Quick Summary: Key documents everyone needs to successfully navigate retirement.
When planning for retirement, most people focus on saving, and rightly so. Having enough money to fund your retirement dreams is a key element to any plan. Often overlooked, however, is the importance of obtaining and organizing important documents. Here are ten essential documents you will need to successfully navigate retirement.
Defined benefit pensions have become less common over the years, but there are still many people covered by them. If you have a pension at work, the details of the plan will be spelled out in the plan’s Summary Plan Description. In addition, you should receive an Individual Benefit Statement that details the specific benefits that you have earned and are eligible for. Make sure to review those documents as you approach retirement so that both you and your spouse have a good understanding of how much income you can expect from the plan and what will happen to that income if the primary pension holder dies. Make sure to contact your employee benefit’s department with questions or concerns. Also, the Department of Health and Human Services offers help and advice to pension holders through its Pension Counseling and Information Program. Visit www.aoa.gov for more information.
Beneficiary designation forms
Many accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s, annuities, and insurance policies allow you to name a beneficiary who will receive those assets when you die. Many people don’t realize that those designations take precedence over their will, even if the will is more accurate and up to date. Because of this, it is important to review the beneficiary designations on all your accounts (as well as those of your aging parents if you are helping them with their finances) prior to retiring to make sure that they accurately reflect your wishes. Meet with your financial adviser and estate planning attorney to ensure that your designations not only pass property to the correct people, but also minimize expense and taxes.
Documents needed when applying for Social Security
The Social Security Administration will need you to provide certain documents when filing for retirement or survivor benefits. Documents they may request include your Social Security card, a certified copy of your birth certificate, proof of citizenship if you were not born in the U.S., military discharge papers, a copy of your marriage license or divorce papers, and a copy of your W-2 form (or self-employment tax return) for last year. Having these documents readily available will help speed the process along.
Most people’s assets are divided into many different types of accounts. Some may be tax-deferred, others may not. Some might have restrictions or requirements on withdrawals. Some, like annuities, might give you different options for turning the account into a guaranteed income stream. When transitioning into retirement, it is important to have current copies of your account statements as well as options or restrictions associated with each account so you can craft a distribution strategy that meets your needs while minimizing expense, hassle and taxes.
Health care paperwork
Your health benefits during retirement will likely come from multiple sources. Those could include a former employer, Medicare, Medicaid, a Medicare supplement policy, or a long-term care policy. Be sure to retain benefit summaries, contact information, and policies associated with each. If you have not filed for Social Security benefits by age 65, you will need to apply for Medicare. You can do this up to three months prior to your 65th birthday. When applying, you will likely need to provide them with the same documents mentioned earlier for Social Security applicants.
Many house fires or burglaries occur when the homeowner is away. When you retire, you will likely spend more time traveling or at a second home than you did during your working years. Because of that, it is important to inventory the contents of your home (either make a list or do a quick video walk through) so that you can more easily make insurance claims and rebuild your life if the unexpected happens.
Many retirees have life insurance policies in order to replace income in the event of a death, as a vehicle to build cash value, or for estate planning purposes. Make sure to have current copies of your policies as well as contact information for the insurance company so you can easily access cash value during life or so that your heirs can easily claim benefits if something happens to you.
Most people need a will, regardless of the size of their estate, to control the passing of property at death. Another tool to accomplish this while at the same time avoiding probate is a Revocable Living Trust. As you enter retirement, you should meet with your attorney to put a plan in place that passes your property to the correct people, designates the correct people to take charge, and minimizes expense, hassle and taxes.
Durable power of attorney for finance and health care
A durable power of attorney for finance is a simple and inexpensive legal document that authorizes a person you have chosen to step in and manage your day-to-day financial decisions if you become incapacitated. Everyone needs this document to provide for the ongoing management of their financial affairs if they cannot make decisions for themselves.
Similar to the power of attorney for finance, the health care power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes a person you have chosen to step in and make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated and can no longer speak for yourself. You can also include a health care directive which provides written instructions to your agent that communicate your wishes regarding the withholding or withdrawal of certain life support equipment or medical procedures.
If you plan on moving to a different state when you retire, meet with your attorney to make sure that your will, trust, and powers of attorney will be valid in your new state of residence and make any necessary revisions.
