Financial Mistakes to Avoid as You Approach Retirement

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

As you enter your 50s it becomes increasingly important to incorporate retirement planning into the management of your finances.  Your 50s and 60s will probably be your highest earning years at a time when expenses associated with raising children and home ownership may be tapering off.  It’s crucial to take advantage of the opportunities during this time to shore up your retirement nest egg.

One significant retirement mistake is the failure to assess your current financial situation and understand how much is needed to meet your retirement goals.  Many underestimate the amount of money required to cover retirement expenses which may result in delaying retirement.   Consider hiring an advisor to do some retirement planning and help you understand your options, how much money is needed, and what trade-offs may be required to meet your goals.

Another common mistake is to move all of your retirement funds into extremely conservative options, as you approach retirement.  With the potential of spending 30 to 40 years in retirement, it’s advisable to keep a long term perspective.  Consider keeping your short term money in more conservative options and investing your long term money in a well-diversified portfolio that can continue to grow and stay ahead of inflation.  As you approach retirement, it’s also important to avoid making emotional decisions in response to short term swings in the stock market.   Emotional reactions frequently result in selling low and buying high which can be harmful to your portfolio.

Many in their 50s and 60s have more disposable income than at any other stage of life.  Avoid temptation and be very intentional about your spending.   Avoid increasing your cost of living with fancy cars and toys or an expensive new house as you approach retirement.  Instead, consider using your disposable income to pay down your mortgage or pay off consumer debt to reduce your retirement expenses.

Another common pitfall is spending too much on adult children including your child’s college education.  The desire to help your children is natural and admirable but you need to understand what you can afford and how it will impact your long term financial situation.  Place a cap on how much you are willing to contribute for college and encourage your kids to consider less expensive options like attending a community college or living at home during their first few years of college.   They have a lifetime to pay-off reasonable student loans but you have limited time to replenish your retirement funds.

Finally, a failure to care for your health can be financially devastating.  If you are healthy you will probably be more productive and energetic.   This can result in improved job performance with more opportunities and higher income.  If you are in poor health, you may be forced to retire early, before you are financially ready.   You also may face significant medical expenses that could erode your retirement funds.

Financially Get a Jump Start on 2017

office pictures may 2012 002The beginning of a new year is a good time to evaluate your finances and take steps to improve your financial situation.  Start by reviewing your living expenses and comparing them to your income.  Are you living within your means and spending money in areas that are important to you?  Look for opportunities to prioritize your spending where you will get the most benefit and joy.

This is also a good time to calculate your net worth to see if it has increased over the previous year and evaluate progress toward your goals.  To calculate your net worth, add up the value of all of your assets including real estate, bank accounts, vehicles and investment accounts and subtract all outstanding debts including mortgages, credit card balances, car loans and student loans.

With a better understanding of your net worth and cash flow you are ready to set some financial goals.  Start with the low hanging fruit including paying off outstanding credit card balances and establishing an emergency fund.  Maintain an emergency fund equal to at least three months of expenses.   Once your credit cards are paid off you may want to focus on paying off other high interest debt.

After paying off debt and creating an emergency fund, it’s advisable to get in the habit of saving at least 10% of your income.   Saving 20% may be a better goal if you are running behind on saving for retirement.

Take advantage of opportunities to defer taxes by contributing to your company’s 401k.  If you are self- employed create a retirement plan or contribute to an IRA.  Take advantage of any match that your employer may provide for contributing to your retirement plan.  If you are already making retirement contributions, evaluate your ability to increase your contributions.  If you have recently turned 50 you may want to increase your contribution to take advantage catch-up provisions that raise the contribution limits for individuals over 50.

As the new year begins you also may want to evaluate your career situation.  Saving and investing is just part of the equation, your financial security is largely dependent on career choices.  Look for opportunities to enhance your career that may result in a higher salary or improved job satisfaction.  It may be time to ask for a raise or a promotion or to explore opportunities in a new field.  Consider taking some classes to sharpen your skills for your current job or to prepare you for a new more exciting career.

You may have additional goals such as buying a new home, contributing to your children’s college fund, remodeling your house, or taking a big vacation.  Strategically think about your priorities and what will bring you satisfaction.  Start the year with intention, identify some impactful financial goals and create a plan.  Formulate an action plan with specific steps to help you meet your goals.

Managing a Sudden Windfall

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

If you are fortunate enough to receive a significant windfall give yourself some time before making any major decisions.   A sudden influx of cash from an inheritance, winning the lottery, life insurance or the sale of a business can cause a major disruption in your life.    Over 50% of all windfalls are lost in a short period of time.  NBC news reported that more than 70% of all lottery winners exhausted their fortunes within 3 years.   You need some time to emotionally adjust to your situation and to create a plan.

You may experience a variety of new emotions and it’s important to avoid making decisions for the wrong reasons.  Some common emotions include guilt, loss of identity, isolation, anxiety, unworthiness, fear, intimidation and a lack of confidence.  It’s crucial to recognize and deal with these emotions before making big spending decisions that may hamper your long term financial security.  You also may feel pressure from friends and family.  Stand your ground and take the time needed to develop a well thought out plan.

You also want to carefully select a team of trusted advisors to help manage your windfall.  Most people will need a Certified Financial Planner, a Certified Public Accountant and an Estate Planning Attorney.  It’s essential to develop a financial plan, fully understand the tax implications of your windfall and put a new estate plan in place.

