Our retirement safety net is shrinking. Employers are cutting back on their retirement plan benefits, and Uncle Sam is up to his eyeballs in debt. Retirement planning now falls on the shoulders of the individual, who must invest for retirement or suffer the consequences.Since most folks don’t know how to invest, it’s time to learn to invest and make the best of it. A 401(k) plan or IRA is the easiest and best way for most people to invest for retirement. These retirement plans offer tax breaks, and you can invest for retirement without the hassle of reporting investment gains and interest earned each year as your money grows.You can choose a traditional retirement plan that is tax-deferred and offers qualified folks an income tax write-off for contributions each year. When you pull money out of a traditional IRA or 401(k) in retirement, it is all subject to income tax.Or you can go with a Roth IRA or 401(k). Here your money grows tax free, period. There are no tax write-offs, but your money is not taxed when you pull it out, if you follow the rules. Frankly, I favor Roth IRA and 401(k) plans, and consider them the government’s greatest gift to people who invest for retirement. Tax-free is as good as it gets for most folks. Outside of these retirement plans, tax-free investments are difficult for most of us to find and/or benefit from.Now it comes down to funding your plan, or how to invest and where to invest money in your retirement plan. Until you learn to invest and have experience, you have at least a couple of popular choices in regard to IRA’s. You can go with a local bank, or with a mutual fund family. If you have a 401(k) at work, your choices are limited to the investment options your plan offers.As to where or how to invest, bank IRA’s simply pay interest, and interest rates are low. Mutual fund families offer IRA’s with many investment options, some of them designed for folks who don’t really know how to invest on their own. These are called BALANCED FUNDS, and some 401(k) plans offer them as well.Until you feel comfortable and really learn to invest on your own, I suggest looking into balanced funds. Professional money managers manage your money, and the cost is usually quite reasonable. You simply choose the fund(s) that matches your tolerance for risk. They do the rest.For example, balanced funds called LIFECYCLE FUNDS offer three choices: conservative, moderate, or aggressive. TARGET RETIREMENT FUNDS offer several choices based on when you plan to retire, or when you did retire.Read the literature before you invest, and ask questions when in doubt. You can invest in these mutual fund IRA’s through a financial planner, or you can work directly with a no-load fund family and avoid sales charges. If you are willing to accept investment risk in search of higher returns, consider balanced funds when you invest for retirement. Then, take some time and learn to invest for retirement on your own.There are many fine articles available to help you with retirement planning and investing.
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