Our favorites will help you find the best account for building your nest egg, the best brokerages for your retirement funds and the best place to shop for annuities. Plus, we even pick the best foreign country for retirees.
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BEST 401(K) PLAN
It could be yours
There's a good chance your plan will get better as a result of a new law that allows plan providers to give one-on-one investment advice. Or you may be able to participate in a managed 401(k) account, in which financial professionals make investment decisions for you for a flat fee. More 401(k) plans are expected to adopt target-date retirement funds -- which invest in a mix of mutual funds that grow more conservative as you near retirement -- as their default investment.
BEST ALL-AROUND RETIREMENT ACCOUNT
A Roth IRA lets you stockpile tax-free savings for retirement with plenty of escape hatches for other financial goals, such as paying for college or buying a first home. You can contribute up to $4,000 in 2006 ($5,000 if you're 50 or older) as long as your income doesn't exceed $110,000 if you're single or $160,000 if you're married. And you can withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) tax- and penalty-free at any time.
BEST LOW-COST IRA
With one of the lowest minimum investments around -- $500 -- and no set-up fees or annual maintenance fee, Scottrade (www.scottrade.com) is a great place to open an IRA for yourself or a custodial IRA for your child. As long as children have earned income -- from flipping hamburgers, mowing lawns or babysitting -- they can contribute up to $4,000 a year or up to their total earnings, whichever is less.
T. Rowe Price
Target-retirement funds make investing a snap. You pick the fund that ends in the year closest to your planned retirement date, and your money is invested in a portfolio that becomes more conservative as you get older. The T. Rowe Price Retirement funds (800-638-5660; www.troweprice.com) are the best of the bunch, with annual expenses of less than 1% and a bigger chunk invested in stocks than their competitors.
BEST PLACE FOR IRA ROLLOVERS
T. Rowe Price
Whether you have decades to go before retirement or just a few years, T. Rowe Price's Advisory Planning Services will provide personalized financial advice if you roll over money from a 401(k) or from another IRA. The new service charges a one-time fee of $250, which includes annual reviews. The fee is reimbursed if you roll over at least $100,000.
BEST PLACE TO MANAGE YOUR RETIREMENT INCOME
Whatever your age, start with Fidelity's Retirement Income Planner to estimate your retirement income and expenses and to plan your investment strategy. It's free to anyone by phone (800-343-3548) or in person, and it's available to Fidelity customers online. Once you are retired, open a Fidelity Income Management Account to handle your cash flow. You can consolidate your sources of income, get investment advice and create a regular "paycheck."
BEST RETIREMENT PLAN IF YOU'RE SELF-EMPLOYED
If you have no employees other than a spouse, a so-called solo 401(k) or individual 401(k) lets you put away more money than other small-business retirement plans. This year you can contribute up to $15,000 as an employee, and your business can kick in another 20% of your self-employment income -- or 25% of your compensation if your business is incorporated -- for a combined maximum of $44,000. If you are 50 or older, you can sock away up to $49,000. We like the Single(k) plan from Decimal, a financial-services provider.
BEST PLACE TO SHOP FOR AN ANNUITY
Retirees looking for a lifetime income stream should check out the best deals on immediate annuities at this site, which will show you the top payout amounts from a database of 16 of the best companies. You'll see how much income a lump sum will buy, as well as how much extra you'd pay if you want to provide income to beneficiaries.
BEST COLLEGE TOWN FOR RETIREES
There are plenty of good candidates, but we choose Athens, Ga. Home to the sprawling University of Georgia, this city of about 100,000 is a nice compromise between urban Atlanta and smaller towns that have less of a cultural scene. The cost of living is below the national average, and prices for modest homes average less than $160,000. Athens boasts award-winning restaurants, a restored downtown, two excellent hospitals and three golf courses. And the university offers free classes to anyone who's over age 62.
MOST TAX-FRIENDLY STATE FOR RETIREES
people tend to focus on states with no income tax, such as Florida, Texas and Nevada. But for many retirees the biggest burden is property taxes and sales tax. That's why Delaware is a first-class bargain. There's no state sales tax, property taxes are relatively low, and homeowners 65 and older qualify for a tax credit on half of their school taxes, up to $500. Delaware does have a maximum state income tax of 5.95%, but Social Security benefits are exempt, and so is up to $12,500 of investment and pension income for residents 60 and older.
BEST FOREIGN COUNTRY FOR RETIREES
A warm climate and a lower cost of living plus access to quality medical care make Mexico a favorite retirement destination. The Lake Chapala area, about 25 miles south of Guadalajara, is home to a large community of U.S. and Canadian retirees. You can't count on Medicare south of the border, but there's no shortage of well-trained doctors and modern health-care facilities. And you can still receive Social Security benefits when you live outside the U.S.