Initially your financial plan should include establishing an emergency fund equal to about one year of expenses, paying off your high interest debt, and making sure your new found wealth is adequately protected.  A significant windfall will probably necessitate the purchase of more liability insurance.  Additionally, you should address any health concerns that you or your immediate family may have been neglecting.  Also consider reducing your overhead by purchasing a home or paying off your mortgage.  This is also a good time to take care of any maintenance and repairs that you have been putting off.

Once your immediate concerns are addressed, think about the future.  If you were unable to cover your living expenses prior to the windfall, make a plan to cover your monthly cash flow needs.  Next develop a retirement plan to make sure your expenses in retirement are covered.  Consider saving for your children’s college and setting aside money for major necessary expenditures such as vehicles and appliances.   If you are in an unrewarding career, consider going back to school to transition into something more fulfilling.

Once you have addressed all of your current and future financial needs feel free to spend on some discretionary items.  You may want to help a friend or family member who is in need, make a charitable contribution, start a business, or plan some vacations.   At this point you can spend some money on having fun.  Unfortunately too many people start with fun and quickly spend through their entire fortune.

Things to Consider Before Filing for Social Security

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Social Security seems straight forward but it can be quite complex, there are many opportunities and pitfalls to watch out for.  Before filing for Social Security, research your options to maximize your benefit, minimize taxes and avoid errors in your benefit calculation.  It’s important to meet with a Social Security Representative prior to filing but don’t solely rely on this information.   Due to the complexity of various options, they may overlook something that could impact your situation

You can file for Social Security benefits as early as 62 but you will receive a reduced benefit.  Most healthy individuals should hold off on taking Social Security as long as possible.  If possible, delay taking Social Security until age 70.  Your benefit will increase 8% a year from your full retirement age to age 70.  The full retirement age for individuals born before 1954 is 66 gradually increasing to age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

Upon reaching full retirement you may be eligible to take 50% of your spouse’s benefit or 100% of your own benefit if you are currently married, were born before 1954 and your spouse has started taking benefits.  While taking spousal benefits, your benefit can continue growing until you reach age 70 at which time you can switch to 100% of your own benefit if it’s higher.  There is no advantage to delaying benefits beyond age 70.

If you have been divorced for two years or more, were married for at least 10 years and are currently unmarried, you are eligible to receive 50% of your ex-spouses benefit or 100% of your own benefit.  If you were born before 1954, at full retirement you have the option to start taking 50% of your ex-spouses benefit and switch to your own retirement benefit at a later date. If you are a widow and you were married for at least 10 years you are eligible to take the highest of 100% of your deceased spouses benefit or your own.

If you take benefits before your full retirement age you are limited on how much you can earn before your benefit is reduced. In 2016, your benefits would be reduced by $1 for every $2 earned over $15,720.  Benefits lost due to work will result in a higher benefit later.  There is no income limit if you wait to take benefits at full retirement. If you take Social Security while working a larger portion of your benefit will be taxable, so you may want to consider delaying Social Security until you stop working or reach age 70.

If you held jobs where you paid into Social Security and you receive a pension from working in a job where you did not pay Social Security, your Social Security benefit may be reduced.  Be sure to notify the Social Security Administration of your pension.

More information on your Social Security benefits is available at www.ssa.gov.

Get Serious About Planning for Retirement in Your 50’s

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

In our 50’s we still have time to plan and save for retirement and it’s close enough that we can envision ourselves in retirement.  Below are some things to address as you plan for retirement.

  • Set some goals and make plans, what does your retirement look like? Consider your path to retirement and your timeframe – you can gradually transition by working fewer hours in your current job, work part time in a new career field or completely stop working.  Think about how you will spend your time in retirement.   Work usually provides us with mental stimulation, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, social interaction and a sense of identity.  How will you meet these needs in retirement?
  • Evaluate your current situation. Take a thorough look at current expenses and assets.  Analyze your spending habits and compare this to your earnings.   Look for opportunities to save money to invest and prepare for retirement.
  • Ramp up savings and maximize your retirement contributions – try to save at least 10% to 15% of your annual income. Increase contributions to your 401k and IRA to take advantage of catch-up provisions.  These are your highest earning years where you can really benefit from investing in tax deferred retirement plans.
  • Invest in a diversified portfolio that will grow and keep up with inflation. Your retirement savings is long term money that will need to last another 30 – 40 years.   A reasonable portion of this money should be invested in stock mutual funds to provide you the growth needed to carry you through retirement.
  • Take steps to reduce your retirement expenses – pay off high interest debt, credit cards and vehicle loans. Make extra payments on your mortgage to pay it off around the time you retire.
  • Think about where and how you want to live. Do you want to move to a lower cost area or downsize to a smaller home? Put plans in place to meet your goals.  Complete major remodeling, repairs and upgrades on appliances before you go into retirement.
  • Develop a retirement budget. Consider the impact of inflation and taxes on your monthly outflow.  Many retirees are more active and spend more early in retirement.   Include expenses for health care and long term care in your budget.
  • Evaluate your Social Security options. Delay taking Social Security benefits as long as possible, up to age 70.
  • Calculate how much you need to pull from your retirement savings by subtracting your monthly expenses from your Social Security and pension benefits. As a rule of thumb, avoid spending more than about 4% of your retirement savings per year.  This will vary with the amount of risk you are comfortable taking in your portfolio.  To get a more precise projection on when you can retire, how much you can spend and how much you should save, periodically work with a financial planner on some formal retirement planning.

