Tag Archives: Retirement

Questions and answers about retirement

A couple facing retirement asks:

I will retire in the Spring of 2018 (by then I will have turned 65). My wife is a teacher and will retire in June of 2018. When we chose 2018 as our retirement date, we paid off our house. At the same time we replaced one of our older cars with a new one and paid cash. We have no debt. We will begin drawing down on our investments shortly after my wife retires. Also we both plan to wait until we are 66 to draw on Social Security. Our current nest egg is divided 50/50 in retirement accounts and regular brokerage accounts. About 60% are in equities and mutual funds. The rest is in bonds and cash. I’ve read about the 4% rule, adjusting annually up depending on inflation, expenses and market performance. As of today, based on our retirement budget, we can generate enough cash only using our dividends to live on. In our case this approach would have us taking interest and dividends from all accounts, including IRA, 457 B and 403 B before we are 70 years old. Seems that this approach would make it easier to deal with market volatility, yet it does not seem to be favored by the experts.

My answer:

There are a number of different strategies for generating retirement income. The 4% rule is based on a study by Bill Bengen in 1994. He was a young financial planner who wanted to determine – using historical data – the rate at which a retiree could withdraw money in retirement and have it last for 30 years. The rule has been widely adopted and also widely criticized. It’s a rule of thumb, not a law of nature and there are concerns that times have changed.

Based on your question you have determined that the dividends from your investments have generated the kind of income you need to live on in retirement. Like the 4% rule, there is no guarantee that the dividends your portfolio produces in the future will be the same as they have in the past. Dividends change. Prior to the market melt-down in 2008 some of the highest dividend paying stocks were banks. During the crash, the banks that survived slashed their dividends. Those that depended on this income had to put off retirement because their retirement income disappeared.

I would suggest that this is an ideal time to consult a certified financial planner who will prepare a retirement plan for you. A comprehensive plan should include your income sources, such as pensions and social security. The expense side should include your basic living expenses in addition to things you would like to do. This includes the cost of new cars, travel and entertainment, home repair and improvement, provisions for medical expenses, and all the other things you want to do in retirement. It will also show you the effects of inflation on your expenses, something that shocks many people who are not aware of the effects of inflation over a 30-year retirement span.

Most sophisticated financial planning programs forecast the chances of meeting your goals based on a “total return” assumption for your investments. Of course, the assumptions of total return are not guaranteed. Many plans include a “Monte Carlo” analysis which takes sequence of returns into consideration.

That’s why the advice of a financial advisor who specializes in retirement may be the most important decision you will make. An advisor who is a fiduciary (like an RIA) will monitor your income, expenses and your investments on a regular basis and recommend changes that give you the best chance of living well in retirement.

Finally, tax considerations enter into your decision. Most retirees prefer to leave their tax sheltered accounts alone until they are required to begin taking distributions at age 70 ½. Doing this reduces their taxable income and their tax bill.

I hope this helps.

If you have questions about retirement, give us a call.

 

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What is the right amount to save when aiming for a certain retirement goal?

Question from middle-aged worker to Investopedia:

I am 58 years old earning $100,000 per year and have investments in multiple retirement accounts totaling $686,250. I’m retiring at the age of 65. I am currently investing $16,000 per year in my accounts. I project to have $848,819 in my retirement accounts at the age of 65. I will be collecting $2,200 in Social Security when I retire. I also do not own my home due to my divorce. How much money will I need to hit my projection? Should I be saving more?

My answer:

I believe that you may be asking the wrong question. For most people, a retirement goal is the ability to live in a certain lifestyle. To afford a nice place to live, travel; buy a new car from time to time, etc. By viewing retirement goals from that perspective you can “back into” the amount of money you need to have at retirement.

To do that correctly you need a retirement plan that takes all those factors into consideration. At age 65 you probably have 20 to 30 years of retirement ahead of you. During that time inflation will affect the amount of income it takes to maintain your lifestyle. You will also have to estimate the return on your investment assets. As you can see, there are lots of moving parts in your decision making process. You need the guidance of an experienced financial planner who has access to a sophisticated financial planning program. Check out his or her credentials and ask if, at the end of the process, you will get just a written plan or have access to the program so that you can play “what if” and see if there are any hidden surprises in your future.

