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Mr. Refund, meet Mr. 401(k)

"King Kong vs Godzilla" is a cult classic movie of the 1960s.

I was reminded of this film when my column last week on automatic 401(k) enrollment prompted a call from Mike Kolar, a Chicago CPA who has pioneered a seamless electronic tax refund program known as "Mr. Refund" offering a better mousetrap for taxpayers filing electronically.

McDonald's, GM and other large companies as well as the Army have adopted the program, but its use is voluntary on the part of employees.

Investing theorem not good fit for all

The revolving drum of a cement-mixing truck had the slogan "Find a need and fill it." And I thought about how the proliferation of so-called "life-cycle" funds from the mutual fund industry could be a reflection of the same thought process.

Life-cycle funds represent an opportunity to put retirement investing on automatic pilot. The assumption is that people should have more money in bonds, as opposed to stocks, when they approach retirement.

Keep the right stock/bond mix

What exactly will happen when we start living on our savings to support that eccentric personal lifestyle to which we all look forward?

When that day comes, we will typically have two types of money. First will be retirement plan money in IRA or 401(k) accounts. The rest will be so-called "after-tax" money that could have come from home equity available after downsizing. We might have inherited some money or sold a business.

A few of us may even have a conventional savings and investment account resulting from the practice of self-discipline and living like a monk.

Put a lid on costs for 401(k) plans

What this country needs is a $1 war tax on gasoline, but that is politically unacceptable.

The thought of a 33 percent increase in gas prices drives voters nuts. However, about 50 million 401(k) participants are experiencing about a 20 percent increase in their 401(k) costs every year, and until recently, we weren't hearing a peep out of them.

Unlike the gas pump's scrolling dollar signs, the 20 percent increase is a silent killer of retirement plan values. Nobody ever receives a bill or writes a check for this ever-increasing cost.

No sure answers on care insurance

My father said that he would consider a long-term care policy if he could find one that offered coverage for when he could no longer mix a martini.

In recent months, I have had a number of people ask for my advice on this relatively new invention of the financial services industry. I must confess, there is no clear-cut answer when it comes to long-term care insurance.

A typical plan pays $150 a day for three years for when you can no longer perform aspects of daily living.

Protect assets for your heirs

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 moved us one step closer to being able to inherit retirement plan money more effectively or to pass it on to heirs more efficiently.

This is important because there is now more than $3 trillion sloshing around in 401(k) plans. The last time I looked, toward the end of the 1990s, that number was $1.8 trillion.

Teamwork key to success

I turned to my friend Bob Stearns -- a font of good information on narrowly defined topics such as baseball or real estate -- and I asked him to fill me in on this phenomenon of tenants-in-common partnerships.

In simple terms, this financial tool allows someone to sell their real estate holdings and end, once and for all, the responsibilities and hassles of being a landlord.

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