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TheStreet Open House

Pity the Retirement Hoarder

A persistent voice warning that some are saving too much for retirement is Laurence Kotlikoff, an outspoken economics professor at Boston University.

In a past interview, Kotlikoff, who co-wrote the book Spend 'Til the End -- The Revolutionary Guide to Raising Your Living Standard, Today and When You Retire (Simon & Schuster, 2008) with Scott Burns, put much of the blame on the retirement calculators companies such as Fidelity, TIAA-CREF, Vanguard, Schwab (SCHW) and T. Rowe Price (TROW) deploy on their Web sites.

"Financial advisers are giving bad advice using bad financial tools that aren't remotely capable of dealing with the question that they are trying to answer," he said, noting that advisers can profit from their inadequate assessments.

"The bottom line is that if you over-recommend products, you sell more," he said. "If you get compensated, either directly or indirectly, based on your sales, there is an incentive to make recommendations that are, on average, too high."

Kotlikoff, who has crafted his own retirement software tool, ESPlanner, estimates that about 20% of households are likely saving too much for retirement, compared with the 40% he believes are saving dangerously too little.

"I think under-saving is probably a bigger problem, but there is still a risk with over-saving," he said. "You could save like crazy and then you can drop dead when you hit 55. It is not only that you may die young, it is also that you can be induced into much riskier securities than you should be investing in because you think that this is the only way you can make your target. The whole focus is on making a target that is ridiculous to begin with."

Bovard says many retirees who have saved and invested appropriately throughout their life follow a similar pattern of financial realization.

They start out very nervous they don't have enough. That persists for the first seven years or so. Then they start to breathe a sigh of relief and get comfortable with the idea that they can enjoy life and spend down some of their assets. Later, they fully grasp that they have more money than they can ever spend and face regrets over what they wish they had done.

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