Jill on Money: Retirement number, funds, housing

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Determining your retirement number is like getting on the bathroom scale: Sometimes it's a pleasant surprise; however, more often than not it forces you to face an ugly truth. Just as taking the dreaded step onto the scale is a necessary part of the weight-loss process, so too is crunching the numbers for retirement planning. According to recent research, only 40 percent of American workers have taken the time and effort to complete a retirement needs calculation. Without going through that process, you're flying blind into your retirement. That's why when I field questions about retirement - when to retire, how to invest for retirement - I always reiterate the big picture. Start with a plan, and the rest will become crystal clear!

Joe from NY had done planning, but now must revisit the numbers, after the heavy impact of college education. He's worried that he won't have enough money for retirement and is "not sure what the magic number is." The problem is, the magic number is different for everyone, so its best to crunch the numbers for your specific situation. I like the EBRI Choose to Save Ballpark E$timate, which is easy to use, but your retirement plan/401(k) website probably has a tool available as well.

The retirement outlook looks good for Ralph from Kentucky, but after being spooked by the stock market, he moved to cash and now needs a way to get back into the fray. I have fielded a lot of these questions recently and want to remind everyone that a diversified portfolio can help shield you from making a bad choice at market bottoms and tops. That's why I told Tim to focus less on sector funds and a high concentration in commodities and instead go broad, as in broadly-diversified portfolios. It's also why Phil from Boston and Bryan from CA should stick to the basic bond, domestic and international index funds at Fidelity, when they roll over their old retirement accounts.

With evidence that the housing market is inching towards recovery, the calls about what to do with real estate are on the rise. Wayne, who listens to us on KFGO in Fargo, ND is trying to determine whether to sell land and invest the proceeds, while Jose from CA is weighing the sale of a rental property. You'll hear me provide different advice to each of them.

Jason recently sold his house and is torn between building a new home and buying an existing home in central Arizona. As with most questions on real estate, location really matters. Noe in Houston is choosing between expanding a current home or buying a new home with a small mortgage.

Speaking of mortgages, Todd from Baltimore is about to inherit a chink of money and wants to know if he should use it to pay off his mortgage or if should invest the money? The answer is a bit more complicated, as I essentially ran through a mini-financial plan with him.

John G in Long Island and Patti asked questions about financial advisors. After talking so much about the different financial advice-givers, I was fortunate enough to interview Mary Schapiro, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Check out what she had to say about how to choose a financial advisor in this post, "SEC Chief: Require brokers to put investors first".

Here are web sites and resources mentioned in this week's show:

-- Jill's Blog

-- SEC chief: Require brokers to put investors first

-- NAPFA: National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (fee-only advisors)

-- CFP Board

-- Retirement Calculator

--Financial documents: What to shred, what to keep

-- Estate Planning: the Documents You Need

Thanks to everyone who participated and to Mark, the BEST producer in the world and our intern, Sehar. If you have a financial question, there are lots of ways to contact us:

Call 855-411-JILL and we'll schedule time to get you on the show LIVE

Send an email: askjill@moneywatch.com

Tweet me: @jillonmoney

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    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Emmy-nominated, Business Analyst for CBS News. She covers the economy, markets, investing and anything else with a dollar sign on TV, radio (including her nationally syndicated radio show), the web and her blog, "Jill on Money." Prior to her second career at CBS, Jill spent 14 years as the co-owner and Chief Investment Officer for an independent investment advisory firm. She began her career as a self-employed options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York, following her graduation from Brown University.