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CR Reveals 7 Money Stumbles to Avoid and How to Change Course

CR Reveals 7 Money Stumbles to Avoid and How to Change Course

Blunders include Not Updating Wills and Beneficiaries, Messing up 401(k)s

February 2013 CoverYONKERS, NY — A widowed mother of two nearly lost out on $100,000 because her husband failed to update the beneficiary designations on his retirement plan after they married. Not updating wills and beneficiaries is one of the “7 money stumbles to avoid” featured in the February issue of Consumer Reports.

“Nobody’s perfect.  Everyone makes money mistakes, and some might be unavoidable in times of financial distress,” said Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports senior editor. “But missteps or miscalculations can cost you a lot over the long term or inadvertently hurt your family when you’re gone.”

Consumer Reports conducted a nationally representative survey about Americans’ money habits and uncovered several common and insidious blunders that could cause significant financial, and sometimes emotional, pain. The mistakes include:

  • Not updating wills and beneficiaries. Eighty-six percent of Americans hadn’t updated their wills or other estate-planning documents within the previous five years. But even if nothing has changed in your life, every year you should check your beneficiary designations in your will, insurance policies, investment accounts, and retirement plans to ensure your investment company, life insurer and employer still have the proper information. 

  • Not sharing information with family. In only 30 percent of households did both spouses know major details about the family’s finances and where to find account information. Any easy solution is to designate a safe, file cabinet, or safe-deposit box to hold all important documents and account-access information.

  • Messing up on 401(k)s. About two-fifths of respondents set aside 6 percent or less of pretax income in defined-contribution retirement accounts, most likely missing out on free employer matches. Ninety-one percent never reviewed fund expenses within their plans, though those expenses play a major role in investors’ returns. Fortunately, it’s easer than in the past to compare funds’ expenses. As of last year, 401(k) plans are required to send statements to investors outlining marketing and fund management fees.

The full article can be found in the February issue of Consumer Reports and online at ConsumerReports.org.

Another Consumer Reports survey included several dozen subscribers who reported a net worth upwards of $1 million. When CR interviewed a handful of them, one common theme was discovered: frugal living. The article features profiles of three of these individuals and the financial strategies they employed.

Methodology
The Consumer Reports National Research Center designed a survey administered to a nationally representative sample of the adult U.S. population in late September of 2012.  The sample for this survey was comprised of 1,004 randomly selected U.S. residents. 

GfK’s nationally-representative online panel was sampled for this survey. Panel members are randomly recruited through probability-based sampling, and households are provided with access to the Internet and hardware if needed.  For the full sample, sampling error was 4.0% at the 95% confidence level. The data were statistically weighted so that respondents in the survey are demographically and geographically representative of the U.S. population of adults.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications.  Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. 

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