Four Ways Women Can Improve Their Outlook in Retirement

Women and Retirement Lange Financial Group Pittsburgh PA

Recent studies have shown that women, even those who worked outside of the home, are much more likely to slip below the poverty line in retirement than men are.

Recent studies have shown that women, even those who worked outside of the home, are much more likely to slip below the poverty line in retirement than men are.  Approximately 8 percent of adults aged 65 and older must rely on food stamps to survive and, of those, two-thirds are women.  Why is there such a financial inequity between men and women in their golden years?

In years past, women typically earned much less than men (fortunately, this has started to change).  Because they earned less than men, women were not able to save as much for retirement.  Federal law establishes the maximum percentages that workers can contribute to retirement plans.  Assuming that two workers both contribute the maximum percentage to their retirement plans, a male worker who earns $60,000 will save more dollars than a female worker who earns $40,000. Women must also make what they can save last longer.  According to the Social Security Administration, the life expectancy of a man who is 65 today is 84.3.  The life expectancy of a female, who is 65 today, is 86.6—a difference of almost two and one-half years.

Many women who are now retired are not as educated about finances as women of subsequent generations.  They let their husbands manage the money, and frequently are unintended victims of poor decisions made by their spouses.  This is especially true when considering both defined benefit pensions and Social Security elections.  Retirees generally have the choice of applying for a higher benefit that lasts for their own lifetime, or a reduced benefit that is paid over the course of both their and their surviving spouse’s lifetimes.  Many insist on applying for the higher benefit under the premise that they need a higher income to live on.  If they are the first to die, though, their spouses are cut off completely.  Many of the primary wage earners also make bad decisions when applying for Social Security benefits, never considering how their actions will affect their spouses.  The decisions they make can mean a difference of about $25,000 in Social Security income every year, for their surviving spouses.

The good news is that, even if you are retired now, there are steps that you can take to improve your outlook in retirement.  Consider some of these options:

1.  If you are saving for retirement, take advantage of qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. These plans offer tax advantages that, in the long run, will provide you with a much larger nest egg in retirement than buying identical investments inside a non-retirement account.  Make sure that you manage the money that you do save, well.  Many women are afraid to invest their money in anything other than CD’s, and never consider that the low rates of return they offer may cause them to run out of money before they run out of time.

2.  If your spouse is entitled to a defined benefit pension when he retires, or if he will receive payments from an annuity, make sure that he chooses the payment option that covers your life as well as his own – especially if you are younger than he is. If he chooses the option that covers only his life, the payments will stop when he dies.  If you can’t afford to live on the reduced benefit amount that covers both of your lives, then you can’t afford to stop working.

3.  If your spouse earned more money than you did, ask him to think twice about applying for Social Security benefits at age 62. If he does, his benefit will be reduced by 25 percent for the rest of his life.  Your spousal benefit, as well as your survivor benefit if he predeceases you, will also be permanently reduced.  If it’s possible, encourage your spouse to wait until age 70 to apply for benefits.  If he does, his benefit will be increased by 32 percent.  If you survive him, the benefit you receive after his death will also be significantly higher.

4.  Many women are not educated about financial and tax strategies they can use to make their money last longer. Consider making a series of Roth IRA conversions during the years after you retire, but before you start taking withdrawals or Required Minimum Distributions from your retirement plans.  The money you save in a Roth IRA is not taxable, and so lasts longer than money that is in a traditional retirement plan.

It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem. In order to make sure that you are financially secure, it is imperative that you contact a financial professional that you can trust and discuss these points in detail.  A good fee-based advisor will be able to guide you through the best possible choices for pensions, Social Security, investment planning, and retirement expenses.

For more information about the financial challenges affecting women in retirement, please listen to our radio show at “Women Don’t Ask:  How Married Women Can Advocate for their Own Financial Protection


The Aftermath of Brexit


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The Aftermath of Brexit Pros and Cons: What Options Do Individual Investors Have? On June 23, 2016, a majority of British citizens voted to leave the 28-member European Union – an action referred to as the “Brexit”.  The following day, … Continue reading

Roth IRA Conversions Early in 2016 Present Potential Advantages

Let’s face it. The stock market has declined a lot in the past few months.

Many people wonder if they should move to cash and do nothing with their investments. While we do not recommend trying to time the future moves in the stock market, the reality is that it is better to buy low and let it grow more in the future. This is especially true for Roth IRA conversions which result in long-term advantages when the account grows after the conversion. So maybe the time to convert is now.

