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Saturday, April 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Terry Yamashita's goal: Have retirement money last through lifetime

The report card


SPENDING: B

SAVING: B

INVESTING: B

Terry Yamashita, 58, of Kent. Single. After 31 years with Northwest Airlines, the team supervisor's once-secure retirement is thrown into question by the carrier's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

WHAT HE HAS

A mandatory 19 percent pay reduction cut his salary to $35,400 per year, a change that's putting him into debt by about $6,000 per year. He also fears he may be laid off and asked to apply for a job at a nonunion outside provider, where he might well earn less. His pension's security is a worry, too.

"It's kind of mind-boggling to me," he says. "I never expected it to happen." His pension is the planned source of much of his retirement income. Other bankrupt airlines have transferred responsibility for their pensions to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which often disburses less than companies had promised employees.

The good news: He does have some savings — $135,000 in a 401(k) plan at Northwest and $34,000 in an IRA.

HIS GOAL

Plan for a secure retirement no matter what happens at Northwest. He wants to retire at age 62 with an income around $43,000 that rises to keep up with inflation. Longevity runs in his family, so his plan needs to last through age 95.

ADVICE

Penelope Haase, certified-financial planner with Financial Network Investment Corp., suggests a new game plan to start saving money again:

Move: Explore selling his $270,000 condo and buying something cheaper to lower his monthly costs. If he included his $15,000 in higher-interest auto-loan and credit-card debt in a new first mortgage, he could cut his costs by as much as $900 a month. Even simply refinancing his existing condo to include the higher-cost debt would help.

Freeze 401(k): Better to cease the contributions until he stabilizes his finances, than to fall farther into debt.

Stay tuned: Stay in close touch with his union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, to get wind of any rumblings of pension or other benefit changes, layoffs or additional pay cuts. Armed with the most up-to-date information, he can make the best decisions.

"Now is not the time to stick your head in the sand," Haase says.

Keep pension watch: With so many years already vested, the possible hit to Yamashita's pension is relatively modest — at most $134 per month, if he were forced to quit Northwest this year.

A check with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. shows Yamashita's $1,492 monthly pension likely won't change, even if Northwest defaults on its pension plan and the pension corps takes over.

Cuts in other benefits, such as health care, might be more onerous, since Yamashita wouldn't be able to use Medicare until age 65. One possible solution: Yamashita is a veteran and could make use of medical facilities through Veteran's Affairs.

Hit the classifieds: Rather than waiting to see if a pink slip will come, look around to see what his skills are worth to other employers. He may turn up better-paying options than a nonunion airline-services provider.

Spending his final few years in a better-paying job would help him build his retirement nest egg. This is key because if he's laid off at Northwest before age 62, he would qualify for a lower pension benefit.

Ditch the car: If he retires to a condo in walkable Kent Station, he believes his need to drive will be cut substantially. So he plans to use rentals or a service such as Flexcar, instead.

Without the need to save up to eventually replace a car, Yamashita needs less retirement income. Haase usually recommends budgeting $150 a month or so for replacement-car costs — Yamashita could put aside a smaller amount to go toward car-rental costs.

New, improved spending plan
GROSS MONTHLY INCOME $2,950
BUDGETED EXPENSES
Housing $1,461
Transportation $209
Food $375
Clothing/personal care $130
Medical/dental/

pharmacy

$132
Debt payments $454
Vacation/

entertainment

$209
Taxes $526
TOTAL EXPEDITURES $3,496
MONTHLY SHORTFALL $546

What to do about

the shortfall:

Get a better-paying job or sell his condo and buy something cheaper

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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