Category Archives: Retirement Planning

Ideas to help preserve and grow your money

Saving for Retirement

My Comments: It’s a truism in our society that having more money rather than less money is a good thing. And retirement, by definition, is a time in your life when earning money to pay bills and enjoy life is not in the cards.

That being said, if you expect or need to transition to retirement, it would be helpful if you had the necessary financial reserves to make it happen on your terms. Here are 7 things financial advisers wish you knew about saving for retirement.

Holly Johnson, WiseBread April 19, 2017

Wish you had a crystal ball for retirement planning? Most of us do, and for good reason.

Even if you’re sure you’ll have enough money to retire, there are no guarantees until you get there. If your nest egg runs short, it will be far too late for a do-over.

This is where a financial adviser can help. A financial adviser will know if you’re heavy on risk, not diversified enough, failing to maximize tax advantages, or simply not saving enough.

They will also make sure to take into account your lifestyle and preferences to ensure you’re on the right path to your ideal retirement, and not just following a cookie cutter plan that’s not going to be the right fit.

We asked financial advisers for some of the most important ideas they wish their clients understood when it comes to money, retirement, and the future.

1. Social Security will be around in some form
Andrew McFadden, a financial adviser for physicians, says many clients refuse to accept that Social Security will still be around when they retire. This is especially true if they are part of Gen X or Gen Y, he says, since they are decades away from receiving benefits.

However short on funds we may be, the Social Security Administration projects the ability to pay around 75% of current benefits after the fund is depleted in 2034. This is a key detail, notes McFadden, since many people hear Social Security is going bankrupt and refuse to acknowledge any benefits in their own retirement planning.

“It’s not all roses, but that’s still a far cry from those bankruptcy rumors,” says McFadden. “So lower your expectations, but don’t get rid of them altogether.”

2. It’s OK to “live a little” while you save for retirement
Russ Thornton, founder of Wealthcare for Women, says too many future retirees sacrifice living now for their “pie in the sky” dream of retirement. Unfortunately, tomorrow isn’t promised, and many people never get to live out the dreams they plan all along.

“So many people assume they can’t really live until they’re retired and not working full-time,” says Thornton. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Find ways to experience aspects of your dream life now, whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, or 50s.”

With a solid savings and retirement plan, you should be able to do both — save and invest adequately, and try some new experiences that make life adventurous and satisfying now.

“Don’t accept the deferred life plan,” he says. That future you dream about and plan for may never come.

3. The 4% rule isn’t perfect for everybody
Born in the 90s, the 4% rule stated retirees could stretch their funds by withdrawing 4% per year. The catch was, a good portion of those investments had to remain in equities to make this work.

The 4% rule lost traction between 2000 and 2010 when the market closed lower than where it started 10 years before, says Bellevue, WA financial adviser Josh Brein. As many retirement accounts suffered during this time, it was shown that the 4% rule doesn’t always work for everybody.

It doesn’t mean the rule should be thrown out completely though, nor should it still be followed like gospel. In fact, in 2015, two-third of retirees following the 4% rule had double the amount of their starting principal after a 30-year stretch. These retirees could have benefited from taking out more than the limited 4%, which could have meant an extra vacation each year, or another luxury that they were indeed able to afford.

There’s absolutely no denying the importance of making your retirement dollars last. But, after a lifetime of working and saving, you also deserve to enjoy those dollars to their full capability.

Bottom line, take time to re-evaluate your drawdown strategy every few years and make adjustments as necessary. While you don’t want to go broke in retirement — you also don’t want to miss out on all the incredible things this time in your life has to offer.

4. Retirement looks different for everyone
Minnesota financial adviser Jamie Pomeroy says he wishes people would abandon their preconceived notions on what retirement should look like. He blames the financial industry in part for perpetuating the idea that certain retirement planning accounts and products work for everyone. “They don’t,” he says.

“Some enjoy retiring to the beach, some take mini-retirements before reaching a retirement age, some work part-time in retirement, and some just want to spend time with their grandkids,” he says. “The concept of retirement is dynamic, ever-changing, and defined very differently by lots of different people.”

To find the right retirement path and plan for your own life, you should sit down and decide what you really, truly want. Once you know what you want, you can craft a realistic plan to get there.

5. Investment returns aren’t as important as you think
According to North Dakota financial adviser Benjamin Brandt, too many people focus too much energy on their investment returns — mostly because they are an immediate and tangible way to gauge the success or failure of our financial plans.