Volatile Market Good Time for Retirement Savings

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

This is a great time to maximize your retirement contributions.  Not only will you save money on taxes but you can buy stock mutual funds on sale.  The one year return on the S&P 500 is down about 8% and market volatility is likely to continue throughout the year.

Dollar cost averaging is a great way to invest during a volatile market and it is well suited for contributing to your retirement plans.  With dollar cost averaging you invest a set amount every month or quarter up to your annual contribution limit.  When the stock market is low you buy more shares and when the market is high you buy fewer shares.  You can take advantage of dips in the market and avoid buying too much at, inopportune times when the market is high.

Ideally, the goal is to maximize contributions to your tax advantaged retirement plans however, this isn’t always possible.  Prioritize by contributing to your employer’s 401k plan up to the match, if your employer matches your contributions.   Your next priority is usually to maximize contributions to your Roth and then resume contributions to your 401k, 403b, 457 or self-employment plan.   Contributions to traditional employer plans are made with before tax dollars and taxable at regular income tax rates when withdrawn.  Roth contributions are made with after tax dollars and are tax free when withdrawn in retirement.   Some employers have begun to offer a Roth option with their 401k or 403b plans.

For 2015 and 2016 the maximum you can contribute to an IRA is $5,500 plus a catch-up provision of $1,000, if you were 50 or older by the last day of the year.  You have until the due date of your return, not including extensions, to make a contribution – which is April 18 for 2015. There are income limits on who can contribute to a Roth IRA.  In 2015, eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA phases out at a Modified Adjusted Income (MAGI) of $116,000 to $131,000 for single filers and $183,000 to $193,000 for joint filers.  In 2016 the phase out is $117,000 to $132,000 for single filers and $184,000 to $194,000 for joint filers.

Your 401k contribution limits for both 2015 and 2016 are $18,000 plus a catch-up provision of $6,000, if you were 50 or over by the end of the year.  If you are employed by a non-profit organization, contact your benefits office for contribution limits on your plan.

If you are self-employed maximize your Simple (Savings Investment Match Plan for Employees) or SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Plan) and if you don’t already have a plan consider starting one to help defer taxes until retirement.

Regardless of your situation take advantage of retirement plans to defer or reduce income taxes on your retirement savings.  Current market volatility may provide some good opportunities to help boost your retirement nest egg.

Avoid These Common Retirement Mistakes

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

When it comes to retirement there are many preconceived notions and myths on how you should handle your finances.  Avoid falling into the trap of what retirees are “supposed to do”.  Instead, logically evaluate your situation and make decisions accordingly.   Below are some common financial mistakes to avoid with regard to your retirement.

  • Don’t underestimate your life expectancy and how many years you will spend in retirement. It is reasonable to spend 20 to 30 years in retirement.  Most retiree’s should plan to cover expenses well into their 90’s.
  • Avoid overestimating your ability and opportunity to work during retirement. Be cautious about including too much income for work during retirement in your cash flow projections.  You may lose your job or have trouble finding a good paying position.  Additionally, your ability and desire to work during retirement may be hindered by health issues or the need to care for a spouse.
  • Many retirees invest too conservatively and fail to consider the impact of inflation on their nest egg. Maintain a diversified portfolio that supports the time frame in which you will need money.  Money needed in the short term should be in safer, fixed income investments.  Alternatively, long term money can be invested in stock mutual funds where you have a better chance to earning returns that will outpace inflation.
  • Resist the temptation to take Social Security early. Most people should wait and take Social Security at their full retirement age or later, full retirement is between 66 and 67 for most individuals.  Taking Social Security early results in a reduced benefit. If you can delay taking Social Security you can earn a higher benefit that increases 8% per year up to age 70.  This can provide nice longevity insurance if you live beyond the normal life expectancy.  You also want to avoid taking Social Security early if you are still working.  In 2016 you will lose $1 for every $2 earned over $15,720, prior to reaching your full Social Security retirement age.
  • Avoid spending too much on your adult children. The desire to help your children is natural but many retirees need this money to cover their own expenses.   You may be on a fixed income and no longer able to earn a living, your children should have the ability to continue working for many years.

One of the biggest retirement mistakes is the failure to do any retirement planning.  Crunch some numbers to determine how much you need to put away, when you can retire, and what kind of budget you will need to follow.  Without proper planning many retirees pull too much from their investments early on leaving them strapped later in life.  It’s advisable to have your own customized retirement plan done to determine how much you can annually pull from your investments.  As a general rule, annual distributions should not exceed 3-4% of your retirement portfolio.

Taking Social Security Early Not the Best Option

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The best time to take Social Security is a personal decision based on your financial situation, health, lifestyle, family longevity and when you stop working.  Social Security will provide you with the same total amount, if you live to the average life expectancy, regardless of when you take it.   The full retirement age for most people is between 66 and 67.  You can begin taking reduced benefits as early as 62 or you can wait and take an increased benefit as late as age 70.  If you begin at 62 your benefit is reduced by about 30%, if you take Social Security after your full retirement date your benefit will increase 8% per year until age 70.

