By Jennifer Gomori, MAP Editor

Having a pension is an important part of a successful retirement savings plan, but something many employers are taking away from their workers and replacing with 401k plans. In the public safety realm, pensions are an even more crucial component of retirement since a majority of these employees are not eligible for Social Security benefits. MAP works hard to maintain Defined Benefit (DB) plans, a type of pension plan, for its members.

When 401k plans were introduced to employees in the 1980s, it was never the intent of early backers that these would replace pensions.

“401k’s were not designed to take the place of (pensions),” said MAP Executive Director Fred Timpner. “If all people have is a 401k and Social Security, that will not be enough to maintain the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.”

President Stuart E. Raider (left) and Partner Peter M. Mendler of Raider Dennis Agency.

In an effort to save money, employers are substituting these market-based plans for pensions. The problem is market volatility can negatively impact 401k savings compared to the steady growth of a DB plan.

“(Pensions are) the most important part because they’re not environmentally changed,” said Stuart Raider of Raider Dennis Agency. “The Defined Benefit is a payout based on a formula, like Social Security. Social Security is the cornerstone of most people’s retirement, although most police and fire aren’t eligible to receive this benefit.”

That makes DB’s even more important to public safety employees, assuring them a certain amount of money will be set aside for their retirement. The plan is ‘defined’ because the formula for calculating the employer’s contribution is known ahead of time. However, DB’s are different from other pensions, where the amount of payout depends on the return of the funds invested. If there is a shortfall from investments set aside to fund the employee’s retirement, employers must make up the difference.

“One of the advantages is the Defined Benefit puts all of the responsibility of the risk on the employer,” Raider said.

But that doesn’t mean DB plans will become a hardship for the employer, Timpner said. “If a DB plan is properly funded by the parties, then there could be minimal or no cost at all to the employer,” Timpner said. “For example, the City of Sterling Heights went years without putting one cent into the pension fund. There were no employer contributions due to the fact that the pension fund was overfunded.”

Are You Ready To Retire?

Many of us think age dictates when we retire, and it does in those jobs/professions that have mandatory retirement ages. Some of us have pre-set ages in our minds; 55, 60, 62, 65. These ages can be based on reaching

President Stuart E. Raider (left) and Partner Peter M. Mendler of Raider Dennis Agency.

a certain number of years of service (i.e. 30 and out) or when your mom or dad retired; what your spouse expects, or tradition. But the question is.....are you ready?

There are two viewpoints to consider with this question: The inner you and the financial you. Both are equally important.

The Inner You

This is the area of ego (especially for us men), emotion, psychology, feeling productive, etc. We have worked all our adult lives, contributed to society, made the world a better place, and now we are done. The sudden end to the positive feelings we get from being productive can be difficult to deal with. What makes me important if I don’t have my career? Or what makes me significant if I’m not bringing home the paycheck? We must remind ourselves that we still have important meaningful roles to fulfill as spouse, parent and grandparents - our best roles! We can become invaluable assets to charities, such as churches, hospitals and children’s organizations.

What we have observed works best is to have some type of passion that occupies at least a part of the 168 hours God gives us every week and also occupies a portion of our minds.

When clients come to see us near retirement they will tell us of the thing that they will throw themselves into (i.e. golf) and will do this every day (36 holes a day!). Guess what happens? After two or three months (or four or five) they are sick of the activity. So when people tell us they are going to retire, we always engage them in two different, but equally important questions.

1. Are you aware retirement is an irrevocable decision? Once you retire, if you change your mind in six months your job will probably not be waiting for you. Be sure of your decision!
2. Imagine tomorrow is you first day of retirement. What does it look like? What are you doing? How do you feel?

If you are planning to retire in the next year think about these questions very thoughtfully. It is critically important that you mentally prepare for retirement just like you would a marathon or big test.

Pre-retirement counseling, insurance information

Preparing for the future is essential for today's law enforcement officers, particularly in an era when they are able to retire younger than ever before. That is why the Michigan Association of Police (MAP) offers its members, without charge, pre-retirement counseling emphasizing pension maximization.

Professional financial planning is offered at no cost to all members via a professional relationship with expert Stuart Raider of Raider Dennis Agency. He assists MAP members in such vital areas as pre-retirement planning.