What's Wrong With Your Retirement Savings Plan?

13 common mistakes people make that they will pay for the rest of their lives.

For over six months Elkanit Oz has been doing nothing but advising individuals on their pension plans. After meeting with thousands of clients she has formed a solid opinion on the state of the Israeli public's retirement savings: "shocking."

Oz is in charge of pension consulting at Mizrahi-Tefahot. She meets with customers of the bank and offers advice on the pension plan that is appropriate for them. "Meets" is perhaps misleading. In practice, she phones customers and begs them to meet with her. Only about a quarter of the people she calls eventually come in for a face-to-face. Of those, only around half adopt her recommendations and change their savings plans.

And that is the first main mistake that people make. Most people don't make even a minimum effort to understand their pension plan. Below is Oz's guide to the key errors that you and your fellow Israelis make while saving for retirement.

Nope, you probably left it to your employer, if you're a wage slave, or your insurance agent or accountant if you're self-employed. You never really looked into the advice they gave you and even now, when it's offered free at banks, you prefer to cling to your ignorance and not take advantage of the opportunity to check the status of your pension before it's too late.

Oz estimates that self-employed usually remember to start saving for a pension at age 40. Assuming that most people deposit only the NIS 20,000 shekels a year that entails a tax benefit, after 27 years of savings he or she will have around NIS 800,000 shekels. That means a monthly allowance of NIS 3,800 shekels. Can you live off that? But if the same self-employed person began saving for retirement at age 25, the monthly allowance would be 50-70 percent higher. Salaried employees in fixed jobs usually begin saving when they start working, at around 25 or 30.

Here is an ironclad rule: do not withdraw the severance pay, period. If you are unemployed and desperately need the money then ask to withdraw it in fixed, monthly increments. Pension funds don't like doing that but they must adhere to your request. By the same token, it is preferable to reach a loan agreement with the pension fund until you find a new job as long as you don't withdraw the severance pay.

"90 percent of salaried employees withdraw these funds at the end of the six years," says Oz, "only the top decile refrain from this." Of course, this is because they don't need the money. So leave it alone and do yourself a big favor.

Your pension will be determined solely by what you put in and the yield of your pension fund. Based on current estimates, standard savings rates and average savings duration, you can't expect more than 50 percent of your last salary. That means expecting a considerable deline in your standard of living after retirements.

Does that scare you? Then start doing something to avoid it. That is, start consuming less and saving more - yes, save more than the minimum you need to set aside for a pension. Start taking an interest in who manages your pension fund and its multi-year yield. There is no other way to ensure that your pension will not be a bitter disappointment.

Disability insurance and survivors' benefits Insurance components that are part of pension funds, which grant monthly allowances in the event of the loss of the ability to work (handicap) or to the widow/widower and orphans in the event of death (survivors' benefits).