Lange Roth IRA Money Nest Egg

But, what if the market continues to decline after you convert? One good thing about the current tax law is that you can undo a 2016 conversion as late as April 15, 2017 and perhaps even to October 15, 2017. This gives you a long time, over a year, to see if it grows. If it really dives after you convert, you can even do another conversion at a lower price and undo the first conversion later. The technical term for the undoing of a conversion is a recharacterization, because the Roth IRA is recharacterized as a traditional IRA by moving it back to the original or a different traditional IRA account. Converting early in the year is often recommended as it gives the account more time to grow before a decision must be made on a potential recharacterization.

We have written many articles about Roth IRAs and Roth conversions and included discussions of the extensive advantages they provide. We discuss conversions in our book Retire Secure! and we have written an entire book on Roth IRAs called The Roth Revolution. Both of these books can be purchased on Amazon, but we would be happy to send you a copy for free. To receive a free copy, call us at 412-521-2732, or email and ask for one. Just reference this newsletter offer! These articles and discussions go into much deeper detail on the many strategic ways to do Roth conversions to your advantage, depending on your current situation.

The Roth conversion amount will add to your taxable income, so there are many tax traps to consider when deciding how much to convert, such as …

  • Higher tax rates and related tax surcharges and phaseouts of deductions first implemented for 2013 could result in extra tax if you convert too much.
  • For people who are covered by Medicare parts B and/or D, and pay Medicare premiums, converting too much in 2016 can raise the Medicare premiums in 2018.
  • Also, for medium- or lower-income people who get Social Security income, a conversion can make more of the Social Security subject to tax and also can turn tax-free long-term capital gains and qualified dividends into taxable amounts.

However, paying extra tax can sometimes be worth it in the long run if the Roth IRA account grows a lot after the conversion. These are just some of the things that should be considered in determining the best conversion amount.

Other considerations include the current and future financial and income tax situations of you and your beneficiaries. As we move further into an election year, the possibility of tax law changes looms ahead. Since future tax laws can affect the long-term success of a conversion early in 2016, they should also be considered.

Due to all these considerations and more, we stress the importance of “running the numbers” to be certain that the decisions you are making about Roth IRA conversions are absolutely right for your situation. In general, we like Roth IRA conversions for taxpayers who can make a conversion and stay in the same tax bracket they are currently in, and have the funds to pay for the Roth conversion from outside of the IRA. It is best to run the numbers to determine the most appropriate time and amount for your situation. This is a service that we have provided for hundreds of clients and currently offer free for our assets under management clients. We like to do these number running sessions with the clients in the room. This allows them the opportunity to bring up questions, adjust the scenarios, and feel extremely comfortable with the final decisions.

We usually find many people hesitant to make any changes in their investments when they decline in value. However, you should not pass up the opportunity to do a Roth conversion in a troubled market, as it could provide you and your family more financial security in the long run. Because of the many things to be considered when doing a Roth conversion, we suggest you discuss how much to convert in 2016 with your qualified advisor.

If you are interested about learning about whether a Roth IRA conversion is right for you, please click here and fill out our pre-qualification form. If you qualify, we will contact you to schedule an appointment with either James Lange or one of his tax experts.

Unfortunately, this Free Second Opinion is for qualified Western Pennsylvania residents only.

4 Reasons Why We’re Excited that Retire Secure! is Interactive on the Web!

If you haven’t made your way to yet, now is the time!

Here at the Lange Financial Group, LLC, we are very excited to bring you an interactive version of Retire Secure! A Guide to Getting the Most Out of What You’ve Got. 

Reason #1 – The entire book is on this website. Yes, all 420 pages of the book, including the front and back covers, all about the best strategies for retirement and estate planning. 
James Lange, Retire Secure, Lange Retirement Book, Interactive
Reason #2 – The book is divided into chapters for ease of reading. Meaning, you don’t have to flip through 400-some pages to get to Chapter 11 – The Best Ways to Transfer Wealth and Cut Taxes for the Next Generation.
James Lange, Retire Secure, Lange Retirement Book, Interactive
Reason #3 – We honestly haven’t seen anything like this before. Granted, I’ve read magazines on viewers where you can flip the pages as you read. But not a website for a book that includes a viewer, as well as a forum where readers can engage with each other.
The comments are moderated by the Lange Financial Group, LLC staff and myself. One of us will reply to your comment as soon as we can. To leave a comment, all you need to do is connect with your Amazon, Facebook, or LinkedIn account. This measure is for your protection, as well as ours. We don’t want spammers posting comments or incorrect information about such an important topic. 
James Lange, Retire Secure, Lange Retirement Book, Interactive
Reason #4 – We are hoping this interactive website encourages you to purchase the book! Retire Secure! is available from Amazon and Once you’ve read the book, feel free to return to to ask questions, as well as Amazon and Goodreads to review the book for the benefit of others.