In many ways life becomes easier after you retire. Unfortunately, this is not the case with your taxes. In fact, because your employer is no longer automatically withholding from your paycheck, tracking and paying your taxes may become more complicated. To make matters worse, different states tax income and spending differently. Will you owe tax on Social Security? How about pension and annuity income? How much should you withhold from IRA distributions? The short answer is “It depends.”
Because of this you should work closely with a trusted tax adviser and then maintain your tax returns and supporting documents for seven years. The IRS can look back three years for basic errors and six if you underestimated income by more than 25 percent.
As you can see, obtaining, understanding, and organizing your key documents will not only help you to make informed decisions, but will also facilitate a smooth transition into a rewarding and meaningful retirement.
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If your kids are grown and moving on to the next stage of their lives, it’s time for you to begin thinking about the next stage of yours. For many, the empty nest years fall in that decade or so just before retirement. Because of that, it’s an ideal time to make adjustments to your finances and make sure you’re on track to meet your retirement goals. Here are 7 financial tips for empty nesters.
Adjust your insurance coverage
With your kids out on their own, it’s time to review your insurance coverage. If they’re no longer driving your cars, ask your insurance agent about removing them from your policy or getting a distant-student credit. Similarly, if they have health coverage provided by their school or a new employer, removing them from your policy will likely reduce your premiums. And don’t forget about life insurance. If your kids are through school and the house is paid for, you probably don’t need as much life insurance, but you may want to consider adding long-term care insurance. Meet with a trusted adviser to evaluate your circumstances and craft a plan that is appropriate for your current stage in life.
Re-focus your finances
Several studies have shown that the cost of raising a child from birth to age eighteen can run anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000. That’s a big chunk of change and causes many people to neglect their planning for things like retirement. With fewer mouths to feed and big expenses like college and braces out of the way, it’s time to re-focus your finances on you.
The good news is that you’re likely in your peak earnings years and retirement plan contribution limits are higher for people over age fifty. Take advantage of those higher limits by putting away as much as possible. The maximum 401(k) contribution for 2019 is $19,000 plus an additional $6,000 if you’re over 50. IRA contribution limits are $6,000 plus an additional $1,000 if you’re over 50. That means that a working, married couple could sock away an additional $320,000 in just five years simply by maximizing their 401(k) and IRA contributions.
Re-do your budget
A budget for a family of five looks drastically different than a budget for two. Take a hard look at your expenses and re-design your budget with your new circumstances in mind. I’ve already talked about insurance and savings, but don’t forget to consider things like cell phone plans, cable tv channels that only junior watched, the grocery bill, and memberships or subscriptions that you were covering for the kids. Once you’ve freed up some extra money each month, see point two.
Go back to work
If you stayed home to raise your kids, consider going back to work at something you really enjoy. Not only can a job replace some of the purpose you derived from raising the kids, but it can also increase the Social Security benefits you’ll be eligible for and provide extra money for savings or meaningful pursuits.
Selling the home you raised your family in can be difficult, but it might make sense if you don’t need the space or if you plan on moving when you retire. Even if you don’t initially downsize your house, work at downsizing your stuff, especially those things that you no longer need now that the kids are gone. Paring down your stuff will make the transition easier if you eventually decide to move to a smaller place or retire in a different state.
Downsizing can also help you unlock the value in your home. For many, their home is their biggest asset. If your house made sense for a growing family, but is overkill now that the kids are gone, moving to a smaller place could free up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for retirement.
Get out of debt
The typical empty-nester has about ten or fifteen years to go until retirement. That’s plenty of time to make sure your debt retires when you do. Retiring debt free can slash 20-40 percent off the amount you need to save for retirement. For more information, read my earlier post on how (and why) to retire debt free.
Review your asset allocation and retirement plans
As you get closer to retirement, you will likely want to adjust your investments to make your portfolio more conservative. Meet with a trusted financial adviser to make sure your asset allocation is appropriate and to track your progress towards retirement goals. If married, it’s also a good idea to talk with your spouse about your retirement plans and dreams to make sure you’re both on the same page.
As you can see, sending the kids out on their own can be a major transition, both emotionally and financially. By taking a few simple steps and being intentional with your planning, you can enter the next stage of life with confidence and purpose.
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It seems like everything old is new again. Starting with the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle in 1998, there has been a flood of retro styled products that are aimed at helping the baby-boomer generation recapture a piece of their youth. To wit, The Rolling Stones 2005 concert tour was the highest-grossing tour of all time, retro muscle cars are a huge hit, and entire neighborhoods are being designed from the ground up to give them a more “1950’s” feel.
