5 Ways the Underemployed Save for Retirement

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The unemployment rate rose in June, sending a chill through America. Beyond the massive swath of people fighting to find jobs are the underemployed.

Millions of these folks may earn a regular paycheck but, in many cases, they are barely getting by and suffering with a salary far below either their earning potential or the wages they once commanded.

The underemployed have unique challenges in not only making ends meet, but also preparing for the future.

"It is going to be something more people are going to be dealing with for the next five to seven years than anyone would have dreamt would be possible five years ago," says Frank Braddock, a South Carolina-based financial adviser with JHS Capital Advisors. "It is a situation that is difficult and there really aren't a lot of easy and right answers. That's the thing that really gives people fits. They worked hard all their lives, they've done what they thought were all the right things and, now, all of a sudden, they are dealing with something that really hit them out of left field."

While there may be no magic trick to whip an underemployed worker's retirement plan back into shape, there are steps they should take, and moves they need to avoid.

Assess and Adjust Your Plan

"You can't manage what you don't measure," says Neal Ringquist, president and chief operating officer of ASI Advisor Software, maker of Goalgami, a free online goal-based financial planning tool. "If your future income stream has changed, you should probably look at your plan to see what that means. If you had a plan before, revisit it and enter the lower income rates to see what that does to your ability to achieve future goals."

Once you survey the lay of the land, you can either revisit those goals or adjust your lifestyle and see what you can do on the expense side of the equation.

"It is no different than when you have other life events occur, whether it's a new child, you have to pay for a college education or something along those lines," Ringquist says. "Underemployment is certainly as much an event as unemployment and it needs to be accounted for, and factored into, a plan."

Leave Your 401(k) Intact

Even though an estimated 30% of the underemployed will take a loan or withdrawal from their existing retirement assets, doing so may hurt more than it helps.

"It doesn't make sense to spend their retirement accounts, their 401(k)s or IRAs because it is going to come back to bite them when they want to retire," says Dan Ohlwiler, chief financial advisor of Sterling Financial Advisors, located in Orange County, Calif. "A lot of people just feel like, 'Oh, well, I'll worry about it later. Unfortunately the rooster comes home to roost when it comes time to retire, and they raided it."

"They've got a lot of bills facing them right now, but they have to really need to have the self-control not to raid those assets," he adds. "The effects of compounding is just unbelievable and they may not realize that $50,000 today is going to be $100,000 or $150,000 someday just based upon a fair return."

Avoid New Debt

"They go through their savings and their 401(k) plans or IRAs and then they start using credit cards," Braddock worries. "Whatever you can do, avoid doing that because it just puts you so much further behind the eight ball. I understand that at some point it may seem like the only alternative, but it is something you need to take a long, hard look at because it really does hurt you long term. We saw last month that consumer spending actually went up, and that more folks were using credit cards than the month before. To me, that's a red flag."

He adds that lifestyle adjustments may be warranted.

"I've seen a lot of folks who were making $150,000 a year but, unfortunately, they had a $200,000-a-year lifestyle," he says. "The thought process was they had the cash flow to support it, so it wasn't a big deal. That works -- until it doesn't. Be realistic and ask yourself some real hard questions about your spending choices . Is it really necessary or is it an impediment to what I am trying to accomplish?"

Recreate Your Career

If your current skill set isn't allowing you to achieve the income needed to meet expenses and save for the future, consider a plan B. Be willing to look outside your field or add new, valuable skills through more education or training. Even if it costs money in a time of worry, the investment in yourself could pay dividends.

"At some point you may have to look outside of your field to get the kind of job that makes the kind of money you were making once before," Braddock says. "Be able to show that you are somebody that needs to be hired and that you bring a benefit to a company."

Catch Up When You Can

"How do I go about preparing for retirement when the big gorilla in the room is all my bills right now?'"

For those who ask that question, Ohlwiler suggests that even if their savings have suffered, the good news is that people over the age of 50 can make "catch-up" contributions once things get better.

"You can go back and do some additional contributions to maybe make up what you missed," he says.

This year, for example, the government allows an extra, tax-advantaged contribution of up to $2,500 for most IRAs and $5,500 for 401(k) plans.

--Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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