The Third Edition of Retire Secure has Finally Arrived!

The new edition of Retire Secure! A Guide to Getting The Most out Of What You’ve Got is the distilled and concentrated version of the recommendations we have developed over 30 years. It is particularly useful for IRA and retirement plan owners.

We will soon be sending our clients a copy with a personalized note directing you to what we think will be the most relevant sections for you to read. This personalization has been a huge project, but it’s something that I think will be enormously helpful to you.

Retire Secure! will be available for purchase in bookstores and on Amazon in October. However, if you absolutely cannot wait, the book is available for Kindle and Amazon pre-order here.

Amazon Kindle Pre-Order Retire Secure! James Lange

The core concepts of the current edition are similar to the two previous editions (Wiley, 2006 and 2009). Recent legislative changes, however, have led to important strategy adjustments that are incorporated in the latest edition.

  • In Part 1, The Accumulation Years, we include some new strategies that were not available in 2009.
  • In Part 2, The Distribution Years, we cover how to spend down retirement funds in the right order to manage your assets wisely, but that area is more complicated than ever because of some of the new tax laws. We have also updated recommendations for Roth conversions, and the impact of a potential new law for IRA and retirement plan owners and their families — the death of the stretch IRA. It could be devastating for your children. Though there is no perfect answer, I do address some of the best strategies I know to reduce the pain of the likely changes in the IRA law.
  • In Part 3, we’ve updated the Eddie and Emily Estate Planning case study. Essentially, it incorporates the updated Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan, which many of you already have in your wills and trusts.

If you’ve read previous versions of Retire Secure!, I hope you’ll find the updates and changes enlightening. To make the new material easier to find, I have included a section that highlights the changes. And if you’re new to the book, I hope you’ll take this as an opportunity to really educate yourself on these principles and sound practices. There’s mathematical proof that optimizing the strategies you use to approach saving, investing, estate planning, and distributing assets could mean a dierence of millions of dollars over your lifetime and for your heirs.

It’s my fervent wish that Retire Secure! will help you live a happier, healthier, and more secure life!


Disclaimers: Who on Earth Would Refuse to Accept an Inheritance?

inheritance stretch ira james lange the roth revolution blogWho on Earth Would Refuse to Accept an Inheritance?

Plenty of people!

The concept of disclaiming, which means that you refuse to accept an inheritance, is often surprisingly difficult for clients to accept. Who on earth would refuse to accept an inheritance? When I get this question, I have to laugh because the obvious assumption is that the beneficiary is turning away a rare opportunity to increase his or her wealth with little or no effort. So let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Suppose your rich uncle wrote his will twenty years before he died, and the will provided that, at his death, you would inherit a small apartment building that he owned. In the twenty years since his will was written, though, your uncle’s health declined and he did no maintenance at all on the building. The angry tenants moved out long ago, and the building has been vacant for ten years. Vandals broke the windows and stripped the building of its plumbing and wiring. The city has condemned it because it is a nuisance, and the owner is going to have to pay to have it demolished. Do you still want your inheritance now?

Beneficiaries always have the right to disclaim (or refuse) all or part of an inheritance. This idea has traditionally been a cornerstone when planning for the multigenerational benefits of a Stretch IRA. Under the current law, if the named beneficiary chooses to disclaim an IRA or retirement plan, the contingent beneficiary is able to use his or her own life expectancy to determine the Required Minimum Distribution from that account. In a case where a surviving spouse disclaims to children, this allows the IRA to be “stretched”, allowing maximum growth as well as income tax savings.

If the Stretch IRA is eventually eliminated, disclaimers will likely play less of a role in estate settlements. There is, however, a rapidly growing group of attorneys (including me) who use and will continue to use at least some form of disclaimer in the estate plans of most clients. I have used them in my practice for years, and have found that they can give families a lot of flexibility during what is usually a very stressful time.

One final note about disclaimers: beneficiaries who are on Medicaid may be disqualified from their benefits if they receive an inheritance. They may be able to refuse the inheritance and keep those benefits, but this depends on the laws of the state that they live in and the terms of the grantors will.

These ideas are presented in Chapter 14.

My next post will continue to expand on the concept of the Stretch IRA, but will specifically address the ramifications of choosing one beneficiary over another. Stop back soon!


Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Thank you.