Investment returns should only be judged in the proper scope of a long-term financial plan, and “over decades,” he says.

In the meantime, our behavior can make a huge impact when it comes to reaching your retirement goals. By spending less and saving more, for example, we can avoid debt and potentially invest more money over the long haul. Those moves can help us retire earlier whether the market performs the way we hope or not.

6. Small changes add up
When it comes to retirement planning, many people feel overwhelmed right away. For example, some people may realize they need $1 million or more to retire and give up before they start.

Financial adviser Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents says this could change if everyone realized how small changes — and small amounts of savings — add up drastically over time.

“Someone who invests just $200 per month for 30 years and earns 7% would have more than $218,000 in the end,” says Rose. “Now imagine both spouses are saving, or that they boost their investments incrementally over the years.”

As Rose points out, a couple who invests $500 per month combined and earns 7% would have more than $566,000 after 30 years.

Looking for ways to save money and invest more will obviously make this number surge. If you boost your contributions each time you get a raise, for example, you’ll have considerably more for retirement. Remember even the smallest contributions can greatly add up over the years.

7. Don’t forget about long-term care
Joseph Carbone, founder and wealth adviser of Focus Planning Group, says many future retirees are missing one key piece of the puzzle, and that piece could cost them dearly.

“I wish many of my clients understood the biggest hurdle from passing wealth on to their heirs is long-term care costs,” says Carbone. “Whether it is home health care, assisted living, or the dreaded nursing home. It is real and it is scary.”

According to Carbone, most people have no idea how much long-term care costs and fail to plan as a result. “Even though the average stay is only 2.7 years in a nursing home, the total cost for those 2.7 years could be well over $400,000,” he says

To help in this respect, Carbone and his associates suggest working with an attorney who specializes in elder law. With a few smart money moves, families can prepare for the real possibility of using a nursing home at some point.

One more thing advisers wish you knew
While financial advisers don’t know everything, their years of experience make them painfully aware of what lies ahead for those of us who fail to plan. And, if there’s one thing financial planners can agree on, it’s this: The sooner we all start planning, the better off we’ll be.

Medicare Statistics

My Comments: Medicare is a critical element for retired Americans. These statistics are not jaw-dropping but re-affirm our need to be very careful about making changes to Medicare.

I’m not convinced the folks in Congress have my best interests in mind when they talk about making changes.

Consider yourself enlightened.

Maurie Backman | Apr 20, 2017

You’re probably aware that Medicare provides health coverage for seniors 65 and older. But did you know that Medicare has several distinct parts, each of which provides its own set of services?

Here’s a quick breakdown:
• Medicare Part A covers hospital visits and skilled nursing facilities.
• Medicare Part B covers preventative services like doctor visits and diagnostic testing.
• Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs.

There’s also Part C, Medicare Advantage, that offers a host of additional services. Whether you’re approaching retirement or are many years away, here are a few key Medicare statistics you should be aware of.

1. There are 57 million Medicare enrollees in the U.S. 
A good 16% of the U.S. population is covered by Medicare, but it’s not just seniors who get to enroll. Younger Americans with disabilities are also eligible for coverage.

2. About 11 million people on Medicare are also covered by Medicaid.
Though Medicare offers a wide array of health benefits for seniors, it doesn’t pay for everything. In fact, about 20% of Medicare enrollees rely on Medicaid to pay for services Medicare won’t cover, such as nursing home care.

3. Net Medicare spending totaled $588 billion in 2016.
That’s about 15% of the federal budget. And that number is expected to rise to nearly 18% of the budget in about a decade’s time.

4. The standard Medicare Part B premium amount in 2017 is $134.
Many people assume that Medicare enrollees don’t pay a premium to get coverage, but it isn’t true at all. While Part A is generally free for most seniors, Part B comes at an estimated cost of $134 per month. That number may also be higher depending on your income, or lower if you were collecting Social Security as of earlier this year and had your Part B premiums deducted directly from your benefits.

5. Poor health can be 2.5 times as expensive for Medicare enrollees.
A 2014 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) revealed that the typical Medicare enrollee who identified as being in poor health had out-of-pocket costs that totaled 2.5 times the amount healthier beneficiaries faced. This is just one reason it’s crucial for Medicare enrollees to capitalize on the program’s free preventative-care services. Catching medical issues early can often result in a world of savings.