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Answering the important retirement questions.

With over 100 million people in America closing in on retirement, big questions arise.  Most investment advisors are oriented toward providing advice on how to build assets, but lack the tools and experience to advise their clients about how to live well during decades of retirement.

The most common advice that retirees get involves invoking the “4% Rule.”  That number is based on a 60-year-old-study that may well be out of date.  Individuals and families should be getting better guidance because now retirement often spans decades.  Many people are retiring earlier and living longer.

There are many critical decisions that must be made before people leave their jobs and live on their savings and a fixed income.

  • When should I claim Social Security benefits?
  • What happens if I live too long? Will I run out of money?
  • What would happen to my income if my spouse died early?
  • Will I need life insurance once I retire? If so, how much?
  • What are the effects of Long-Term-Care on my retirement plans?
  • Can I afford the items on my “wish list?”
  • Will I leave some money to my heirs?

Some Registered Investment Firms (RIAs) have the sophisticated financial planning tools to answer these questions.  They are often CFPs® and focus on retirement planning.  Once a plan is prepared, these same RIAs, acting as fiduciaries, are often asked to help their clients manage their assets to meet their retirement income goals.

If you are approaching retirement and have questions or concerns, contact us.  We’ll be glad to provide you with the answers.

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Beware the Quirks of the TSP in retirement

The TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees. It offers the kind of retirement plan that private corporations offer with 401(k) plans.

Here is a little information about he investment options in the TSP.

The TSP funds are not the typical mutual fund even though the C, F, I, and S index funds are similar to mutual fund offerings.

The C Fund is designed to match the performance of the S&P 500

The F Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad index representing the U.S. bond market.

The I Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Morgan Stanley Capital International EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

The Small Cap S Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index.

The G Fund is invested in nonmarketable U.S. Treasury securities that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the G Fund will not lose money.

One advantage of the TSP is that the expenses of the funds are very low.  However, if you plan to keep your money in the TSP after you retire you need to understand your options because there are traps for the unwary.

The irrevocable annuity option.  

This option provides you with a monthly income.  You can choose an income for yourself or a beneficiary – such as your spouse – that lasts your lifetime or the lifetime of the beneficiary.  The payments stop at death.  Once your annuity starts, you cannot change your mind.

Limited withdrawal options. 

You can’t take money out of your TSP whenever you want.  When it comes to taking money out you have two options.

  1. One time only partial withdrawal. You have a one-time chance to take a specific dollar amount from your account before taking a full withdrawal.
  2. Full withdrawal.   You can choose between a combination of lump-sum, monthly payments or a Met-Life annuity.

Limited Monthly Payment Changes

If you take monthly payments from your TSP as part of your full withdrawal option you can change the amount you receive once a year, during the “annual change period” but it takes effect the next calendar year.  If you choose this option, make sure that you know how much you will need for the coming year.

Proportionate distribution of funds

When you take money out of your TSP you have no choice over which fund is liquidated to meet your income needs.  It comes out in proportion to which your money is invested.  This means you can’t manage your TSP and decide which of the funds you will access to get your distribution.

If you want to give yourself greater flexibility once you retire you have the option of rolling the TSP assets into a rollover IRA without incurring any income tax.

 

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The Fate of Social Security for Younger Workers – And Three Things You Should Do Right Now

We constantly hear people wonder whether Social Security will still be there when they retire.  The question comes not just from people in their 20’s, but also from people in their 40’s and 50’s as they begin to think more about retirement.  It’s a fair question.

Some estimates show that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money by 2034.  Medicare is in even worse shape, projected to run out of money by 2029.  That’s not all that far down the road.

So how do we plan for this?

The reality is that Social Security and Medicare benefits have been paid out of the U.S. Treasury’s “general fund” for decades.  The taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare all go into the general fund.  The idea that there is a special, separate fund for those programs is accounting fiction.  What is true is that the taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare are less than the amount being paid out.

What this inevitably means is that at some point the government may be forced to choose between increasing taxes for Social Security and Medicaid, reducing or altering benefits payments, or going broke.