Retro products seem to have one thing in common. While the look harkens back to the “good old days,” the design and features offer decidedly modern elements that appeal to the world we live in today.
With 70 million people hurtling toward retirement, I began to wonder what a “retro” retirement would like. Just like retirees of yesteryear, we all want to be happy, healthy and secure during retirement, but our modern world offers challenges and opportunities that didn’t exist a generation ago. Below are five modern updates to the classic retirement.
Personal savings is the new pension. My grandfather hasn’t punched a time clock in over twenty years and yet, like clockwork, his former employer sends him a pension check every month. The lifetime pension has become the exception rather than the rule. A generation ago, most workers were covered by a pension. Today that number has dwindled to less than a third. Retirement hasn’t gotten any cheaper, so you will still need to get that check every month. If it doesn’t come from your employer, it will need to come from you. As you approach retirement, you are likely in your peak earning years. Make sure to save as much as you can, especially in tax advantaged accounts like your 401(k) or IRA.
College is the new golf. We have always known the benefits of staying physically active. New research is beginning to show the benefits of staying mentally active as well. Because of this, more and more retirees are opting for a book bag over a golf bag.
Many colleges and universities allow people to audit classes—that is, paying a minimal fee to attend the class without receiving college credits. Even better, many universities are now putting class lectures on iTunes for free. Interested in art? Just download Oxford’s drawing classes. Want to study history? Columbia University has a free, twenty-five part lecture series on the history of the world. You can also download classes from Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley and a number of other great institutions on just about any topic you can think of.
Auditing classes or getting them online is an inexpensive way to learn more about a subject that has always interested you and comes with the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp.
Long-term care is the new Medicaid. It is not unusual, as we age, to rely on others for care. This care can be very expensive (A private room in a nursing home averages $78,000 per year) and more and more people are purchasing long-term care insurance to protect themselves. While Medicaid will pay most nursing home costs, you need to qualify by being both sick and poor. A quality long-term care policy will allow you to preserve your assets for heirs, have peace of mind and get into the facility of your choice. To learn more about long-term care, read this article.
Sixty-five is the new fifty-five. Back when Elvis was king, the average U.S. life expectancy was about sixty-eight years. Today, the average life expectancy is about seventy-eight years. Given that information, you would think that the average retirement age has risen. It has actually declined by about four years to age sixty-two.
Earlier is not always better. Retiring at sixty-two not only means a permanent reduction in your Social Security benefits, but it could mean that you will spend 20-30 percent of your life in retirement. That takes a great deal of savings and planning. If you’re in good health and expect to have a long life, you might want to work a few extra years to bolster your savings. Doing so might actually lengthen your life. A recent study showed that mortality rates were higher for employees that retired at age fifty-five than for those that waited to retire until they were sixty-five.
Prevention is the new cure. Quality of life is just as important as quantity of life. Modern medicine has shown us that eating right and exercising your mind and body can go a long way toward avoiding many of the diseases that are associated with aging. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and many forms of cancer can be directly linked to lifestyle choices. The best way to avoid the negative effects of these diseases is to keep from getting them, rather than trying to treat them once you already have them.
So there are a few ideas on how to put a modern twist on the classic retirement. Make a few updates and you’ll be ready to grab your bell bottoms, hop in your Beetle and head into a long, healthy, secure retirement.
It’s understandable if you’re feeling a bit anxious. Not only was the U.S. credit rating just downgraded for the first time in history, but over the last few years we’ve had a housing bubble, a credit bubble, runaway government spending, soaring gas prices, a global recession, high unemployment, the risk of a U.S. debt default, and a fiscal crisis in Europe.
Add to that things like the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan or the Arab revolts in the Middle East and you can almost see our national blood pressure rising. This is especially true if you, like 78 million other baby-boomers, are getting close to retiring.
In the face of so much uncertainty, how can you minimize anxiety and head into retirement feeling confident and assured?
Answer: Focus on things you can control.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said: “The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.”
Here’s an exercise that can help keep the focus on things you can actually do something about:
Take out a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. At the top of the left column, write “Things I can control about retirement.” At the top of the right column, write “Things I can’t control about retirement.” Now start filling in each.
