U.S. Retirement Assets Declined by $1.4 Trillion

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Reteriment AccountsThe total value of Americans' retirement assets stood at $17 trillion at the end of September -- a drop of 7.5% from the record high of $18.4 trillion recorded on June 30, 2011.

That's according to a report by the Investment Company Institute, a national association of asset managers. The $1.4 trillion decline can be attributed in part to the troubles of the stock market: The S&P 500 lost 13.9% during the third quarter. There was a slight silver lining to this threatening cloud: Retirement account balances took less of a hit than stock indexes, because of asset diversification and continuing contributions to retirement savings plans.

The nation's individual retirement accounts held $4.6 trillion at the end of the third quarter, which represents a decline of 8.5% from the end of the second quarter. Defined contribution plan assets dropped 7.5% during the same period, and government pension plans -- federal, state, and local -- fell 7.7%.

The total value of assets held in employer-based defined contribution plans was $4.3 trillion at the end of September. Of that, 401(k) plans contained $2.9 trillion. In the previous quarter, those figures were $4.7 trillion and $3.2 trillion, respectively.

"Retirement savings accounted for 36 percent of all household financial assets in the United States at the end of the third quarter of 2011," the ICI noted.

The report comes on the heels of a series of studies calling into question Americans' readiness for retirement. But ICI senior economist Peter Brady disputes the notion of a looming crisis. "We think that there's certainly variation within the population, but a good number of people are on track to have a secure retirement," Brady told DailyFinance. "But that's sort of a huge debate, and this data" -- which is aggregate, as opposed to household-by-household, and concerns short-term fluctuations in the market -- "doesn't really have a strong bearing on it."

"People are going to have different needs," Brady explained. "The biggest asset most people are going to have is Social Security, which uses a highly progressive benefit formula The amount you have to supplement will vary greatly, depending on your lifetime earnings. What people want to do is basically maintain their standard of living. For different people that will mean different things." But his own studies, as well as his reading of the relevant literature, have persuaded Brady that no retirement disaster is in the offing.

Click here to see the full report from ICI, including charts.





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AARP's Top 10 Best Places To Live (and Retire) Affordably in the U.S.
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U.S. Retirement Assets Declined by $1.4 Trillion

The AARP Magazine, in it's continued passion for living well, scouted the nation to find the 2011 top 10 cities to live (or retire) affordably in the U.S..


These selected areas have in common low costs and a friendly, socially rewarding community lifestyle. In constructing the list they researched economic information on more than 350 cities nationwide.


In addition to cost of living, median housing price, tax rates on pensions and Social Security the AARP Magazine examined recreation, climate, and health resources for each city. 

"Water sports like boating, sailing and kayaking on Lake Lanier make Gainesville the perfect destination for an active retirement; not to mention the area's 15 golf courses and shop-filled town square."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Gainesville:

State tax on pensions: Yes

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 7%

Property tax rate: 7.76%

Best way to spend $10: Graba drink and small plates at Recess Southern Gastro Pub on the square,then check out events downtown, includingfree concerts.

Can't put a price tag on: Fast access to the Blue Ridge Mountains and their panoramic hiking trails, lush with rivers, waterfalls, and richly diverse ecosystems. Gainesvilleis near the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests, which comprise 843miles of trails.   -AARP

"Residents love this little city's under-the-radar charm and less than an hour south of Indianapolis, Columbus has it all. The city boasts dozens of buildings and pieces of public art by such big names as I.M.Pei, the Saarinens and Henry Moore, and its innovative architecture ranks right up there with Chicago's and San Francisco's."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Columbus:

State tax on pensions: Yes

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 7%

Median Housing Price: $124,200

Best Deal in Town: Drink in the Hoosier bliss of an ice-cream soda ($2.99) at the counter of Zaharakos, which looks the same as when it opened in 1900 -- and sounds it, too, thanks to a fully restored pipe organ.  -AARP

"With its gracious layout, the lovely Susquehanna River, and plentiful festivals and events, Harrisburg is a magnet for cyclists and pedestrians. The city's 50,000 shade trees, 4.5 mile-long Riverfront Park, and 20-mile greenbelt around the city showcase its modern skyline, lovely old cathedrals, elegant Capitol complex and historic districts."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Harrisburg:

State tax on pensions: Partial

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 6%

Median Housing Price: $144,200

Best Deal in Town: There's no admission for Wildwood Park, which includes a nature center that specializes in wetlands life.   -AARP

"This diverse city offers a relaxed urban environment with a variety of cultural and art opportunities and is just a short drive from some of Maine's famous outdoor attractions including ski resorts, lakes, ocean beaches and more. The bustling waterfront also recently helped Portland earn the title of Bon Appetit's "Foodiest Small Town in America."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Portland:

State tax on pensions: Yes

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 5%

Property tax rate: 14.35 %

Best way to spend $10: Pack a picnic and hop the ferry to Peaks Island (the fare is just $7.70 round-trip).