Another question is whether the benefits provided to retirees under these programs will cover the cost living.  Older people spend much more on medical expenses than the young, and medical costs are increasing much faster than the cost of living adjustments in Social Security payments.  If a larger percentage of a retiree’s income from Social Security is spent on medical expenses, they will obviously have to make cuts in other expenses – be they food, clothing, or shelter – negatively impacting the lifestyle they envisioned for retirement.

The wise response to these issues is to save as much of your own money for retirement as possible while you are working.  There is little you can do about Social Security or Medicare benefits – outside of voting or running for public office – but you are in control over the amount you save and how you invest those savings.

As we face an uncertain future, we advocate that you take these three steps:

  1. Increase your savings rate.
  2. Prepare a retirement plan.
  3. Invest your retirement assets wisely.

If you need help with these steps, give us a call.  It’s what we do.

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The Importance of 401(k)s.

Pensions are fading fast.  If you work for a private company the chances are good that your retirement plan is a 401(k), not a pension plan.   Even if you work for the government, the chances are that the entity you work for will resemble Illinois eventually.

That leaves you with the responsibility for your retirement.  There are two problems with the 401(k).

The first is that too many people do not participate.  Even when employers match their employee’s contribution, not everyone takes advantage of this “free money.”

The second problem is that most people don’t have enough information on the investment choices they are given in their 401(k).    Investing is complicated.  Most plans offer dozens of choices and few people know enough about investing to use them to create an appropriate portfolio.

Employers are not equipped to provide the information.  Most do not want to assume the liability that giving investment advice exposes them to.  An RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) who is also a CFP™ can provide the guidance people need to make sense of the investment option in a 401(k).   Find a CFP™ in your area.

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Is your retirement plan a ticking time bomb?

In your mind’s eye, how do you see yourself living retirement?  Does it include the activities that you enjoy now … without the time you spend at work?  When you have the time, do you see yourself seeing the world?  Retirement presents an opportunity for some life-changing experiences.

But there are a few things that can cause those retirement dreams to become nightmares.

If your retirement plan includes a pension, you may want to consider the risk.  It is a fact that many private and public pension plans are sadly underfunded.  Some public pension plans are the worst offenders.  As an extreme example, the Illinois General Assembly Retirement System is only 13.5% funded.

A long period of very low interest rates means that pension plans with large bond investments have generated low returns.  It has caused others to take greater risk.  At some point that can affect the pensions of those who believed their Golden Years were paid for.

Living longer than you expected is another risk.  In 1950 the average life expectancy was 68.  That meant that the average worker retired at age 65 and died three years later.

Sixty years later, in 2010, the average life expectancy was 79 and many people are living longer.  In 2010 there were 1.9 million people over age 90 and three quarters of those were women.  One of the biggest concerns that retired people have is running out of money as savings are eroded by inflation.    How would living past age 90 affect your retirement plans?

The third thing that is causing the average worker concern about retiring is insufficient savings.  Fewer people are covered by pension plans.  Many employers have replaced guaranteed pensions called “Define Benefit Plans” with 401(k)s and 403(b)s known as “Defined Contribution Plans.”  This transfers the responsibility for retirement from the employer to the employee.  Too few people are taking advantage of these programs, not saving enough, and making unwise investment choices.  This can result in insufficient savings when the time comes to actually retire.  One result is that more and more people continue to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65.

What is to be done?

We have to accept a greater responsibility for our own retirement.  We have to be honest about how safe those pension promises are, whether we work of a large corporation or for a government entity.  We have to start saving early and make wise investment choices.  One of the wisest things people do as they prepare for retirement is get the services of a competent retirement professional who will guide them to a safe haven at the end of the road.

 

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Effective Retirement Plans Do Not End at Retirement

There are those fortunate individuals who, because of wise planning, are able to retire without having to worry about how much money they can spend after their paychecks stop.  These people can afford their needs and wants from sources like pensions and social security that adjust for inflation.  They have probably been saving all of their lives and have always lived below their means.  Others are not so fortunate.

