Retirement reasons to be thankful: efficient products and services

Welcome to day 4 of my week-long series on retirement reasons to be thankful -- an optimistic antidote to all the dismal news on retirement planning.

So far, we've seen these retirement reasons to be thankful:

We know how to age well
The internet brings the world to us
We know how to generate lifetime retirement income

Thankful reason #4: we have efficient financial products and services
The research mentioned yesterday on managing our retirement resources has been translated into efficient products and services that are at our fingertips through the internet. For instance:

-- We can invest inexpensively in no-load mutual funds through businesses such as Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard.

-- We can effectively and transparently shop for annuities through services such as Income Solutions and Immediateannuities.com.

-- We can shop for health insurance through services such as eHealthInsurance.com.

-- Many of our employers make it easy for us to save for retirement through 401(k) or 403(b) plans at work. They do the investment shopping for us, and we can save effortlessly through payroll deduction.

-- We can use online retirement calculators and planners from such companies as Fidelity, Vanguard, Morningstar, Financial Engines and ChoosetoSave to help us decide when we can afford to retire and how much retirement income we might receive.

Our parents' generation had to buy products and services through expensive intermediaries such as stock brokers and insurance agents, who were often trained just to pitch the products and services of their own companies. The difference between the products and services available to us vs. our parents is as significant as the difference in the performance and reliability of a car built in the 1950s vs. one manufactured today.

Stay tuned tomorrow, for my fifth and final retirement reason to be thankful.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Retirement Game-Changers: Strategies for a Healthy, Financially Secure and Fulfilling Long Life and Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck.