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Retirement Shockers Are on their Way


The Social Security Administration has begun mailing retirement benefit statements to all working Americans - an event that is bound to unnerve individuals ill-prepared for retirement and create tremendous sales opportunities for mutual funds, according to industry executives.

Fund companies are lauding the government's efforts to prompt Americans to become more active in preparing financially for their retirements. And some firms, including Strong Funds of Milwaukee, Wis., Scudder Kemper Investments of Boston and AIM Funds of Houston, Texas, are planning marketing and sales efforts around the mailings.

Beginning Oct. 1, the Social Security Administration initiated its new policy of mailing annual Social Security benefit statements to all working Americans age 25 or older. Sent three months prior to recipients' birthdays, the statements indicate how much Social Security benefits workers can expect to receive if they retire at age 62, 67 or 70. The Social Security Administration says it will mail 125 million statements this year. This means that approximately 10 million Americans will receive these statements every month. The administration will continue mailing out the statements annually.

The administration's web site depicts a sample statement, indicating that a person currently earning $30,364 a year would receive $746 month if he retired at age 62, $1,096 a month at age 67 and $1,365 a month at age 70. The pamphlet accompanying these statements tells people that Social Security keeps many people out of poverty but that it is only meant to supplement retirement income.

When people who have not given any thought to their retirement learn that they may have as little as $8,900 a year to live on, "they will read it and weep," said Jan Holman, vice president of investment services at American Express Financial Advisors of Minneapolis, Minn. "And the smart ones will do something about it."

Strong Funds and Scudder Kemper have altered the retirement savings calculators on their web sites to now include social security benefits and are including articles about the mailings in their shareholder newsletters, according to spokespersons at the firms.

AIM hopes to supply financial planners with whom it works with shareholder birth dates, so that the planners can time an appointment with shareholders in conjunction with the Social Security mailing, according to Mary Kay Coleman, director of marketing and communications at AIM.

Fidelity Investments of Boston is not planning to do any marketing or advertising in connection with the mailings. However, a spokesperson said Fidelity is encouraged by the mailings because they will raise Americans' awareness of the need to save.

"It could also prompt more Americans to start saving early," said Johanna Thornblad, the spokesperson.

The mailings were mandated by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989, which Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) sponsored. They cost the administration approximately $70 million a year to print and mail, said Carolyn Cheezum, a spokesperson for the administration.