6. A single hospital stay under Medicare can cost almost $4,500 out of pocket. 
Here’s some more discouraging news out of KFF. Back in 2010, Medicare enrollees who had a single hospital stay incurred $4,475, on average, in out-of-pocket costs.

7. Medicare enrollees 85 and older spend three times more on healthcare than those aged 65 to 7.  It’s probably not shocking news that older seniors spend more money on medical care than those a decade or more their junior. But what may be surprising is just how much those 85 and over wind up spending. According to KFF, in 2010, Medicare enrollees 85 and older spent close to $6,000 to cover their healthcare needs.

8. In 2015, 243 medical professionals were charged with Medicare fraud. It’s not uncommon for members of the medical establishment to engage in Medicare fraud, whether it’s in the form of inflating bills, performing (and charging for) unnecessary procedures, or billing for services that were never rendered. The good news, however, is that officials are getting better at identifying and prosecuting Medicare fraud. In fact, in 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force was created to put a stop to fraudulent activity that eats away at the program’s limited financial resources.

9. More than 17 million Americans are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare that offers a number of key benefits, such as coverage for additional services (including dental and vision care) and limits on out-of-pocket spending. Between 1999 and 2016, 10 million Americans signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan, and enrollment now represents roughly 30% of the Medicare market on a whole.

10. A good 38% of Medicare funding comes from payroll taxes.
Nobody likes paying taxes, but without them, Medicare simply wouldn’t have enough money to stay afloat. Currently, the Medicare tax rate is 2.9% for most workers (which, for salaried employees, is split down the middle between worker and employer), but higher earners making more than $200,000 a year pay an additional 0.9%.

Getting educated about Medicare can help you make the most of this crucial health program. It pays to learn more about how Medicare works so that you can take full advantage when it’s your turn to start using those benefits.

What’s Killing The Long-Term Care Insurance Industry?

My Comments: This was written almost five years ago. During these years, every reader today is almost five years older and while the world has changed dramatically, the demographics are still with us.

Among the existential risks we all face is what is known as a Long-Term Care, or LTC event. Before we all die, about 70% of us are going to be directly affected. At some point, family and friends can no longer adequately care for someone, and an outside caregiver enters the picture.

It’s not a cheap solution. But I’ve yet to find anyone who says just drop me in the woods somewhere and leave me to the critters. It doesn’t happen that way. My solution of choice is one that requires assets be re-positioned to gain leverage, and provide an escape clause if an LTC event never happens. This article will help you better understand the context in which the solution of choice becomes the answer.

by Howard Gleckman | August 29, 2012

The long-term care insurance industry is in big trouble. Consumers aren’t buying. Carriers are dropping out of the market. And those that are staying are raising premiums, cutting discounts, and eliminating products–all of which are discouraging even more consumers from buying.

What’s gone wrong? The industry has two fundamental problems. A long-standing one–buyers are dropping coverage less often than the industry predicted. And a more serious new one–historically low interest rates are sucking the profit out of the business.

As a result, just about every LTC insurance company has raised premiums in recent years for both old policies and new ones. And now many have begun trimming their product lines and eliminating or reducing discounts.

For instance, Genworth, which dominates the LTC market, announced on Aug. 1 that it plans to raise premiums on pre-2003 policies by 50 percent over the next five years, and on newer policies by 25 percent over the period. It will tighten underwriting for new products, requiring, for the first time, blood tests for applicants. It will also stop selling lifetime benefit policies, reduce spousal discounts from 40 percent to 20 percent, end preferred health discounts, and stop selling products that allow consumers to pay premiums up-front rather than over their lifetimes.

Another big player, Transamerica, has announced similar cut-backs.

Finally, some household names are simply dropping LTC insurance entirely. In February, Unum stopped selling group policies (a product once thought to be the industry savior). In March, Prudential stopped selling individual coverage and on Aug. 1, it abandoned the group market as well.

For years, carriers underestimated how many consumers would let their insurance drop before they went to claim. The companies assumed that as premiums increased and buyers’ disposable income shrank, a certain percentage would drop coverage. The phenomenon, known as the lapse rate, increased returns to insurers and allowed them to keep premiums under control.

But as it turned out, lapse rates have consistently been much lower than the companies figured (typically about 1 percent, compared to 5 percent for other insurance products). That squeezed their profits and forced them to raise rates which, in turn, made insurance less attractive to new potential buyers.