You will probably benefit from taking Social Security at full retirement or later.  Unless you have a serious medical condition, there is a good chance you will live longer than the Social Security average life expectancy.  Social Security life expectancy tables are based on 2010 data and lag what can be reasonably expected.  They indicate a 65 year old male will live to around 84.3 and a 65 year old female will live to around 86.6.  Taking Social Security later is like buying longevity insurance.  It can provide you with more money later in life which can help put your mind at ease, if you are worried about out living your money.

If you are still working it can be especially detrimental to take Social Security before your full retirement age.  In 2015 you will lose $1 for every $2 earned over $15,720.   Once you reach full retirement age there is no limit to how much you can earn.   However, taxation of your Social Security benefit is based on your overall earnings.  If you take Social Security after you stop working a smaller portion of your benefit is likely to be taxable.  Additionally, if you continue to work and delay Social Security you may be able to increase your total Social Security benefit. The Social Security Administration annually recalculates benefits for recipients who are still working.

The decision on when to take Social Security is significantly impacted by your marital status and your spouses expected benefit.  If you have been married for at least ten years you have the option to take the greater of 50% of your spouse’s benefit or your full benefit. If you wait until your full retirement age you can start taking 50% of your spouse’s benefit, let your benefit grow, and switch back to your full benefit at age 70.   If you take the spousal benefit prior to your full retirement age you cannot switch back to your own benefit at a later date.  If you have been married for at least 10 years, and your spouse dies, you are eligible for the greater of your benefit or 100% of your spouse’s benefit.

More information about your Social Security benefit is available at www.ssa.gov.

Is Long Term Care Insurance Right for You? – Part 2

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

As mentioned in my previous post, about 75% of the population will spend $10,000 or less on Long Term Care (LTC) and about 6% will spend over $100,000.  You may not need extended LTC but due to the significant costs, the possibility should be addressed in your financial planning.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the average monthly cost for long term care in 2013 was $1343 for adult day care, $3,500 for assisted living, $4,000 for home health care and $6,500 for nursing care.  Based on cost increases over the last 5 years, it’s reasonable to assume that LTC will continue to increase about 5% annually.  If we assume a current LTC cost of $5,000 per month, with a compound inflation rate of 5%, the annual cost of LTC in twenty years could be $159,197.  Although the probability of needing LTC for an extended period of time is low, if you need care, it can quickly diminish your retirement nest egg.

Based on the danger of depleting your savings, LTC insurance may seem like a logical option but the cost can be significant and it’s not without risk.  The cost of LTC insurance is dependent on your age, your health, the daily benefit, the benefit period and the inflation protection.  Below are some average LTC insurance rates for individuals with a standard health rate, a daily benefit of $150, a benefit period of 3 years and a 3% compound inflation growth option.  The average LTC care insurance rate for a single person age 55 is $2,007 per year, the rate for a couple both 55 is $2466, and the rate for a couple both age 60 is $3,381.

If you decide to purchase LTC insurance, compare prices and work with a couple of different brokers who work with several companies.   Companies have different niches where some may have the lowest prices for those in their 50’s while others may focus on clients who are in especially good health.  A good insurance broker can help you select the best provider for your situation.

You also want to purchase LTC insurance from a high quality company, this is not the place to go with the low cost provider.  Select a company with a reasonable chance of being solvent down the road, when you need the coverage.  Over the last several years, 10 out of the top 20 providers have stopped providing LTC insurance.  Additionally, as a result of higher than anticipated LTC costs, low interest rates and a larger than expected number of people holding on to their policies, LTC insurance companies have significantly raised their premiums.  Many older policies have had premium increases in excess of 20% – 40%.  Although industry insiders claim to have a better handle on this going forward, there is still a risk of premium increases in the future.

Gradual Retirement Can Ease Stress and Cash Flow

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

As the average life expectancy increases retirement is starting to look very different.   We may be less likely to completely stop working on a fixed, predetermined date.  As the traditional retirement age of 65 approaches many are considering a more gradual transition into retirement.

One advantage of easing into retirement includes the ability to supplement your cash flow and reduce the amount needed to be withdrawn from your retirement savings.  If you continue working after 65 you may be able to earn enough to delay taking Social Security until 70.  This will provide additional financial security because your Social Security benefit increases 8% per year from your normal retirement age to age 70.  The normal Social Security retirement age is between 66 and 67.

Abruptly going into retirement can be very traumatic because careers provide us with a sense of purpose, a feeling of accomplishment and self-esteem.   Your social structure can also be closely tied to work.  By working part time before completely retiring, you can gradually transition into the new phase of your life.   As you approach retirement age the grind of working 40 to 50 hours per week can become very trying.   Working part time allows you to stay engaged with your career while taking some time to relax and pursue other interests.

According to a 2012 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people are working beyond age 65.  In 2012 about 18.5% of Americans over 65 were still working vs. only 10.8% in 1985.  A study reported by the Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology stated there are health benefits from working part time during retirement.  This may be attributed to less stress and a more balanced life while experiencing the mental stimulation gained from continued engagement at work.

Gradually transitioning into retirement may be more practical for someone who is self-employed.  However, the concept of phased retirement is a hot topic among human relations firms and departments.  Phased retirement programs usually involve working about 20 hours a week with some element of mentoring less experienced workers.  Formal phased retirement programs are still rare but they are gaining popularity.  A 2010 study by AARP and the Society for Human Resources Management found that about 20% of the organizations polled had a phased retirement program or were planning to start a one.  In fact, the federal government just launched a phased retirement program.