Can't put a price tag on: Eating a lobster roll next to the oft-photographed Portland Head Light in nearby Cape Elizabeth.   -AARP

"Set in the heart of the Finger Lakes' booming wine and food culture, Ithaca's outdoorsy-urban hum provides plenty to do for nature lovers with crystal-blue lakes and waterfalls, and hiking trails that allow you to see both."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Ithaca:

State tax on pensions: Partial

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 8%

Median Housing Price: $146,100

Best Deal in Town: For no more than $15, have lunch at the Moosewood Restaurant, a hippie haven that launched vegetarian movement back in the 1970s; then shop and watch street performers on Ithaca Commons.   -AARP

"Tulsa is a small-city jewel with an impressive art deco district, first-rate art museums and plentiful green spaces. Residents can enjoy the great outdoors along the city's 26 miles of paved cycling and walking trails that wind among fountains, playgrounds and sculptures."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Tulsa:

State tax on pensions: Yes

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 5.5%

Property tax rate: 8.77%

Best way to spend $10: Admission to the Philbrook Museum of Art, an Italian Renaissance villa built in the 1920s and converted to a museum, is just $7.50.

Best night on the town: Although Tulsa offers plenty of big acts -- Elton John and Paul McCartney both played recently at the BOK Center -- it has smaller quirky pleasures, too. Try a Mexican dinner with local and organic ingredients at trendy, affordable Elote.   -AARP

"For all its wealth and Big-City skyline, it is still uniquely West Texan: Barbecue and mariachi mingle with haute couture and endless cowboy boots. For entertainment, check out the Museum of the Southwest or a local high school football game."   -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Midland:

State tax on pensions: No

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 8.25%

Median Housing Price: $96,600

Best Deal in Town: $10 gets you a balcony seat at Summer Mummers in the Yucca Theatre, a melodrama/comedy performance that's been going on since the 1940s. Alcohol is served and attendees are encouraged to throw popcorn at the actors.   -AARP

"A haven for history buffs, Winchester and Frederick County were the scene of six major battles during the Civil War. Plus, its rural location allows visitors to enjoy miles of rail fences, apple and peach orchards and lovely stone houses from the 18th and 19th centuries."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Winchester:

State tax on pensions: Partial

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 5%

Property tax rate: 5.53%

Best way to spend $10: Shenandoah Conservatory has exceptional music, theater, and dance programs (tickets range from $5 to $25)

Can't put a price tag on: Proximity to Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic highway through awe-inspiring Shenandoah National Park.   -AARP

"It may be the "Apple Capital of the World" but Wenatchee also offers an endless array of recreational options, including skiing, hiking, camping hunting and fishing. Stunning views make this city the Northwest's very own "Garden of Eden."  -PR Newswire


How far your money goes in Wenatchee:

State tax on pensions: No

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 8%

Property tax rate: 10.52%

Best way to spend $10: Have a milk shake downtown at Owl Soda Fountain & Gifts, founded in 1926, then check out "Art on the Avenues," a collection of more than 70 unique outdoor sculptures scattered throughout Wenatchee.

Best night on the town: Fall in love with baseball all over again with the AppleSox, part of the West Coast League, a wooden-bat summer collegiate league.   -AARP

"Cowboy culture and Wild West images abound in Wyoming's Capitol, which boasts just under half a million residents. Visitors flock here each summer for Frontier Days, still one of the world's largest outdoor rodeo after 115 years. What makes Cheyenne most appealing to residents, though, is the real spirit of the West: low-rise buildings, wide-open spaces, tumbleweeds and "Neighborhood Night Out" parties which draw hundreds of locals."  -PR Newswire

How far your money goes in Cheyenne:

State tax on pensions: No

State tax on Social Security: No

Sales tax: 6%

Median Housing Price: $141,400

Best Deal in Town: Admission to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, nine High Plains acres inside Lions Park, is free.   -AARP

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