You’ll probably notice that the right column is full of the things we mentioned earlier, like the markets, political uncertainty and unemployment.
The left column will be made up of things like saving, reducing debt, creating a retirement budget, evaluating housing options, creating a distribution plan, deciding when to take Social Security, planning meaningful pursuits and completing your estate plan.
As you look at those two columns, ask yourself this question: “During my typical day, do I spend my time and attention focusing more on the left column or the right column?” If you answered the right column, chances are that your stress level is high and your productivity is low. Focusing on things you can’t control is a recipe for frustration.
If you shift your focus to those things in the left hand column, you’ll notice that your productivity will go up and your anxiety will begin to go down. This is especially true in the area of your finances, because that is what is causing most people to lose sleep.
According to a recent poll by Gallup, the No. 1 retirement fear (held by 53 percent of Americans) is not having enough money. Only about a third of people felt that way when Gallup did the same poll in 2002. Thankfully, this is an area that you can actually do something about. Here are eight things you can do to boost your income security.
One obvious way to pad your nest egg is to save more. If you are still working, make saving a high priority. Both 401(k)s and IRAs have higher contribution limits for people over 50. Take advantage of those limits by putting away as much as possible. The maximum 401(k) contribution for 2011 is $16,500 plus an additional $5,500 if you’re over 50. IRA contribution limits are $5,000 plus an additional $1,000 if you’re over 50.
That means that a working, married couple could delay retirement by five years and sock away an additional $280,000 simply by maximizing their 401(k) and IRA contributions. The delay also could give markets time to move higher which, when coupled with the new additions to your portfolio, could significantly improve your financial position in retirement.
Pay off debt
Debt adds risk and reduces cash flow. Those things are especially troublesome to someone in retirement. By retiring debt free, you can greatly reduce the amount of savings necessary to fund your retirement. Assuming a 4 percent withdrawal rate, it takes $25,000 in savings to generate $1,000 in income each year (25 to 1).
That means if you’re mortgage is $1,300 per month and you’re able to pay it off before you retire, you could slash $390,000 from the amount you need to save for retirement.
Working longer may not sound fun, but neither is running out of money. If you haven’t saved enough, one option is to keep working and earning a paycheck. This strategy has multiple benefits: it allows you to save more, it gives your portfolio more years to recover and grow, it could help boost your potential Social Security benefits and it decreases the overall amount of income you need to draw over the years.
If the amount you need to make up is smaller, you also could consider working part-time. This could mean doing a phased retirement with your current employer or choosing something else entirely. Either way, it could give you increased freedom to begin following your retirement dreams while still providing some income.
Cut retirement expenses
If the idea of working longer doesn’t appeal to you, consider retiring on schedule and make up for any shortfall by reducing your retirement expenses. Examine your retirement budget for items you can reduce or eliminate.
Housing and transportation are often major expenses. Consider downsizing to a smaller home or sharing a car with your spouse. Staying active and healthy can save on health care co-pays and prescription costs. Substituting planned hobbies or activities with less expensive alternatives also can trim costs without significantly changing the quality of your retirement.
Taken cumulatively, these adjustments to your retirement budget can help reduce the strain on your nest egg and still provide a meaningful retirement.
Delay Social Security
If you delay collecting Social Security until after your full retirement age, you will get a permanent increase in your benefits. The increase is based on the year you were born. For example, those born after 1943 will get an 8 percent credit for each year they wait. The increase caps out at age 70, so a person waiting until then could see an increase of 24 percent to their benefits.
Review your asset allocation
The market upheaval of the last several years and investors’ response to that upheaval has wreaked havoc on many people’s asset allocations. Rather than having a balanced, diversified portfolio, many have sought safety by moving everything to cash or bonds. That could cause serious problems in the future if inflation picks up or the bond market stumbles. To protect your assets and maximize your returns over time you should meet with a trusted adviser and make sure the investments you hold are appropriate based on your risk tolerance, goals and time frame.
Protect against sequence risk
Stock and bond returns can be volatile. Sequence risk is simply the risk that you will retire and begin withdrawing money during a period of low (or negative) investment returns. Those early negative returns greatly increase your odds of running out of money.
One way to minimize sequence risk is to have a year or two of withdrawals sitting in cash. If you retire just prior to a bull market, you can pull income from your growing investments. If you retire on the cusp of a bear market, you can take withdrawals from your cash. That way you won’t be forced to sell investments in a down market in order to fund retirement and you will be less likely to run out of money.