Before signing up for a phased retirement plan, take steps to fully understand the impact it may have on your benefits.  If you are under 65 there may be restrictions on your health insurance.   Additionally, some pension calculations are based on your final years of salary, working fewer hours at this time could negatively impact your benefit.  Also avoid situations where you are only paid for 20 hours a week but still work 30 or 40 hours to get your job done.

Avoiding the Stock Market Can be a Risky

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

You may be hesitant to invest in the stock market because it feels too risky.  However, consider the risk you are taking with your financial future by avoiding the stock market.  The primary reason to invest in the stock market is the potential for a much higher return, especially in low interest rate environments.  Most of us need the potential for long term growth provided by the stock market to meet our retirement needs.  If you invest all of your money in fixed income you may struggle just to keep up with inflation and you run the risk of outliving your money.

Historically, stock market returns have been almost double those earned by bonds.  According to the Ibbotson SBBI (stock, bonds, bills and inflation) report, between 1926 and 2014 the average annual return on Small Stock was 12.3%, Large Stock was 10.1%, Government Bonds was 5.5%, Treasury Bills was 3.5% and Inflation was 3%.  This illustrates that investing at least some of your portfolio in stock can provide a much greater opportunity than fixed income to meet your financial goals.

Investing in the stock market is not without risk.  As with all investments, we must take on greater risk to earn a greater return.  However, there are many ways to help manage the volatility of the stock market.  Before investing in stocks make sure your financial affairs are in order.  Pay off your credit cards, establish an emergency fund and put money that will be needed over the next five years into less volatile fixed income investments.  The stock market is for long term investing.  It can provide the opportunity to earn higher long term returns but you can count on some volatility along the way.  By creating a buffer to cover short term needs you will be less likely overreact to fluctuations in the market and sell when the market is down.

You can also buffer stock market risk by creating a well-diversified portfolio comprised of mutual funds invested in stocks or bonds from a variety of different size companies, different industries and a variety of different geographies.  Investing in a single company can be very risky but investment in mutual funds can reduce this risk.  When investing in mutual funds your money is combined with that of other investors and invested, by a professional manager, into a large number of stocks or bonds.  Investing in a large number of companies enables you to spread out your risk.

Dollar cost averaging, where you automatically invest a set amount on a regular basis – usually monthly or quarterly, can also reduce risk.  Rather than investing a large amount all at once, when the market may be high, you gradually invest over time.  With dollar cost averaging you buy more shares when the market is low and fewer shares when the market is high.

Retirement Tips for All Ages

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

It’s always a challenge to balance between current obligations and saving for retirement.  A good start toward meeting your retirement goals is to get your financial house in order.  Create a spending plan that helps you live below your means.  Maintain an emergency fund of at least four months of expenses and pay off high interest consumer debt.    Establish a habit of saving at least 10% of your income.  If you are getting a late start, you may need to save 15-20% of your income.

Develop a retirement plan to determine how much you need to save on a monthly basis and how large a nest egg you will need to comfortably retire.  There are many on-line calculators available to help you run retirement numbers.  However, they are only as accurate as the data that you input and the assumptions that the model uses.  You may want to hire a fee-only financial planner to run some figures for you.

Work toward maximizing contributions to your employer’s retirement plan; take advantage of any employer match that may be provided.  Once you have contributed up to the level of your employer’s match, consider contributing to a Roth IRA.  A painless way to steadily increase your contribution percentage is to increase your contribution whenever you get a raise.  If you are self-employed, or your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, contribute to a SEP, Simple or an IRA.  If you are maxed out, increase your contributions as the maximum contribution limits increase or you become eligible for a catch-up contribution at age 50.

Invest your retirement funds in a diversified portfolio made up of a combination of stock and bond funds that invest in companies of different sizes, in different industries and in different geographies.  Generally, your retirement savings is long term money, so avoid emotional reactions to make sudden changes based on short term market fluctuations.  Develop an investment plan that meets your timeframe and investment risk tolerance and stick to it. 

Don’t use your retirement funds as a savings account for other financial objectives.  Unless you are in a dire emergency, don’t take distributions or borrow against your retirement funds.  When you change jobs, don’t cash out your retirement plans.  Roll your funds over to an IRA or a new employer’s plan.    Avoid sacrificing your retirement savings to fund college education for your children.

As you near retirement age, there are several ways to stretch your retirement dollars.  Retirement doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Consider a gradual step down where you work a few days a week or on a project basis.   Try to time the payoff of your mortgage with your date of retirement.  Consider downsizing to a smaller home or moving to a more economical area.  Establish a retirement spending plan that provides funds for things you value and helps you avoid frivolous spending on things that don’t really matter.

What is Financial Planning?

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

I’m sure you hear the term “Financial Planning” on a regular basis but you may not be sure what it really means.  Financial planning is an on-going, comprehensive process to manage your finances in order to meet your life goals.  The process includes evaluating where you are today, setting goals, developing an action plan to meet your goals and implementing the plan.  Once you have addressed all the areas of your financial plan you should go back and review them on a regular basis.

Financial planning should be comprehensive – covering all areas of your financial life.  The primary areas of your financial plan should include retirement planning, insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning and investment management.    Depending on your situation, your financial plan may also address areas such as budgeting and debt management, college funding, employee benefits, business planning and career planning.  Comprehensive Financial Planning is very thorough and can take a lot of time and energy to complete.  I recommend breaking it into bite size chucks that can be easily evaluated, understood and implemented over the course of time.  

