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The Roth IRA Challenge: Virginia State University vs Clark Atlanta University

By William A. Foster, IV

vsucaut 12.29.15 AM

Without the spur of competition we’d loaf out our life. — Arnold Glasow

There is no secret that America as a whole is not saving enough for retirement and there is also a saying that when America catches a cold that African America has pneumonia. Currently, African Americans median monthly savings equates to only 51.4 percent and an abysmal 11 percent of the median monthly savings for European and Asian Americans, respectively. However, our behavior in terms of consumption and savings either as a result of ignorance or envy as it relates to our financial situation continues to have us acting with a behavior that does not show us closing the gap anytime soon. That is unless we hold ourselves and each other accountable.

It was a few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine who is a therapist and we were discussing how we really did not feel like we were saving enough for retirement. There were a number of factors influencing this for sure (student loans being the primary elephant in the room) but one thing we laughed about is how competitive we both were and that we should make a competition out of saving for retirement. She had no retirement accounts because her job did not offer 401(k) as it was such a small firm. I helped her set up her Roth IRA because I actually prefer it over the 401(k) for a number of different reasons. We decided to challenge each other to save a minimum of $50 a week and eventually  ramp it up to $100 a week to insure we were maxing out the annual allowance. The rules for Roth IRA allow you to contribute $5 000 over a 52 week period. A new fiscal year for Roth IRA’s typically starts April 15th to allow people to contribute tax refunds to it should they receive any. The penalty for missing a contribution was you had to donate $25 to the other person’s alma mater.

One of the things I found most interesting was that my friend grew up with a father who was an accountant so it was actually rather surprising that her aptitude about financial literacy was rather obtuse. Of course African American households in general talking about money seems to principally focus around how the bills will get paid. Budgeting, saving goals, investments, and other fiscal conversations are often left to happenstance. As it seems most often in our community we are catching and not pitching. That is to say we are reactive and not proactive about issues concerning ourselves, family, or community’s fiscal health among other things.

Ultimately, what I hope transpires as a result of our competition is a more active role and engagement about ideas for funding retirement. Talking about potential investment decisions and having an extra set of ideas to review your portfolio can be extremely beneficial. A group called Tiger 21, an investment club geared toward high net worth former entrepreneurs and executives, actually uses this peer review system. A member in each chapter must present, explain, and defend their portfolio to their peers at some point during the year. Is your peer over leveraged? Are they not holding enough cash? It also offers the opportunity for people to learn together, be accountable to each other, and compete with each other. Do you really need that extra purse or tennis shoes? Yes, it appears in the end I am my investors’ keeper.