Our friends at investment company A.G. Edwards recently released the latest results of their quarterly Nest Egg Score. The findings have some important messages for many of us.
The Nest Egg Score is a measure incorporating "12 factors that influence the ability of U.S. adults to build wealth." Included, for example, are the unemployment rate, ownership of investment vehicles and homes, retirement-plan participation, inflation, tax payments, and home equity rates. The company assesses these measures across the country and comes up with a national score, as well as regional ratings.
So how are we doing, as a country? Well, America's score has been holding steady for a while -- at "Fair." If that sounds good to you, "Fair" falls below "Good" and "Excellent" in the rankings. We can and should do better. The national score is 631 as of September. That's even with June's score, but it's down from 648 in March of 2006.
This little table will give you a better idea of what the scores mean.
Here are some specific findings and conclusions, as quoted from the study.
- "According to government data used to calculate the A.G. Edwards Nest Egg Score, the U.S. personal savings rate remains negative, indicating that Americans may still be counting on asset growth to build wealth rather than saving more of their current income. Unfortunately, the home equity rate fell in the latest quarter, reflecting the recent cool-down in the real estate market."
- "The Nest Egg Score . benefited from the lowest unemployment rate in five years, broader ownership of investment vehicles, growth in homeownership, and a slight increase in retirement plan participation. These factors, however, were offset by the highest inflation rate in five years, a decline in the nation's home equity rate and increased tax payments."
- "From a national perspective Americans were most likely to cite the cost of covering day-to-day living expenses (55%) as the biggest obstacle to starting or building their nest eggs, followed by too little income (48%) and too much debt (28%). . In all geographic areas (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West), about half of Americans (53%) feel it is absolutely essential or extremely important to own a home, compared with 48% who feel it is absolutely essential or extremely important to build a nest egg of savings and financial investments to achieve long-term goals such as retirement."
l about control
A.G. Edwards CEO Robert L. Bagby made an excellent point when commenting on the findings: "With so many factors affecting our savings abilities that extend beyond our control, it is more important than ever to focus on the financial decisions we can control and make investment choices accordingly."
That's something we often forget about -- control. We at The Motley Fool often stress how much power we individuals have when it comes to our finances. Yet many factors are indeed out of our control. Consider inflation, for example. It has historically been around 2% to 3% per year, but between 1979 and 1981, it was above 10% per year. If such rates return and stick around, they carry the potential of wiping out much of our gains from investments.
Then there's unemployment. When it's high, many of us will find ourselves out of work, and we may end up withdrawing from our retirement accounts. That's rarely a good thing to do.
What to do
So what should you do? Well, first off, assess your situation. If you'd like, you can find out your own nest egg score at the A.G. Edwards website. You'll quickly get a sense of whether you're above or below the national average. But don't spend too much time thinking about the nation. What matters most to your retirement are your savings and investments.
Take some time to determine how much money you'll need in retirement, and make sure you have a plan regarding how you'll get there. Explore all of your available options, such as 401(k) plans, IRA accounts, and regular brokerage accounts.
One of the retirement information resources I refer to most often is our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, headed up by Robert Brokamp. You can check it out for free and even get access to all past issues. In the July issue, Robert offered a few surprising factoids. For one thing, it seems that you can add a full 15% in after-tax wealth to your portfolio by knowing which assets to put in your retirement accounts and which to keep out of them. I hadn't known the number was so high, though I do realize, as Robert explained in the January issue, that factors such as the tax-efficiency of various investments should dictate to some degree where you park them. In that same issue, Robert tackled asset allocation and explained how we can "avoid Uncle Sam's grabby hands." He also listed a host of popular investments, such as bonds and dividend-paying stocks, in order of tax efficiency.
Want another factoid? Guess what the average annual Social Security retirement benefit is. It's lower than I expected it to be -- just $11,508. Sure, yours and mine may well be higher by the time we start drawing them, if Social Security is still around, but this information does serve to remind us that maybe we shouldn't be counting on too much from Social Security.
Here's to a happier portfolio! (And hey -- consider forwarding this article to anyone whose financial future you care about. Just click on the "Email this page" link near the top of the page.)
These articles may also be of interest:
- Can You Retire in 2016?
- Prepare for a Gruesome Retirement
- $1 Million May Not Be Enough
- 9 Retirement Killers
Coca-Cola and 3M are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Dow Chemical is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick.
Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Coca-Cola and 3M. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.