A MINNESOTAN PLANS A COURAGEOUS CAREER CHANGE AT 46
(MONEY Magazine) – For the past year, Jim Wright, 46, has been leading an arduous double life. By day he is a civil engineer, specializing in traffic management for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. At night and on weekends he is a student, toiling for his doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Minnesota. Wright hopes that his hectic schedule will eventually enable him to pursue his true vocation as a medical researcher -- a career dream that he gave up more than 25 years ago because of the financial demands of a teenage marriage and fatherhood. But time is not on his side, realizes Wright, who was divorced in 1979 and now lives in Woodbury, a St. Paul suburb, with his younger daughter Debbie, 18, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, in a house he jointly owns with his fiancee Jeanne Danaher, 36, an attorney. (His older daughter Sue, 26, a manager at a retail clothing store, lives nearby in the Minneapolis home that Wright and his former wife occupied during their 18-year marriage.) As a part- time student he will need at least six more years to earn his degree -- too long, Wright worries, for a middle-aged man hoping to make a success of a new career. ''If I quit my job and return to school full time, I could get my Ph.D. two years sooner,'' he figures, ''but I'm not sure I have the money or the courage.'' Certainly, giving up his $49,000 annual salary will impose sacrifices. Although the University of Minnesota has promised Wright a $10,500 teaching assistantship and free tuition, that income will fall far short of the $30,000 a year that he needs to support himself and pay for Debbie's schooling. Wright also stands to lose a substantial portion of the yearly pension he would receive from the state upon retirement (see the box at right). Wright does have roughly $62,000 in assets to tide him over. His largest holding is $28,000 worth of equity in the Minneapolis house from which his daughter Sue has agreed to move next year. Wright has another $13,000 in certificates of deposit, held in his state deferred-compensation account, a tax-sheltered savings plan for public employees that is similar to a 401(k) but imposes no penalty for early withdrawals. He also has $10,000 in two Individual Retirement Accounts, split among a Fidelity money-market fund, CDs and Genentech stock. In addition, Wright has $7,500 in a Fidelity USA cash management plan, also invested in a money-market fund and Genentech stock as well as the Magellan fund. To cover the shortfall between his income and expenses as a full-time graduate student, Minneapolis financial planner Helen Stecklein recommends that Wright sell most of his holdings over the next four years, putting the proceeds into money-market funds and CDs that will safeguard his principal and assure him of ready access to his cash. ''Wright will have almost no assets and an uncertain career horizon when he finishes school,'' warns Stecklein. ''But with careful planning, he can meet his goal.'' ) Wright's first year should be the easiest because, upon quitting his job, he will receive $14,000 in severance and vacation pay. If he begins full-time study next January, for instance, that $14,000, combined with his teaching stipend and the proceeds from the sale of the mutual fund and stock in his Fidelity account, should be more than enough to cover his expenses in 1989. Stecklein advises Wright to put the cash in his Fidelity money-market fund, currently yielding 7%. Stecklein also urges Wright to sell his house in Minneapolis when Sue moves out next year. The expected $24,000 after-tax proceeds should cover his expenses during his second year of school and part of the third. Since Wright will not need all of it at once, Stecklein suggests putting the money into CDs staggered to mature over the following 12 to 24 months. That way, he can safely earn an average return about two percentage points above his money- market yield. To come up with the rest of the cash necessary to support himself during the third year of his doctoral program, Wright can tap the money in his state deferred-compensation plan. After taxes, he will end up with roughly $12,000, which he should put into his money-market fund. By 1992, Wright's final year of study, he will have exhausted all of his assets except the IRA. Stecklein advises against cashing in this account both because Wright will lose a quarter of his investment to taxes and a 10% early- withdrawal penalty and because he needs to retain some financial cushion. Instead, she suggests that he augment his income with part-time work and, if necessary, a student loan. Unfortunately, Wright's struggles may not end when he finishes his studies. Even with a Ph.D., finding a high-paying research job could be rough for a middle-aged neophyte. ''To compensate for his late start,'' advises Frank Karpati, executive director of Career Directions Inc. in Hackensack, N.J., ''Wright has to build contacts and a reputation in the field while he's still in school.'' Karpati urges him to find a mentor and to publish articles in academic journals. He also recommends that Wright launch a national job search at least a year before completing his doctorate. The prospect does not daunt Wright. Says he: ''I know I'm gambling with my future, but being a medical researcher is what I want out of my life.''
CHART: The impact on his retirement
Jim Wright's decision to change fields will almost certainly reduce his ^ retirement benefits. The precise loss depends on the salary he makes in his new job. Let's as sume that Wright begins work as a medical researcher at age 50 and stops at 65. If his new job pays $50,000 a year, his annual retirement income will be $2,500 less, and if it pays only $35,000, the hit will be $12,000 a year.
OLD JOB SALARY: $49,000
Pension at 65 $38,000 Deferred compensation 16,500 Social Security 12,000
Total annual retirement income $66,500
NEW JOB SALARY: $50,000
New-job pension $40,000 Old-job pension 12,000 Social Security 12,000
Total annual retirement income $64,000
NEW JOB SALARY: $35,000
New-job pension $24,000 Old-job pension 12,000 Social Security 10,000
Total annual retirement income $46,000