For some, squirreling money away in an IRA may not be so smart
He knows some people think he is un-American for saying so, but Matthew Lesko believes there are a lot of people who should not be opening those highly touted individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
''IRAs are definitely not for everybody, especially young people in the 25 -to-35 age group,'' contends Mr. Lesko, a Washington researcher who publishes a newsletter on consumer and financial issues. His latest effort is a four-page report called ''13 Reasons Not to Invest in IRA's.''
(The report can be obtained for $1 from Information USA, 1000 Connecticut Avenue, NW, No. 9, Washington, D.C. 20036.)
Mr. Lesko is one of a number of people who have begun offering their contrary notions to the spate of IRA ads that promise to make people millionaires if they will just put $2,000 into an IRA. He is particularly concerned that the targets of these ads are the very ones who perhaps should not be opening IRAs -- younger people with large purchases to make as they start homes and families.
Anyone who is concerned about tying up money in an inaccessible account for several decades should probably think twice about opening an IRA. After all, any withdrawals from your IRA are going to cost you -- twice. First, you have to pay a 10 percent penalty on the withdrawals, meaning that if you take out $1,000, you only get $900. And some banks and savings-and-loans will slap on an additional penalty of their own.
Second, when you do withdraw the money, it is then taxed as ordinary income. So, once your money is in an IRA, you might as well forget about it until you are 591/2. And if you cannot really afford the loss of that money, it makes no sense to park it somewhere out of reach.
There are any number of reasons that people might want to keep their money handy and postpone an IRA:
* If you do not have a house yet, you might want to save the cash for a down payment. After all, a house of your own can be even more valuable as a retirement investment than an IRA.
* If you are starting your first home, whether it is a house or an apartment, you may need the money for furniture.
* If you are trying to save for your retirement and something else at the same time -- such as your children's college education -- other investments, even though they may be taxed, could give you more flexibility and a greater return than an IRA.
* If you think you might want to use your savings account or other investments as collateral for a loan -- to start a business, for instance -- don't plan on using your IRA. IRAs cannot be used as collateral for anything.
* An advanced college degree or training for a new, more lucrative career might yield more money for retirement than an individual retirement account. Thus, you might consider saving for tuition now and start your IRA after you've got the diploma and the new job.
This is not to say IRAs are bad. In the future, it is likely that people are going to have to take on more of the responsibility to provide for their own retirement. And any savings vehicle with fully tax-deductible contributions and tax-free interest until retirement has to be considered a good deal.
Also, Mr. Lesko points out, only about half of all pension-covered employees collect all their pensions at retirement, because they have left a job before their pension was vested. And only 32 percent of all couples and 18 percent of all single people receive income other than social security after they retire. So there is definitely a need for a way to put aside more money for retirement.
There is also a need, however, for more planning for retirement. When you are doing your planning, compare your future and current needs and decide which ones should have top priority. You may discover this is one area where short-term thinking makes more sense than the long-term variety.
Of course, if you have surplus money and expect to remain in that desirable position, then perhaps an IRA is for you. 'Points' on real estate loans
What about the points that banks and savings and loan associations collect when they make a loan on a home? Where does this money go? -- H.F. Each point represents 1 percent of the loan balance after the down payment is made. This fee is supposed to cover the lender's administrative costs for paper work, credit checks, and maintenance of the account. The fact that lenders are charging two or three points today when they used to charge just one, or even none, is simply a reflection of their higher operating costs.
There are a couple of things a home buyer can do about points. First, shop around. You may find a lender charging a half point or a point less than the prevailing rate in your area. You may also find that a slightly higher interest rate -- with fewer points -- is a better deal than a lower rate and more points. The second thing you can do about points is to remember they are deductible on your federal income taxes.