In recent years, the industry has adjusted its estimate for those drop-outs, and newer policies–with higher premiums– are more profitable than older ones. But carriers have had much more trouble adjusting to the newer problem: How to survive in a nearly zero interest rate environment.

To oversimplify a bit, insurance companies earn revenue by collecting premiums and then investing that income. Because long-term care insurance companies typically do not pay claims for many years, they hold premium income for a long time and, thus, investment income is a very important part of their business model.

Those investments are limited by state insurance regulators to ultra-safe bonds. But ten-year Treasury bonds are returning just 1.6 percent. Five-year notes are paying a paltry 0.7 percent. That is far lower than overall inflation and significantly lower than the annual increase in long-term care costs, which is roughly 5 percent.

The math is brutal: No insurance company can pay claims and make a profit when its costs are rising by 5 percent but its investment returns are in the neighborhood of 1 percent.

Keep in mind that long-term care insurers are almost all subsidiaries of much larger life insurance companies. And their parent firms, anxious to manage risk in what was already a very risky business, are not at all troubled by the decline in LTC sales. In fact, slashing sales may be exactly what they have in mind.

Until a few years ago, carriers that stopped selling LTC insurance would sell their existing policies to other firms. But, today, in a reflection of the state of the industry, there are no buyers. In most cases, the large carriers will continue to cover their current customers, though policy-holders should not be surprised to see ongoing rate increases.

Overall, though, the decline of the private LTC market is a huge problem, especially since it is coming just as Washington is seeking ways to reduce Medicaid, the most important payer of long-term care costs. It is yet one more reason why it will be critical to find a workable solution to the problem of long-term care financing.

The 7 Elements of a Successful Retirement

My Comments: Just 7? No, there are lots more, but you have to start somewhere.

The first element reflects my personal approach to this. There has to be a real understanding of the difference between strategies and tactics. There’s a reason that seems militaristic because it is. I’ve just borrowed it to use in financial planning.

Nick Ventura/Apr 12, 2017

Start with well-defined goals, and revisit them at least annually. The closer you get to retirement, the more often you should sit down and think about your overall retirement strategy. In Ernie Zelinski’s “How to Retire Wild, Happy and Free,” the author makes the argument that setting your retirement goals expands far beyond managing your finances. Retirement planning should encompass all areas of your lifestyle, from where you live and where you travel to how you spend your day and what truly are your income requirements. Cookie cutter percentages and rules of thumb serve merely as benchmarks. Successful retirement planning requires flexibility and the willingness to look at all aspects of your life.

Many people get great satisfaction from work. So, if you are retired, and you like to work, pick something you like to do and gain emotional satisfaction from that activity. This includes working for charitable causes, hobbies, family involvement, etc. These “jobs” may or may not come with financial remuneration. But that’s not the point; many people derive emotional satisfaction and self-worth from working.

Another aspect of retirement is lifetime learning. Staying relevant in today’s technology economy requires a willingness to learn and adapt. Consider this: most medical professionals would agree that 20% to 30% of medical knowledge becomes outdated after just three years. Keeping current on technology and medicine will certainly enhance your retirement success.

Budgeting is more than setting a top-line spending number based on a pre-arranged percentage. Often times, we work from the bottom up, exploring what a client actually spends, instead of what they think they spend. It is not uncommon for individuals to drastically underestimate their spending on non-essential items. How much is your cell phone bill? Cable bill? Groceries? Starbucks?! We encourage clients to look at these as recurring payments. Not $140 a month, but $1,680 a year. Big difference, right? Getting as granular as possible is liberating when planning your retirement income.

While many planners suggest that a client will need two-thirds of their working salary to live comfortably in retirement, our experience shows that they may need anywhere from 50% to 150%. That’s a big range. Only by taking the time to define your goals, and the expenses that accompany them, can we put an accurate “spend” and “income” figure on a retirement portfolio. Even the best crafted budget has to be flexible. Emergencies happen. Grandkids happen. Sadly, health concerns happen. For both positive and negative circumstances, budgets can, and will, expand and contract. Build contingencies into your budget and income plan for a successful retirement.

Let’s consider income. Retirement income can come from many sources. Social security, pensions, retirement accounts, annuities, dividends, even earned income. As financial planners, we often hear stories from clients who “forgot” that they had earned an pension from an employer that they had left decades ago.

Take the time to go through your employment history and discover what benefits you may have forgotten. The impact could be meaningful from a cash-flow perspective. Inheritances can also create retirement income. Again, we often see clients receive an inheritance and immediately spend it. We’d rather go with the gift that keeps on giving – by investing the inheritance along the same lines of a retirement asset and creating a lifetime income stream.