Most middle class retirees fund their retirement spending from Social Security, a pension (perhaps), and income from investments.  Because people often live several decades after retirement, it’s vitally important to make estimates and projections about the future.

Here are just a few of the things that factor into how much it will cost to live once you retire:

  • Your basic living expenses; your “needs.”
  • The cost of your “wants” and “wishes” above your basic expenses
  • The age at which you want to retire.
  • The number of years in retirement.
  • Spousal income and, in two income families, the age at which each spouse retires.
  • Your pension benefits.
  • Life, disability and long-term-care needs.
  • The age at which you apply for Social Security.
  • The value of your investment assets at retirement.
  • The estimated return on your investment assets.
  • Your risk tolerance.
  • The rate of inflation during retirement.

Putting all these factors together is a complicated process that’s beyond the capability of most individuals who don’t work in finance.  Complex planning programs have been developed that can provide answers.  These answers typically provide a probability of success or failure via a procedure called “Monte Carlo” analysis.

We have found that people who begin planning early can make appropriate mid-course corrections while they still have time.  It also provides them with the peace of mind.  Having a well-thought-out plan for the future removes a great deal of worry an uncertainly.

If you are approaching retirement without a plan, give us a call for more information.  We would be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.

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Exploding health care costs

Here are some scary projections about the cost of health care for retirees:

 The average lifetime retirement health care premium costs for a 65-year-old healthy couple retiring this year and covered by Medicare Parts B, D, and a supplemental insurance policy will be $266,589. (It is assumed in this report that Medicare subscribers paid Medicare taxes while employed, and therefore will not be responsible for Medicare Part A premiums.)

If we were to include the couple’s total health care (dental, vision, co-pays, and all out-of-pockets), their costs would rise to $394,954. For a 55-year-old couple retiring in 10 years, total lifetime health care costs would be $463,849.

These projections come from Health View Services.

“Obamacare” enrollment has just begun for the coming year and premiums are increasing an average of 22% even as deductibles have increased to $6,000 for the “Bronze” plan before insurance actually pays anything.   The number of companies offering health insurance to individuals is shrinking and some of the larger companies have stopped offering individual policies altogether.

Many people tell us that health care is one of their top concerns in retirement, right up there with running out of money.  Unfortunately the majority has not even begun to put money aside for retirement and those who have underestimate the cost of doctors, hospitals and drugs during their retirement years.

No matter where you are in your life cycle, you should take action now to get to know a knowledgeable financial advisor, preferable a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who specializes in retirement and who can provide guidance on these issues.

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The Public Pension Crisis

Government workers at all levels are likely to have pension plans but there is a big question about the plans’ ability to pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 92% percent of full-time government employees like teachers and police officers are eligible for pensions, known as “defined benefit plans.”

According to the BLS about 22% of workers in the private sector have pensions, down from 42% in 1990.  In the private sector, retirement plans are much more likely to be 401(k) plans, known as “defined contribution plans.”  Part of the reason for this is that some large companies, like General Motors, accrued huge pension liabilities over the years that they were unable to pay.

Since the Federal Government can print money, federal employees are not worried.  However, states and municipalities depend on their tax base and can’t print money.  That’s where the problem comes in.  Some estimates claim the unfunded liability of public pension plans exceeded $3 trillion dollars.

According to Governing, the city of Chicago’s has an unfunded pension liability of almost $20,000 per capita.  Other cities are somewhat better off, but no big city has a fully funded pension account.  Dallas and Denver, for example are on the hook for between $8,000 and $9,000 per resident.  It’s difficult to even measure the amount of indebtedness because political leaders really don’t want to discuss it.

The problem has been exacerbated by rate-of-return assumptions that are unrealistic.  Most pension funds assume that their assets will grow at rates of seven to eight percent per year indefinitely, a virtual impossibility in this age of low interest rates and sluggish growth.

What does that mean for public employees?   They may want to cast a wary eye on Puerto Rico and some cities in California who have gone into default.  As a wise man once said, “something that can’t go on forever, won’t.”  A little planning ahead won’t hurt.

Whether you are a public employee or work in the private sector we welcome your inquiries.

 

 

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