You can work through the financial planning process with a comprehensive financial planner or you can tackle it on your own.  If you decide to hire a financial planner, I encourage you to work with Certified Financial Planner who has taken an oath to work on a fiduciary basis.  An advisor, who works as a fiduciary, takes an oath to put your interests first.

The first step of the financial planning process is to evaluate where you are today.  Tabulate how much money you are currently spending in comparison to your current income.  Calculate your current net worth (assets less liabilities).  Evaluate the state of your current financial situation.  What is keeps you up at night and what should be prioritized for immediate attention?

The next step is to devise a road map on where you would like to go.   Think about your values and set some long term strategic goals.  Using this information develop some financial goals that you would like to achieve.  Once you have identified some financial goals, a plan can be devised to help you achieve them.

Select the area you would like to address first.  Most of my clients start with retirement planning and investment management.  There is a lot of overlap between the different areas of financial planning but try to work through them in small manageable chunks.  Otherwise you may end up with a huge, overwhelming plan that never gets implemented.

Once you have worked through all of the areas in your financial plan you need to go back and revisit them on a regular basis.  Some areas like investments, taxes and retirement planning need to be reviewed annually where other areas like insurance and estate planning can be reviewed less frequently.  Keep in mind that financial planning is an on-going, life long process.

Covering the High Cost of College Can Require Team Work, Diligence and Compromise

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

With soaring college expenses, few families can afford to cover the costs associated with putting their children through four years of college on top of daily living expenses and the need to save for retirement.   To avoid sacrificing your retirement savings and accruing large student loans, to finance your children’s college education, engage them in the process.  For most families, it is reasonable for the cost of college to be a shared responsibility between you and your children.

Start early by encouraging your children to get good grades, to participate in extracurricular activities, and to volunteer in the community.   While in high school, encourage your child to enroll in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that provide high school and college credit.  Your child could have several college courses completed before graduating from high school.  This could save you thousands of dollars. 

Explore all forms of financial aid even if you think you may not be eligible.  You may be surprised, especially if you have several children attending college at once.  Additionally, do your research and be open-minded with regard to the colleges you consider.  Some schools that seem too expensive may have excellent financial aid packages for your situation.

If you find yourself in the common place where you earn too much for financial aid, but not enough to pay the full ride of four year college education, research the availability of merit scholarships.   While your child is still in high school, thoroughly research the availability of scholarships.  Talk to the high school guidance counselor and check with community organizations.  Once in college your child should talk to the financial aid officer, department heads and professors for potential scholarship opportunities.  Also check on-line resources including CollegeBoard.com, CollegeNet.com, and Fastweb.com.  Every year many scholarships go unused because qualified candidates don’t apply.  

Your child can dramatically decrease the cost of tuition by attending a community college for the first two years and then transferring to a four year university.  Many universities have arrangements with local community colleges to transfer credits earned toward the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.    The cost of tuition at a community college is usually less than one half of that at a four year university. 

Another way to reap tremendous savings is for the student to live at home and attend a local school.  In 2014 the cost of tuition and fees at the University of Colorado is about $12,600 and the cost of room and board is about $13,000. 

If after exploring the options above, the cost of college is still beyond your reach; your student may need to work while attending college.  To help pay for tuition, your student may need to work 30 hours a week and take a lighter class load.  Graduating in five years may be better than incurring huge student loans.

Don’t Miss Out on Retirement Plans When Self-Employed

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Just because you are self-employed doesn’t mean you don’t have access to tax advantaged retirement plans.   There are several options that may work for you depending on your situation.  One option is to contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.   In 2013, you can contribute up to $5,500 of earned income into an IRA ($6500, if you are over 49).  However, you may be restricted due to income limitations.  In addition to an IRA, consider establishing a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension), a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) or a Solo 401k.

A SEP is a plan that enables you, as the employer, to set aside money for yourself and your employees.  The entire contribution is made by the employer, and equal contributions must be made to all eligible employees – including you as the owner.  The annual contribution is flexible, which allows you to adjust the contribution based on profitability for the year.  In 2013, contributions cannot exceed the lesser of 25% of W2 earnings or $51,000.  The limits are the same but some special rules apply, if you are self-employed. A SEP has low start-up and administrative costs with no filing requirements.  SEP plans can be of most benefit to companies with few or no employees, since the entire contribution is made by the employer. 

If you have several employees, a SIMPLE IRA plan may be the best option.  Employers are required to make a matching contribution of up to 3% or a 2% non-elective contribution for each eligible employee.  In 2013, employees may elect to contribute up to $12,000 plus a $2,500 catch-up if they are over 49.  A Simple IRA is available to any employer with up to 100 employees.  It is easy to establish and inexpensive to operate.  Discrimination testing is not required and there are no filing requirements.   A Simple IRA plan can be more practical than a SEP for companies with a lot of employees because most of the contribution is usually made by the employee.

Another option is a solo 401k. A one-participant 401k plan is a traditional 401k that covers a business owner with no employees, or a business owner and his or her spouse.  A solo 401k generally has the same rules as a traditional 401k plan.  As a business owner, you play the role of the employer and employee.  As an employee, in 2013 you can contribute up to $17,500 ($23,000 if you are over 49) – up to 100% of your compensation.  As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of compensation.  Total contributions, not including catch-up provisions, cannot exceed $51,000.  If you hire employees who meet eligibility requirements, they must be included in the plan and their elective deferrals may be subject to non-discrimination testing.   Additionally, if your solo 401k plan has more than $250,000 in assets, you must file an annual report.

