WCBE

Chris Arnold

Investing for retirement doesn't have to be hard. You read up on how to put together a diverse mix of low-cost index funds, bonds, etc. Then keep setting aside all you can into that retirement account. Easy.

But when you actually retire and start spending that money, that's like going from playing checkers to playing chess. It can get a lot harder.

This week, NPR and some member stations will be talking about trade on the campaign trail and in communities around the country.

Economists for decades have agreed that more open international trade is good for the U.S. economy. But recent research finds that while that's still true, when it comes to China, the downside for American workers has been much more painful than the experts predicted.

And that's playing out on the presidential campaign trail in a big way.

'Disastrous' Trade Agreements?

After more than a year of study, the White House on Wednesday finalized tougher requirements for retirement investment advisers.

The changes are intended to help Americans build bigger nest eggs while reducing fees and sales commissions they pay to advisers — keeping more money in workers retirement accounts instead of advisers pockets.

Critics say the changes will create burdensome legal requirements that could squeeze out brokers who earn commissions from working with small investors.

Mary Fusillo and her husband, Bob, have been married for 20 years. She met him on a blind date in Houston. Right away, she knew she liked him.

He was very intellectual, and he "read jazz biographies of dead jazz musicians," she says, laughing.

"And I was used to guys that went hunting on the weekends," she adds.

They fell in love and got married. Pretty soon they had a house and kids — twins, actually.

But within a few years, there was trouble.

Happy times are here again at the gas pump. The price of oil keeps falling, and Americans are filling their tanks for less than $2 a gallon. The government says cheaper gasoline put an extra $100 billion into drivers' wallets last year alone.

That seems like it would be good for the economy. Turns out, it might not be.

"Is it possible that lower oil prices could actually hurt the U.S. economy?" asks Vipin Arora, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "I think the answer could be yes."

As Iran prepares to pump even more oil into an already glutted market, that oversupply isn't just making gas cheaper for your car — it's also causing jet fuel prices to go down sharply. And that's now pushing airfares down, too.

A couple of years ago, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack did an online video chat with personal finance writer Helaine Olen. The topic was how regular people get steered into bad investments by financial advisers.

Right before the holidays, Congress approved tax credits for clean energy. It was just a tiny part of a $1.8 trillion spending bill, but solar and wind power companies say it's a Christmas present that will catapult their industry forward. Analysts are predicting a big boost in wind and solar projects over the next few years.

The Federal Reserve is expected to start raising interest rates later this week, and anyone who's ever bought a house — or thought about it — knows that if mortgage rates rise by much that will make it tougher to afford a home.

Homebuilders are watching the interest rate decision closely too. That's because this 100-year flood of a housing crash has been especially tough on them.

De Desharnais, a homebuilder in Nashua, N.H., says she's one of the lucky ones — her company survived the crash. But it didn't come without pain.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan's recently announced $45 billion philanthropic pledge will be given away not through a nonprofit foundation but instead through a for-profit company the couple is creating.

Is it finally time to get rid of the penny? The question was put to the top currency official in the country this week after comedian John Oliver took a swing at pennies on his TV show.

"Two percent of Americans admitted to regularly throwing pennies in the garbage, which means the U.S. Mint is spending millions to make garbage," Oliver said.

Each year Americans pay billions of dollars in fees when they roll over their retirement accounts — and those fees can be hard to see.

Elizabeth Merry, 49, a marketing manager at a technology company, has saved up $150,000 in a 401(k) there. At the end of the year, though, she's leaving her job, and so she was thinking about rolling over that money into an IRA with the help of her financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial. She pays him $1,000 a year to manage her money.

Many Americans feel they can't save any money for the future. Yet if an employer automatically enrolls workers in a 401(k) plan and matches some of their contributions, 90 percent of people stick with it and save and invest for retirement.

Now, what if your employer doesn't do that for you? What can you do? People in NPR's new Your Money and Your Life Facebook group wanted to know.

Many American parents face a tug of war over trying to save enough for retirement and saving for college.

Some, like Lisa Carey, a 44-year-old high school history teacher in Tampa, Fla., and her husband, Peter, a minister, haven't yet started saving for their three kids' college education. (Carey joined NPR's Your Money and Your Life Facebook group. If you're on Facebook, you can join the group, too.)

Are the mutual funds you invest in efficient wealth generators or overpriced losers sucking money out of your retirement account with fees? It turns out most Americans don't know.

We asked the members of NPR's Your Money and Your Life Facebook group, and most respondents said they had "no idea" if the investments in their 401(k)s or IRAs were "good, bad or ugly." That holds true with broader surveys as well.

Jack Bogle is leading a populist revolution on Wall Street.

The longtime investment guru, who 40 years ago founded the investment company the Vanguard Group, wants everyday Americans to make a lot more money in the stock market — and give less of their returns away to financial firms.

And the surprising thing about his revolution? He's winning.

Americans collectively are losing billions of dollars a year out of their retirement accounts because they're paying excessive fees, according to researchers studying thousands of employer-sponsored retirement plans across the country.

The rearchers say part of the trouble is that many employers that offer 401(k) plans to their workers are outgunned by financial firms that sell them bad plans loaded with hefty fees. That's especially true, they say, for small and midsize employers that don't have much financial expertise in-house.

New federal rules could be in the works to make it easier once again for Americans to seek relief through class action lawsuits. That's the latest word out just this morning from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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