The Death of the Stretch IRA: It’s Time to Review the Retirement Plan Beneficiary Rules

The-Death-of-the-Stretch-IRA-Its-Time-to-Review-the-Retirement-Plan-Beneficiary-Rules-James-LangeThose of you who have been following me for a while know that that one of my most cherished mantras is “Pay Taxes Later!” An extension of that mantra was my recommendation that, upon your death, your beneficiaries continue to take advantage of the minimum distribution rules to “stretch” your IRA for as long as possible so that they could achieve the maximum tax-deferred growth possible. This used to be a fairly straightforward concept but, with the increase in second and third marriages, as well as non-traditional marriages, it has become much more complicated.

To add to the confusion, there is increasing pressure from Congress to eliminate the Stretch IRA. This would be a very good time to review your retirement plan beneficiary rules, because you might want to change your designations. Non-spousal beneficiaries may soon be required to withdraw and pay taxes on inherited IRAs within five years. This idea was first introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus in 2013, and was thankfully withdrawn for lack of support. It reappeared in 2013 as part of President Obama’s budget proposals, and again in 2013 as part of a bill to reduce student loan debt. Killing the Stretch IRA, they felt, would provide enough revenue to reduce student loan rates for college tuition for one year. That bill was passed by the House but died in the Senate by only two votes. Then in 2014 and 2015, President Obama’s budget proposals again included a provision to kill the Stretch IRA. It seems clear to me that this measure, or a similar one, may eventually pass.

So who should be named the beneficiary of your retirement plan? Is one option better than another? Chapter 13 answers these questions assuming that the benefits of the Stretch IRA will continue under the current rules, and also presents some options that you can consider if the Stretch IRA is eventually eliminated. This chapter also offers some guidance in naming trusts as beneficiaries. If done properly, this can protect your assets from your child’s creditors, including their former spouses.

Don’t forget to stop back soon for a sneak peek at Chapter 14, which expands on some concepts critical to understanding the benefits of the Stretch IRA!


P.S. Here’s a video on The Death of the Stretch:

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Thank you.

Tax Free Roth IRAs: Don’t believe everything you Read

Tax Free Roth IRA, Don't Believe Everything You Read, James Lange, The Lange Financial GroupMy wife recently told me that she didn’t think that there was anything that could keep me from blogging about my upcoming book, Retire Secure! While she was joking, she was also right. I thought. But then, an article that was published in US News and World Report yesterday (April 20, 2015) was inaccurate on so many points that I could not let it go without commenting on it. I submitted a comment to the article and asked that the article be retracted. I can only hope that the magazine will publish a retraction, and quickly, before an unsuspecting reader takes the writer’s recommendations to heart.

The writer is a certified financial planner and registered investment advisor, as well as a published author, from Virginia. He begins by telling readers about Roth IRAs. He says that you can contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA – that limit was increased $5,500 in 2013. If you have a Roth account in your 401(k), he claims you can add $6,000 to it if you are over 50 years old. (If you are over 50, you can add $24,000 to a Roth 401(k) in 2015this is made up of the $18,000 basic contribution limit plus a $6,000 “catch-up” contribution limit.) He claims that, if you contribute to a Roth, “the money you invest will be taxed”. (Everyone knows that, if you follow the rules, Roth accounts aren’t taxable, right? I sincerely hope that what he was trying to say was that there is no tax deduction for Roth contributions!) Then he tells readers that, after age 59 ½, “when you begin to take distributions” from the Roth, they will be tax-free”. That statement is not inaccurate, but it does omit the very important fact that your contributions can be withdrawn from a tax free Roth IRA before age 59 1/2.  (Earnings on your contributions are treated differently.) It is the traditional IRA that, in most cases, you cannot withdraw from without penalty until age 59 1/2.

The worst advice, though, came when he tried to present the pros and cons of Roth conversions. He recommends that you take one of your existing IRAs or qualified plans and convert the entire thing to a Roth, but then warns you that you will need to pay tax on that entire conversion at once. What is omitted here is that, if you convert your entire account at once, your tax bill may be so large that you move up in to a higher tax bracket. It would be imprudent to make such a recommendation to a client! What generally makes more sense is to make several smaller conversions, in amounts that ensure that you stay in the same tax bracket. He recommends not making tax free Roth IRA conversions later in life, on the basis that you will not live long enough to enjoy the tax-free benefits. Tongue in cheek, I might argue that that’s a risk at any age, but even if you don’t live long enough to enjoy them, the tax-free benefits to your heirs, who are likely much younger than you, are indisputable. The strangest statement against Roth conversions, I thought, was that “you will potentially have to write a big check to the IRS”. It is true that you will have to pay tax on any amount converted from a traditional to a Roth IRA. But even if you don’t need your retirement money to live on, you will have to start taking withdrawals from your traditional IRAs every year once you turn age 70 ½. Those mandatory withdrawals will be taxable, and at that point you will be writing a big check to the IRS. The question is, does it make more sense to make Roth conversions while your retirement account balance is likely to be smaller, pay tax on a smaller amount of money, and generate tax-free income on all of the future earnings on the converted amount? Or, does it make more sense to wait twenty or thirty years, let the taxable traditional IRA grow as large as possible, and then pay the tax on the larger mandatory withdrawals?