Sure Fire Ways to Ruin Your Retirement Plan

 

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Managing your finances is a balancing act between spending for today and saving for the future.   It’s important to plan and save for retirement but the demands of everyday life frequently get in the way.  Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when planning for your retirement.

 

Living Beyond Your Means – Spending more than you earn, failing to save and going into debt can be huge threats to your financial security and retirement plans.  Develop a spending plan that allows for an emergency fund and annual savings of 10-15% of your gross income.  Make a conscious decision to spend less money, buy a less expensive house and buy less expensive cars to keep your expenses below your income.  This can help you save for the future with a buffer for financial emergencies.

 

Failure to Participate – Participate in tax advantaged retirement plans for which you may be eligible.  Contribute to your employers 401k or 403b to take advantage of any employer match and deduct the contributions from your current income.  Additionally, if you are eligible, consider contributing to a Roth IRA.  Generally, an after tax Roth IRA contribution can grow tax free, with no tax due upon distribution.

 

Failure to Diversify – Maximize the potential for growing your retirement nest egg by maintaining a well-diversified portfolio designed to meet your unique risk tolerance and investment timeframe.  A common pitfall is the failure to monitor and rebalance your portfolio on an annual basis.   A portfolio that is too conservative can be as detrimental to your retirement plan as an overly aggressive portfolio.  Upon retirement, investors frequently make the mistake of changing their portfolio allocation to be extremely conservative, when they may live for another 30 to 40 years.

 

Market Timing and Trading on Emotion – Moving in and out of the stock market based on short term market fluctuations generally results in lower long term returns.   There is a natural inclination to buy when the economy is booming and sell when the economy is in the doldrums.   This usually results in buying high and selling low, which can be very detrimental to your portfolio.  To maximize your retirement portfolio avoid the emotional temptation to react to short term events and fluctuations in the market.

 

Funding College and Living Expenses for Grown Children at the Expense of Retirement – Avoid the pitfall of sacrificing your retirement to fund college education for your children or to make significant contributions toward an adult child’s living expenses.  Students have many options to finance or minimize college expenses but you can’t take out a loan to finance your retirement.

Cashing Out or Taking an Early Withdrawal – When you change jobs, transfer the money from your employer’s plan to another tax deferred plan such as a Rollover IRA.  This allows you to avoid paying significant income tax and a 10% early distribution penalty, if you are under 59 ½.

Variable Annuities May Not Be Your Best Option

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


A variable annuity is an investment contract with an insurance company where you invest money into your choice of a variety of sub-accounts. Sub-accounts are similar to mutual funds, where money from a large number of investors is pooled and invested in accordance with specific investment objectives. Like mutual funds, sub-accounts may invest in different categories of stock or interest earning investments.
One characteristic of a variable annuity is the tax deferral of gains until the funds are withdrawn. However, upon distribution the gains are taxable at regular income tax rates, as opposed to capital gains rates that may be available for mutual funds. Additionally, there is no step-up in basis upon death for assets held in variable annuities.
Variable annuities are generally more appropriate for non-retirement accounts because gains within a retirement account are already tax deferred. Traditional retirement accounts and Roth IRAs meet the tax deferral needs for most investors. However, in some cases a variable annuity may be attractive to a high income investor who has maximized his traditional retirement options and needs additional opportunities for tax deferral. This is especially true for an investor who is currently in a high tax bracket and expects to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.
When investing in variable annuities, with non-retirement money, there is no requirement to take a Required Minimum Distribution at 70 ½. However, there is generally a 10% penalty on withdrawals made before 59 1/2. Trades can be made within a variable annuity account without immediate tax consequences. The entire gain will be taxable upon withdrawal. There is no annual contribution limit for variable annuities, and you can make non-taxable transfers between annuity companies using a 1035 exchange. However, you may have to pay a surrender charge if you have held the annuity for less than seven to ten years, and you purchased it from a commissioned adviser. Before buying an annuity, read the fine print to fully understand all of the fees and penalties associated with the product. Most variable annuities have early withdrawal penalties and a higher expense structure than mutual funds.
A variable annuity may be an option for someone who wants to purchase an insurance policy to buffer the risk of losing money in the market. For many investors, due to the long term growth in the stock market, this guarantee may be come at too high a price. Some investors are willing to pay additional fees in exchange for the peace of mind that a guaranteed withdrawal benefit can provide. Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefits (GMWB) can be very complex and have some significant restrictions. Additionally, some products offer a guaranteed death benefit for an extra fee. Read the contract carefully and make sure you understand the product before you buy.
Due to the high costs, lack of flexibility, complexity and unfavorable tax treatment variable annuities are not beneficial for many investors.

