BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Ask any stay-at-home mom or dad and they will surely tell you that what they do is as challenging as any full-time job. And it comes with an additional challenge: Creating and sticking to a savings plan for their retirement.
By forgoing a regular paycheck, these folks miss out on important company benefits, including an easy-to manage retirement plan and tax-deferred company matches. Because benefits are calculated on your highest 35 years of earnings, Social Security benefits may also take a hit if you decide to stay at home.
Piggybacking on a spouse or partner's 401(k) plan is often the only retirement savings the stay-at-home set think they can count on. It is important, however, to focus more on their own ability to save and build a personal fund.
Sande Taylor, a Miami-based consultant for (SCHW) - Get Report Schwab, says having a personal retirement plan is crucial for those in this situation, offering security and a supplement to whatever other savings might be mapped out.
Increasingly, the unemployed half of a household is the one taking charge of the family budget, Taylor says.
"In general, the stay-at-home parent is handling the household finances, so it is becoming even more common for them to say that they need to plan for retirement and have their own income whether or not a spouse or significant other does," she says. "Recognizing the need to save for retirement is the most important first step."
The most direct vehicle for this situation is to establish an IRA account, in particular what are commonly referred to as a "spousal IRA" structured so contributions can be made from one half of a married couple to the other. Depending on your financial situation, these contributions can be made to either a traditional or Roth IRA. Contribution limits, this year, were $5,000 for those under the age of 50 and $6,000 for those who are older.
The challenge is that these accounts obviously won't have the automatic features, payroll deductions or company matches a sponsored plan would have, Taylor says.
She recommends investors in this situation carefully map out a retirement strategy, determine what they can contribute and stick to the plan. Automatic bank account debits that transfer to the IRA can be a valuable way to avoid procrastination or inaction.
"Part of being able to actually implement this is to treat it like paying a bill," Taylor says. "Pay into your IRA account like you would a monthly, quarterly bill or annual bill. You need to treat this like any other recurring expense you might have."
Don't worry too much at first about meeting the maximum contribution limit. "If you can't afford to do that in year one, you can still work to achieve that as a goal," Taylor says.
Investors, especially if they have children, need to make sure they don't hurt their own needs for the sake of others. According to Taylor, fewer people are focused on crafting an inheritance plan while economic volatility threatens their current asset needs.
On the other hand, there has been an increase in those dipping into retirement savings to pay college tuition bills.
"We are seeing folks taking funds from their longer-term plan to afford this," she says. "For education expenses there are other resources, such as student loans. But people are thinking, 'I'll catch up later, I'll pay myself back.' However, there is only a certain timeline that you are going to continue working."
Borrowing against the future, and paying hefty taxes and penalties to do so, is as risky as it has ever been. Despite past assumptions that retirement requires approximately 70% income replacement, health care needs, declining real estate values and continued debt are pushing that ratio closer to 100%.
In establishing IRA contributions, the stay-at-home partner should carefully consider income needs and necessary expenses as they contribute what they can afford to a retirement plan. That is especially important if the employed half of a couple finds themselves out of work.
"You won't have a qualified plan, so contribution amounts will fluctuate," Taylor says. "If you have to make an adjustment on a short-term basis, make it to afford current expenses and ensure that you are going to readjust again once the income level changes and they are working again. We never encourage someone to compromise their current living needs. They can definitely reduce their cost of living, and there are discretionary expenses they can eliminate. But they have to cover their current living needs first and foremost."
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