In this age of electronic communications it’s easier to offer opposing points of view, and I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised when I saw the sheer volume of dissenting opinions that the article produced within hours of its publication. I also wondered if there were other individuals who read it and took the advice to heart. That made me think of another question – what would my readers have thought about that article, especially after receiving such dramatically different advice from me? Who are you supposed to trust?

My advice to you is this – trust yourself first. If a financial professional says something that does not make sense to you, ask for clarification. If the answer you are given still doesn’t make sense to you, trust your instincts. Get a second, third, fourth or fifth opinion before you act. Or, look up the answer yourself. There are number of resources that my staff and I use all the time, that are also available to you.   These include the Internal Revenue Service’s website (, the Social Secure Administration’s website (, and the website established by Medicare ( Educating yourself about your options is the best defense against making a potential mistake that you have available to you.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Stop back soon for another update on my book.


IRA Withdrawals: Should you withdraw from your Roth or traditional IRA first?

IRA WithdrawalThose of you who have attended my workshops or read the previous editions of my book may remember a rule of thumb I used to use that said, “Spend your after-tax dollars first, use traditional IRA withdrawals second, and then withdraw your Roth”. Well, guess what? The changes in the tax laws now mean that there are no more rules of thumb! My new advice is, “Spend your after-tax dollars first, and then withdraw traditional and Roth IRA dollars strategically to optimize tax results”.

Changes in the tax law that affect capital gains and individual tax brackets, as well as new taxes that are aimed specifically at high income taxpayers mean that the advice I used to give in the past is now far too simplistic. Chapter 4 presents detailed information on how capital gains and other taxes should affect your decision to withdraw money from a traditional versus a Roth account. Would you have thought that your marital status could affect your decision too? Is it possible to minimize the tax on your IRA withdrawals? (Hint: oh, yes.) If you have IRA and Roth money left over when you die, is it better to leave one type of account over another to a child at your death?

Chapter 4 covers many new rules that you did not have to worry about in the past, which should certainly affect these decisions. I’d like to give you one word of caution, though. Each of the scenarios presented in this chapter is based on a specific set of variables. In one scenario, I changed only the account from which the taxpayer made the withdrawal, and the outcome is significantly different. Please don’t assume that your personal circumstances will result in the same outcome shown in these scenarios, but ask us to run the numbers for you!

Be sure to stop back for my next post, which will cover some ideas for managing your Required Minimum Distributions!

WSJ Article: Jim Lange Examines Proposed New Laws & Financial Planning

Don't Let Obama Proposals Sidetrack Financial Planning, WSJ, James Lange, Jonathan ClementsJim was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal (for the 35th time) by Jonathan Clements, a long-respected personal finance journalist.   They discussed several topics including many that Jim has included in his new book due out in summer 2015, Retire Secure: A Guide to Getting the Most out of What You’ve Got.

The article, titled: Don’t Let Obama Proposals Sidetrack Your Financial Planning, mentions several legislative proposals that have been introduced since 2014 that could have a large effect on your personal financial planning. Specifically, Jonathan asked Jim about his thoughts on the proposals and how they might change Social Security and Inherited IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Jim’s advice? Even if changes are made for allowing Social Security maximization strategies like Apply & Suspend, traditional planning advice will likely remain the same. Hold off on Social Security as long as you can and collect the full delayed retirement credits.

“Let’s say the husband dies at 70, but the wife lives to 95,” Mr. Lange says. “The extra 32% in survivor benefits could mean the difference between her being in poverty and her being just fine.”

And what about the potential death of the Stretch IRA? Does it still make sense to do a Roth IRA conversion should a law pass that limits the effectiveness of Inherited IRAs? Jim explains that if a law passes that obligates a beneficiary to drain the account in five years, such an event could push that beneficiary into the highest tax bracket for those years. Because of this:

“It might still make sense to do the Roth conversion, so the kid won’t have this horrible tax burden,” Mr. Lange says.

You can read the full article here:

To learn more about nearly all of the subjects discussed in this article in greater detail, read Jim’s book! Go to to receive a free 4 page summary and email reminders for the release of the Third Edition of Retire Secure!.