Invest for your whole life.
Just as your budget is not going to be static during your retirement years, the idea that your investment portfolio should never change is obsolete as well. We live in a world of massive disruption and change. Years ago, retirees would abide by the rule taking 100%, subtracting their age, giving them the “appropriate” allocation to the equity market (blue chips only!). Today’s world does not permit such simplicity of thought.

This philosophy created an asset allocation for retirees that was heavily dependent upon the fixed income markets. Risk in today’s fixed income markets is considerably less predictable. When creating income in a portfolio, investors should examine many different sources of income. Is it time for fixed or variable rate income sources? Are dividend producing stocks inexpensive or overvalued? Is real estate a proper asset to produce income? Can alternative investments like MLP’s create an income stream? In finding these answers, a successful retirement income stream can become multifaceted and flexible.

Some investors have opted for “all-in-one” strategies, where a glide path mutual fund encompasses their entire retirement portfolio composition. These funds become gradually more conservative the closer an investor gets to retirement. Some funds manage “to” the retirement date, while others manage “through” the retirement date. If you own one of these vehicles, do you know what the fund is designed to accomplish? These funds use historical data to project out into the future the ideal asset allocation. We don’t know what the future holds, and advocate investments that have the ability to be flexible.

Successful retirement comes down flexibility. Flexibility of goals. Flexibility of income streams. Flexibility of spending. Flexibility of retirement investments. Flexibility of the overall plan. As you design your retirement plan, take the time to build in flexibility. It will help build peace of mind, and lead to a more successful retirement.

Nick Ventura is the founder and chief executive of Ventura Wealth Management.

Social Security Taxes

My comments: Social Security is under threat. It’s running out of money. Sort of.

Back in 1983, under President Reagan, Congress made some changes as, like now, the future of the program looked cloudy. They increased the age at which you qualified for full benefits, they increased the percentage of earned income you paid into the system and they raised the threshhold for how much of your earned income was subject to the FICA tax.

This is a good explanation of what it going on now.

By William Perez | October 31, 2016

The Social Security tax is a tax applied to income related to labor. All employees and self-employed entrepreneurs pay into Social Security through the Social Security tax, which is also known as Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI).

The Social Security tax functions very much like a flat tax. A single rate of 12.4% is applied to wage and self-employment income earned by a worker up to a maximum dollar limit.

Half of this tax is paid for by the employee in the form of payroll withholding. The other half of this tax is paid for by the employer. Self-employed persons pay both halves of the Social Security tax since they are both the employee and the employer.

Social Security tax rates

Employees pay 6.2% of their wage earnings, up to the maximum wage base.

Employers pay 6.2% of their employee’s wage earnings, up to the maximum wage base.

Self-employed persons pay the combined rate of 12.4% of their net earnings from self-employment, up to the maximum wage base. This is calculated as part of the self-employment tax on Schedule SE.

The Math Behind the Social Security Tax

All wages and self-employment income up to the Social Security wage base in effect for a given year is subject to the Social Security tax.

Social Security Wage Base by Year
2017 $127,200
2016 $118,500
2015 $118,500
2014 $117,000
2013 $113,700
2012 $110,100
2011 $106,800
Source: Social Security Administration, Contribution and Benefit Base

Earnings up to the Social Security wage base amount have the Social Security tax applied. Earnings over the wage base amount do not have the Social Security tax applied.

The math works like this:
• If wages are less than $127,200 in the year 2017, then wages times 6.2% is the amount the employee pays and wages times 6.2% is the amount the employer pays.
• If wages are more than $127,200 in the year 2017, then 127,200 times 6.2% is the amount the employee pays and this is also the same amount the employer pays.

What is the Social Security Tax For?

Unlike income taxes, which are paid into the general fund of the United States and can be used for any purposes, Social Security taxes are paid into special trust funds that can be used only to pay for current and future Social Security retirement benefits, benefits for widows and widowers, and disability benefits.

Historical information about Social Security Taxes

Special Rate Reduction for 2011 and 2012

Back in the years 2011 and 2012, the Social Security tax rate paid by employees is 4.2% instead of the normal 6.2%. Employers still pay the full 6.2% rate. Thus for 2011 and 2012, the combined Social Security tax rate is 10.4%. Self-employed persons will pay this 10.4% combined rate on their earnings. This special payroll tax holiday was enacted as part of the Tax Relief Act of 2010, then extended through February 2012 by HR 3765, and then further extended through the end of 2012 by HR 3630.

