Welcome To 401K Hell

Joanne Howard has reached her golden years. She's retired and has plenty of time to putter in her garden and spend time with her husband. She says she has enough to get by, but her money's no where near what it should be.

For that, blame her 401K, CBS News Correspondent Ray Brady reports.

"Had I been handling it with the supervision of an adviser, my portfolio would be nearly six times more than it is," Howard said.

Sour grapes? Not at all. Like many Americans, Howard admits she knows nothing about stocks and bonds.

"It's difficult for me to understand all this money talk," she said.

So, she let her company handle the money. The company put it in company stock. Some years, Joanne got a return of just 4 percent or less.

"I was stupid," she said with a laugh.

Millions of Americans—most of them still young—are heading toward that same predicament: Companies are slashing or dropping traditional pension benefits that cost 7.5 percent of their payroll. 401Ks cost half that. And, the company wipes its hands of any responsibility for retirement. That's up to the worker.

"I was asleep at the wheel," said high-tech executive Michael Cantleme, who now regrets not having watched his 401K more closely.

"The good news is I made money. The bad news is I could have made a lot more money," Cantleme said.

Now 45, his returns were half of what they could have been.

"A third to 40 percent of those folks look like they are in serious trouble," Brooks Hamilton said.

Hamilton sets up 401Ks for large companies. He has done a major, shocking study:

In 1997, workers making $70,000 to 80,000 a year had 401Ks that went up 26-28 percent a year, enough to fund a cushy retirement.

But, workers making $30,000 a year or under, maybe with less financial experience, show gains of just 4 percent.

And there are millions and million of those workers, Hamilton added.

"We're going to have an entire generation of people reach retirement not in dignity, but in despair. They're not going to be OK. They are going to be a burden to their kids," Hamilton said.

Or a burden to the government and taxpayers. Check these figures: To survive, many families will need a $500,000 nest egg.

Michael Cantelme hopes to fix his problem himself.

"I'm in better control of managing the account than I was," he said.

Yet, even with sound advice, you can make mistakes. Howard got a broker after she retired. He told her to put the $100,000 in her 401K into mutual funds.

She forgot to do it. Months later, the broker said, "Joanne, do you know you would have made 60 percent on your money since then?"

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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