This is the time of year to set up my 401 (k) for 2008.
During 2007, I had a pre-tax $1000 per month going into it. My plan was to raise that by the amount of whatever raise I got for 2008. Well, surprise! No raise. Nonetheless, in the spirit of good financial management, I'm going to increase my contribution by $25 a month.
The bigger question is whether to put my contributions into a Roth IRA or the pre-tax 401 (k). For the first time, my employer is offering both options. My employer does not match my contributions, but does contribute an amount equal to 6% of my income into my 401 (k)--no choice there--it cannot go into a Roth. The dollars I contribute can go into either.
After looking at all the numbers, as well as making some predictions about my future plans to retire in 11 years, I've decided to stick with my current 401 (k).
Well, first of all, I need available cash to pay down debts. Given my short time line to retirement, I have to both fund that retirement AND get rid of my indebtedness. Funding a 401 (k) with pre-tax dollars gives me a stronger immediate cash flow which allows me to do both.
But is that at the cost of less money during retirement? I'm betting not.
Right now, I'm in the 25% federal tax bracket, creeping up toward the 28% bracket. But when I retire, I will most likely be in the 15% tax bracket. My house will be paid off, leaving me only with taxes and insurance to pay each year. I live in a city with a great transit system, so will not need a vehicle. My retirement date is well after Medicare kicks in, which will help with my insurance needs. Even with the anticipated expense of supplementary health insurance and long-term care insurance, I expect to need $3000 a month, maybe less. Social Security will make up around $1600 of that, based upon current projections. The remainder will come from retirement savings, but will be less than the $32,550 line dividing those in the 15% bracket from their brethren (sisteren?) in the 25% bracket.
When I help my friends analyze whether they should use pre-tax or after-tax dollars for their retirement funds, I find that in most cases, the Roth is the better choice.
But there's always an exception. That would be Grace.