The reduced Social Security tax rate was not renewed for 2013 as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act. For 2013, the Social Security tax reverts to its normal tax rate of 6.2% for employees, 6.2% for employers, and 12.4% for self-employed persons.

Thus for 2011 and 2012, we substitute 4.2% for 6.2% in the above math formulas for the amount paid by the employee. At the maximum wage base of $106,800 for 2011, this translates into a tax savings of $2,136, as follows:
• Social security tax at the normal rate: 106,800 times 6.2% = $6,621.60
• Social security tax at the reduced rate for 2011: 106,800 times 4.2% = $4,485.60

At the 2012 maximum wage base of $110,100, this translates into a tax savings of $2,202, as follows:
• Social security tax at the normal rate: 110,100 times 6.2% = $6,826.20
• Social security tax at the reduced rate for 2012: 110,100 times 4.2% = $4,624.20

You can plug in your own salary level to determine your own personal savings from the payroll tax holiday. If your earnings from wages and self-employment are less than the wage base, simply multiply your earnings by 2% to find your savings. If your earnings are more than the wage base, you receive the maximum savings of $2,136 (for 2011) and $2,202 (for 2012).

What Happens to the “Missing” Social Security Funds from the 2-Year Tax Rate Reduction?

To prevent Social Security from losing tax revenue, Congress mandated that revenues be transferred from the general fund to the Social Security trust funds to make up for the tax reduction. This is provided for in section 601 of the Tax Relief Act, which reads in part, “There are hereby appropriated to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund established under section 201 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401) amounts equal to the reduction in revenues to the Treasury by reason of the application of subsection (a). Amounts appropriated by the preceding sentence shall be transferred from the general fund at such times and in such manner as to replicate to the extent possible the transfers which would have occurred to such Trust Fund had such amendments not been enacted.”

6 Retirement Lessons

My Comments: My professional efforts these days are focused on helping people make good decisions about their retirement. My grey hair lends itself to this demographic.

So my posts tend to favor ideas and thoughts that are relevant to many people either starting to navigate these transitional waters to retirement, or are already there.

Nov 4, 2016 | Andrea Coombs

Are you a retirement “do-it-yourselfer,” convinced you can plan for your own retirement without paying for a financial adviser? That’s all well and good, but given that money managers work with people in a variety of financial situations, their experiences with the problems that prevent people from retiring can offer insights into how to overcome those challenges.

I spoke to a few experts to find out how they handle that difficult situation: a client who wants to retire but whose financial picture suggests she shouldn’t yet do so.

Ideally, of course, advisers want people to seek financial advice early on, years before they plan to retire. “Then we have the ability to help you work towards your goals over a period of time and make adjustments as things change,” said Nancy Skeans, managing director of personal financial services at Schneider Downs Wealth Management Advisors in Pittsburgh, Penn.

But sometimes people don’t show up at the adviser’s office until they’re eager to leave the workforce for good. In those cases, she said, advisers sometimes are forced to deliver bad news.

“We just had that situation with an individual and his wife,” Skeans said. “He’s thinking about retiring in two to three years. It was very obvious to me when I looked at his balance sheet, coupled with what I backed out as to their spending, that if they retired immediately they would put themselves into a precarious situation.”

One red flag was that this couple hadn’t accounted for their retirement tax bill. “All of their assets were in tax-deferred accounts,” Skeans said. “Every dollar they spend is going to be a dollar plus the taxes. That means, if you’re trying to support a standard of living after tax, you’re going to have to gross that money up.”

So, one lesson is to remember that the government is going to take a bite out of your retirement account. Here are more lessons financial advisers say they’ve been forced to teach new clients:

1. Be disciplined about a budget

In 2008, Skeans said, a client who was about 64 years old was laid off. “He decided he wasn’t going to look for other work,” she said. “We ran the projection. Obviously, at that point in time the portfolios were down because of the market and I was deeply concerned.

“Fortunately the guy was a finance guy, a controller for a small company. He heard us loud and clear that the biggest thing he and his wife needed to do was stay within a budget,” she said.

At the time, Skeans talked with the couple about how to stabilize their finances through reduced spending. “He was very adamant he did not want to go back to work,” she said. “We were able to help him and his wife structure a budget and they have stuck to it and continue to do so.”

