Index]. A key reason for this is that Social Security and defined-benefit pension income, which are not impacted by interest rate changes, make up the majority of total wealth for most Americans. Further, the NRRI assumes households annuitize their financial and housing wealth at retirement. This measure protects the income generated from those assets against interest rate risk as well as equity market and longevity risks. For those who do not protect their retirement income, however, these risks can have a significant impact on their retirement prospects.

Higher-earning Americans take more concrete steps, such as investing in stocks and annuities for a steady income stream in retirement, or saving more money in 401k plans by using automatic enrollment, automatic escalation of contributions and in-plan guaranteed lifetime income solutions.

Meeting regularly with a financial adviser is another thing wealthier Americans do more than middle-income and lower-income U.S adults, Prudential adds in its report. It helps, as financial professionals can provide clarity on the impact of low interest rates on a retirement portfolio.

Those are the things all future 401k millionaires should be doing as they prepare for retirement in a low-income rate environment.

If you don’t, you risk spending some of your Golden years working under the Golden Arches.

Brian O’Connell is an investment analyst at Investing Daily, and the editor of the 401K Millionaire. An ex-Wall Street bond trader, he has appeared as an expert financial commentator on CNN, NPR, Fox News, Bloomberg, CNBC, C-Span, CBS Radio, and many other media broadcast outlets, and is the author of two best-selling books on retirement investing.






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