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Retirement plans not a bust yet: start saving now

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SALT LAKE CITY — For decades, Christy Zavaleta's worked two jobs to support herself and her four children.

Now, at 62, she's approaching retirement age, but she's nowhere close to retirement. She said she can't afford it.

What little Zavaleta's saved for retirement has been depleted by family emergencies, and she said Social Security will barely pay her housing bill.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 44 percent of baby boomers like Zavaleta are at risk of running out of money during retirement.

Professor Robert Mayer at the University of Utah Department of Family and Consumer Studies said a good rule of thumb is to build a nest egg of 10 to 20 times your annual salary.

"And that's based on the assumption that your expenses are gonna go down during retirement," he said, "but that assumption is highly debatable."

Finance is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge ... Changing behavior is the hardest thing you can do.

–Mike Tanner, OC Tanner

Most people have saved less than two times their annual pay, Mayer said, adding that baby boomers as a whole have borrowed too much and put too much stock in their homes as investments.

"We lost the idea that savings was important, just like we lost the idea that credit was dangerous," Mayer said.

He believes people don't save because they don't think they can save ̵2 and that's a mentality they need to fight.

"Finance is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge," said Mike Tanner, director of compensation and benefits for O.C. Tanner. "Changing behavior is the hardest thing you can do."

O.C. Tanner, the Salt Lake City jeweler and provider of employee appreciation programs, has had a 401K retirement plan for years. But Tanner said, at most, 80 percent of employees participated.

"We could not seem to break through that 80 percent threshold," he said.

So about 10 years ago, the company began automatically enrolling employees and automatically increasing contribution rates unless workers opted-out. Participation jumped to 96 percent, and then leveled off to 90 percent.

Most people say they want to save, according to Corby Dall of 401K Advisors, which consults for O.C. Tanner, but don't always act on their intentions.

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"If you have it done for you," Dall said, "your intentions will be fulfilled for you. That's the key."

As an added incentive, the company makes a generous contribution to the plan.

Right now, the company contributes 4 percent of the employee's salary and then matches a 7 percent worker contribution with an extra 5 percent. Beginning Jan. 1, the company will match a 10 percent contribution with another 6.5 percent.

Right now, the average worker saves 16 percent of his salary.

"There are a lot of companies that lack that commitment to the participant, that extremely paternalistic view that O.C. Tanner has with their participants," Dall said. "They (O.C. Tanner managers) want everyone here to be able to retire from here. That's almost unheard of."

Not long ago, Zavaleta felt financially stuck. She was working two jobs and barely making ends meet, so she talked to her LDS bishop, who gave her the tuition for a Dave Ramsey personal finance course.

Zavaleta paid down tens of thousands of dollars in debt and went back to school. At night she works in her living room answering phone calls for JetBlue, and during the day she attends LDS Business College. This month, she'll completes a degree in medical coding.

"Too little too late," Zavaleta said, "but at least it's a start. At least I can make more money."

With confidence, she said she will be able to retire ... eventually.

"When I'm 85, yeah."


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Peter Rosen


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