And now? “Eight years later, their portfolio is just slightly below where it was eight years ago,” Skeans said.

2. Take a practice run

People sometimes underestimate what they’ll spend in retirement, especially in the early years when they suddenly find themselves with plenty of free time and energy, said Tripp Yates, a wealth strategist at Waddell & Associates in Memphis, Tenn.

“I’ve seen it where people do a budget for retirement and they tell me, ‘OK, we’ve done all the numbers and we can live off $50,000 a year,’” Yates said. Too often, that’s a bare-bones budget that doesn’t take into account travel and other activities. “The first five to 10 years of retirement, people are probably going to spend more rather than less, because they’re in fairly good health and want to enjoy that time,” he said.

One way to get a good handle on your spending is to test-run your retirement budget, he said. In one recent conversation with a couple, he told them: “Maybe one spouse who really wants to retire can. The other spouse continues working and maybe we take six months to a year and try to live on that budget, practice, see if it’s actually doable before both husband and wife call it retirement,” Yates said.

3. Don’t focus on the market

Given the media’s attention on the market’s every move, it’s no surprise that people seeking help from an adviser often fret about what happen next. That’s the wrong focus, said Robert Klein, president of the Retirement Income Center in Newport Beach, Calif. (Klein is also a writer for MarketWatch’s RetireMentor section.)

“People read so much in the media about performance and that’s naturally their focus until you show them on paper it’s all about your goals and planning for those and controlling what you can control,” he said. While investors must make sure their investments are diversified, there’s no way of knowing when the market might take another steep plunge.

“You have to control what you can control and develop prudent strategies that are going to work no matter what the market does,” Klein said.

4. Be clear about your goals

Retirement planning is about more than “just having X dollars in income,” Klein said. Figure out what you want retirement to look like, and then work from that. “It’s about a lifestyle in retirement. What are they going to be doing day-to-day in retirement?” he said. “Then you can focus on the finances: ‘What is it going to take so I can do that?’”

For some people, a hard look at a retirement lifestyle leads them to choose to work longer, Klein said. “A lot of people are better off working longer even if they can afford to retire. They just don’t have the hobbies. It’s a whole different routine when you retire,” he said. “Phased retirement is really good for a lot of those people, so they can take baby steps into retirement,” he added.

5. Use software that provides a picture

If you’re planning your own retirement, are you using financial software that will create projections as a chart? “Most people don’t communicate with numbers, they communicate pictorially,” said Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management Inc. in Roseville, Calif.

Foss said she shows clients a simple chart depicting how long their money is likely to last if they retire now. In some cases, she might produce a second chart that shows how spending less might make their outlook improve, and then talk with the client about options, such as downsizing the house or refinancing, working longer or delaying the purchase of a new car.

For one couple, seeing those pictures and having that discussion made all the difference, Foss said. They wanted to spend the same amount of money in retirement that they’d been spending while they worked, but the size of their savings account didn’t support that goal. So, they switched from the country club to a lower-cost health club, refinanced into a cheaper mortgage and started cooking at home more rather than eating out.

Reducing those costs and others preserved their portfolio for the long haul. Said Foss: “It created the income so that they could retire.”

6. Get real with your adult children

In some cases, people retire but unforeseen expenses put their financial security at risk. Skeans said one client unexpectedly found herself supporting her adult daughter and grandson, who live in her home, even as she herself recently entered a care facility.

“She’s taken out enormous amounts of money to help her daughter and grandson,” Skeans said. “She’s supporting their household and she’s paying the cost of assisted living. I said, ‘If you continue at this pace, this portfolio is going to be gone in five years.’”

Skeans said if the client sells her home—that is, asks her daughter to find her own place—that money would bolster her finances. “She should be able to make it and still leave something to this daughter in the end,” Skeans said. “She said, I’m going to talk to my daughter about that.”

How Timing Impacts Your Retirement Portfolio Longevity

My Comments: Many a client has asked “How long will my money last?” and the only rational, unsatisfactory answer is “It depends”.

Unfortunately, luck plays a major role in our lives. If you’re alive and well today, chances are you’ve had at least some good luck. In answering the above question, much depends on timing, which is typically something over which we have NO control. Little more than deciding the date of your birth.

Follow these thoughts by Kevin Michels to get some additional insights.

Kevin Michels, CFP® February 20, 2017

How long will your retirement nest egg last? This is an intricate question to answer and many factors come into play such as rate of return, the value of your savings, annual withdrawals, inflation, etc.