Draw a greater percentage from your nest egg
Deciding how much to take from your portfolio each year during retirement is one of the most important decisions you will make. You don’t want to run out of money, but you don’t want to live like Scrooge either. Most experts peg the “safe” withdrawal rate at around 4 percent per year. If 4 percent of your nest egg isn’t enough to meet your needs, you can always take more. Keep in mind, however, that the more you take, the greater the chance that you will outlive your assets.
As you can see, by focusing on those things that you can control, you can minimize anxiety and maximize security as you approach retirement. Statistically speaking, the world doesn’t come to an end very often. Rather than worrying about all the things that make headlines, focus instead on giving your very best to those areas that you can do something about.
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As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, S&P downgraded U.S. debt one notch last Friday from AAA to AA+. Aside from the short-term angst in the markets, how will the downgrade affect those of us planning and saving for retirement? Here are three likely consequences from the downgrade as well as steps you can take to minimize the impact on your plans. Note: Just a friendly reminder—nothing on this site should be considered investment advice for your specific situation.
Expect increased volatility—This is the first time in history that our country’s debt has been downgraded from AAA. Expect continued volatility in both the stock and bond markets as traders and investors digest the news and react accordingly.
To protect your assets and maximize your returns over time you should meet with a trusted adviser to make sure that your asset allocation is appropriate based on your risk tolerance, goals, and time frame.
Also, for those at or near retirement, increased volatility means increased sequence risk. What is sequence risk? Stock and bond returns aren’t linear, and sequence risk is simply the risk that you will receive lower (or negative) investment returns in the early years once you start drawing money for retirement. Early negative returns greatly increase your odds of running out of money.
One way to minimize sequence risk is to have a year or two of withdrawals sitting in cash. If you retire just prior to a bull market, you can pull income from your growing investments. If you retire on the cusp of a bear market, you can take withdrawals from your cash. That way you won’t be forced to sell investments in a down market in order to fund retirement.
Expect higher interest rates—In an ironic twist of fate, the world responded to the downgrade of U.S. bonds by buying—you guessed it—U.S. bonds. That’s because (ratings be damned) the U.S. bond market is still the most liquid, transparent bond market in the world and investors still flock to it in times of trial.
All of that buying pushed prices higher which sent interest rates lower. Don’t expect that to last, however. Just as a person with a low FICO score can expect to pay higher interest rates to borrow money, the U.S. Government can expect to pay higher rates if bond investors perceive it to be a greater credit risk.
That’s bad news if you’re a borrower (think higher mortgage rates), but good news if you’re a lender (think higher dividends on your bond portfolio). Interest rates are at generational lows. Consider the downgrade the canary in the coal mine that they’re eventually going higher. To minimize risk and increase cash flow in retirement, set a goal to retire debt free.
Expect higher taxes—If rates go up, then the U.S. will be spending more of your tax dollars on interest payments. That’s an expense that they can little afford. In fiscal 2010, the U.S. government spent $3.456 trillion, but only had $2.162 trillion in tax receipts. That’s a deficit of $1.294 trillion. Similar deficits are projected for years to come.
To get its fiscal house in order, the government has two primary tools: cut spending and raise taxes. We all saw what a difficult time Congress had making even modest spending cuts during the debt ceiling debate. Even if they could agree on cuts that eliminated 100 percent of discretionary spending (i.e. non-military and non-entitlement), the budget would still be deep in the red. What does that mean? At some point down the road we can expect higher taxes.
How can you prepare for that? As you work on your retirement budget, assume that things like income and capital gains taxes will be higher than they are now and save enough to cover the added expense. Also, different states have different tax burdens. Some states tax Social Security and pension benefits while others do not. Sales and property taxes also differ greatly from state-to-state. As you consider where to retire, don’t forget to consider how your income, property, and purchases will be taxed during retirement. Finally, if you have some time to go before retiring, consider putting as much as possible into your Roth IRA and Roth 401(k). Distributions from those accounts during retirement are free from federal tax.
With so much uncertainty, it’s easy to get discouraged. A quick review of history, however, shows that we have always had times of volatility and uncertainty. The key is to manage through them by recognizing the challenges you face and doing everything you can to meet them head on. Do that and when times get better (which they inevitably will) you will be well positioned to benefit.
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