Feb. 29, 2008

Need investment-planning advice for retirement? Cornell vendors can now offer it

"If you haven't had a chance to sit down with one of our retirement account vendors in the past two years, you owe it to yourself to do so," said Paul Bursic, director of Benefit Services. "Recent changes in practice and the law now allow qualified retirement plan vendors to give employees more specific help in managing their investments."

Employers can now help out under certain conditions. Since Jan. 1, new endowed employees in the Cornell University Retirement Program (CURP) who do not indicate where the university's contribution to their retirement program should be invested have been defaulted into LifeCycle funds instead of money market accounts.

"The LifeCycle funds offered by Fidelity and TIAA-CREF are very good for people who don't want to pay attention to their investments. These funds use your age and your years to retirement to determine the appropriate fund for each person. The funds themselves are a statistically derived mix of stocks, bonds and other holdings that you should have at your age," said Bursic. "They readjust this mix on a regular basis as the participant and the fund reach the designated retirement age."

Those who prefer a more active approach to their investments, or who have both LifeCycle and other funds, will appreciate the detailed guidance the vendors are now able to give, said Bursic.

"If you are an endowed employee in CURP, or an endowed or contract college employee enrolled in the Tax-Deferred Annuity Program (TDA), or a contract college exempt employee in the SUNY ORP Plan, the recommendations you receive from our vendors at no cost are comparable to those given by independent financial advisers," said Bursic. "The vendors will ask you a series of questions, including your plans for the future and how many years you expect to work. They will pull up your current investment allocations and plug all the numbers into software owned by an independent firm, Ibbotson, which specializes in investment performance analysis. Ibbotson's software will then generate a report that will be sent to you at home with pie charts showing the percentages you currently have in stocks, bonds, money markets, real estate, etc., and other pie charts that show how Ibbotson would recommend redistributing your funds to meet your goals."

The result is a diversified and balanced portfolio of recommended funds, customized for each individual situation. Bursic continued, "You then decide what actions you want to take based on this assessment."

To get the most out of your vendor appointments, you should do some planning beforehand, Bursic advised. Think through your current financial situation and your future needs -- when would you like to retire? Can you afford to start, or increase, your contributions to a TDA with TIAA-CREF and/or Fidelity? What major expenses are ahead? How much risk are you comfortable with? You can expect to receive an answer on how feasible your retirement date is given the level of accumulations you have and the amount you can afford to contribute.

In short, retirement planning isn't just for those thinking about retiring. Retirement planning is really about investment planning throughout your career.

To set up a personal appointment with an investment firm representative, contact:

AIG VALIC: (800) 892-5558, ext. 88174.

Fidelity Investments: (800) 642-7131; Tuesday appointments in Day Hall.

ING (contract colleges only): (888) 883-6320; Tuesdays at the Vet School.

MetLife: (315) 521-1830. For more information call 273-7341 (Ithaca) or (315) 781-8603 (Geneva).

TIAA-CREF: (877) 209-3144; Wednesday and Thursday appointments in Day Hall.

You can also contact Benefit Services, 130 Day Hall, (607) 255-3936, e-mail: benefits@cornell.edu, for guidance on how to establish a tax-deferred annuity plan through Cornell, for general retirement planning information or for help in changing the amount that you have withdrawn from your paycheck for your retirement accounts.