However, one factor that is very important and is largely not spoken of is the timing of when you retire. In fact, the timing of when you retire is so important it can make the difference between running out of money in retirement or leaving a multi-million dollar inheritance to your children and grandchildren.

A Retirement Example

Let me explain by example. Let’s take 10 imaginary couples and pretend they have each saved $1 million for retirement. Each couple invests the full $1 million in the S&P 500 for the duration of their retirement, which we’ll assume lasts for a period of 30 years. Each couple also plans on withdrawing $100,000 per year from their portfolio and will increase that amount by 3% per year to account for inflation. The only difference between each couple is the timing of their retirement. The first couple retires in 1977, the second couple in 1978, the third couple in 1979, and so on and so forth.

All else being equal, aside from the timing of each couple’s retirement, how will they each fare over a 30-year period? The disparity between the longevity and value of each couple’s retirement portfolio is staggering.

Three out of the 10 couples actually ran out of money before the 30-year period ends, simply because they chose to retire one year too early or one year too late, while the other seven couples end the 30-year period with balances ranging from $500,000 to $3.2 million.

The three couples that ended up running out of money (1977, 1981, 1986) all had something in common. The first five to 10 years of their investment returns were subpar. The perfect storm for a short-lived retirement portfolio is created when you pair investment losses with withdrawals in the first five to 10 years of retirement. You get so far behind, that it becomes impossible to catch up. This is known as “sequence of returns risk.”

To put this into perspective, take a look at the table below regarding the most successful couple, who retired in 1979 and ended with $3.2 million, compared to the least successful couple who retired in 1977 and ran out of money in 20 years.

Couple

Longevity of Retirement Nest Egg

Average Annual Return of S&P 500 for 30-Year Period

Average Annual Return of S&P 500 for First 5 Years of Retirement

1977 – 2006

$0 after 20 years

12.48%

8.13%

1979 – 2008

$3.2 million after 30 years

11.00%

17.36%

Although over the long term the S&P returned 1.48% more per year in 1977 to 2006 than 1979 to 2008, the couple that retired in 1979 will leave a multi-million dollar estate largely because in the first five years of retirement they have superior investment returns than the couple who retired in 1977.

Safeguards to Protect Retirement Investments

Fortunately, we can put safeguards into action to mitigate the sequence of returns risk.

1. Don’t invest your entire portfolio in the S&P 500 or any other one asset class.

For the most part, it is good for retirees to be invested in stocks. This protects against inflation risk and low yields in the bond market as we’re seeing now. But volatility comes with stocks so it’s also important to include some bonds or bond funds in your portfolio as well, to smooth out returns.

2. Always keep at least the next two years of expected withdrawals in cash or short-term bonds.

In our example, each couple planned on withdrawing $100,000 per year and increasing that amount by 3% a year for inflation. So in their first two years of retirement, they could have liquidated $203,000 ($100,000 for year one and $103,000 for year two) and kept it in cash to safeguard against short-term volatility. This would have saved the couples who retired in 1977 and 1981. Both of those couples started their retirement with negative returns.

3. Rebalance your portfolio annually.

Rebalancing is simply the practice of selling high and buying low. If your portfolio is invested in 70% stocks and 30% bonds and the stock market underperforms the bond market for a year or so, naturally the stock portion of your portfolio will decrease while the bond portion will increase. If at the end of the year your portfolio is now made up of 65% stocks and 35% bonds, you can sell the 5% of bonds to reinvest in low-priced stocks or to keep in cash for future withdrawals.

4. Aim for a lower withdrawal rate in the first five years of retirement.

Your withdrawal rate is calculated by dividing your total withdrawals for the year by your total portfolio value at the beginning of the year. In our example, the withdrawal rate for our retirees starts at 10% ($100,000/$1 million), which is high for the first five years of retirement. As previously stated, the longevity of your retirement portfolio is greatly affected by your returns and withdrawals in the first five years of retirement. If each one of these couples would have started with a lower withdrawal rate, even 9%, they all would have had money left over at the end of the 30-year period. Try to start with a lower withdrawal rate and then increase it as your portfolio grows.

In the end, the decision of when to retire isn’t as important as the plan you have in place to ensure your retirement capital lasts the duration of your life. Before you begin living the golden years, make sure you work with your spouse and potentially a financial planner to have a plan in place that will provide peace of mind during those years of market turmoil.