Tips to Acheive Financial Fitness

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


The first step toward financial fitness is to understand your current situation and live within your means. Review your actual expenses on an annual basis and categorize your expenses as necessary or discretionary. Compare your expenses to your income and develop a budget to ensure you are living within your means and saving for the future. The next step is to pay off high interest credit cards and personal debts. Once you have paid off your credit cards, create and maintain an emergency fund equal to about four months of expenses, including expenses for the current month. Your emergency funds should be readily accessible in a checking, savings or money market account.
Now it’s time to look toward the future. Get in the habit of always saving at least 10% to 15% of your gross income. Think about your goals and what you want to accomplish. If you don’t own a home, you may want to save for a down payment. When you purchase a home make sure you can easily make the payments while contributing toward retirement. Generally, your mortgage expense should be at or below 25% of your take home pay.
Contribute money into retirement plans, for which you qualify. Make contributions to your 401k plan, at least up to the employer match and maximize your Roth IRA. If you are self-employed, consider a SEP or a Simple plan. If you have children and want to contribute to their college expenses, consider a 529 college savings plan. Do not contribute so much toward your children’s college fund that you sacrifice your own retirement.
As you save for retirement, be an investor not a trader. Investing in the stock market is a long term endeavor, forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market is fruitless. Avoid emotional reactions to headlines and short term events. Don’t overreact to sensationalistic stories or chase the latest investment trends. Establish a defensive position by maintaining a well-diversified portfolio, custom designed for your unique situation. Slow and steady wins the race!
Don’t invest in anything that you don’t understand or that sounds too good to be true. If you really want to invest in complicated products, read the fine print. Be especially aware of high commissions, fees, and surrender charges. There is no free lunch; if you are being offered above market returns, there is probably a catch. Keep in mind that contracts are written to protect the insurance or investment company, not the investor.
It is impossible to predict fluctuations in the market or to select the next great stock. However, you can hedge your bets with a well-diversified portfolio. Establish an asset allocation that is aligned with your goals, investment timeframe, and risk tolerance. Your portfolio should contain a mix of fixed income and stock based investments across a wide variety of companies and industries. Rebalance your portfolio on an annual basis to stay diversified.

The Difference Between an Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


One of the biggest decisions associated with saving for retirement is choosing between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA. The primary difference between the two IRAs is when you pay income tax. A traditional IRA is usually funded with pre-tax dollars providing you with a current tax deduction. Your money grows tax deferred, but you have to pay regular income tax upon distribution. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars, and does not provide a current tax deduction. Generally, a Roth IRA grows tax free and you don’t have to pay taxes on distributions. In 2013 you can contribute up to a total of $5,500 per year plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you are over 50. You can make a contribution into a combination of a Roth and a Traditional IRA as long as you don’t exceed the limit. You also have until your filing date, usually April 15th, to make a contribution for the previous year. New contributions must come from earned income.
There are some income restrictions on IRA contributions. In 2013, your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA begins to phase-out at a modified adjusted gross income of $112,000 if you file single and $178,000 if you file married filing jointly. With a traditional IRA, there are no limits on contributions based on income. However, if you are eligible for a retirement plan through your employer, there are restrictions on the amount you can earn and still be eligible for a tax deductible IRA. In 2013 your eligibility for a deductible IRA begins to phase out at $59,000 if you are single and at $95,000 if you file married filing jointly.
Generally, you cannot take distributions from a traditional IRA before age 59 ½ without a 10% penalty. Contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn anytime, tax free. Earnings may be withdrawn tax free after you reach age 59 ½ and your money has been invested for at least five years. There are some exceptions to the early withdrawal penalties. You must start taking required minimum distributions on Traditional IRAs upon reaching 70 ½. Roth IRAs are not subject to required minimum distributions.
The decision on the type of IRA is based largely on your current tax rate, your anticipated tax rate in retirement, your investment timeframe, and your investment goals. A Roth IRA may be your best choice if you are currently in a low income tax bracket and anticipate being in a higher bracket in retirement. A Roth IRA may also be a good option if you already have a lot of money in a traditional IRA or 401k, and you are looking for some tax diversification. A Roth IRA can be a good option if you are not eligible for a deductible IRA but your income is low enough to qualify for a Roth IRA.

There is More to Retirement Than the Money

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Are you concerned that you don’t have the financial means to fully retire anytime soon? That may not be such a bad thing. There is much more to retirement than reaching some magic number where you will be able to cover your living expenses. Your personal identity may be closely aligned with your career. Personal identity plays a huge role in your self-esteem and happiness. Your sense of accomplishment and purpose can also be tied to your work. The structure, responsibility and expectations from your job give you a sense of purpose and help you feel appreciated. Retirement may have a dramatic impact on your personal identity and sense of relevance. Make a plan to transition into your retirement adventure with a new sense of direction and purpose.
Many of your relationships are connected to your career. Relationships with colleagues, clients, co-workers and suppliers account for a lot of your social interactions. These are people with whom you have a common understanding and intertwined social connections. Think about the impact retirement may have on these connections. How will you replace this sense of community and nurture these relationships after retirement?
Another consideration in retirement is keeping your mind stimulated. At work our minds are fully engaged as we juggle several different tasks at once. This may be exhausting, but it keeps our minds stimulated and energized. A study conducted by the Rand Center for the Study of Aging and the University of Michigan found that early retirement can have a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60’s. The study concluded that people need to stay active to preserve their memories and reasoning abilities. As you transition into retirement, be sure stay mentally active and engaged.
You may be looking forward to retirement in anticipation of doing all the fun things you currently have no time for. Retirees frequently enter retirement with tremendous enthusiasm and fill their first few years with exciting trips and activities. However, after a while you tire of these activities, the activities lack the substance to make you feel truly fulfilled. You start missing the sense of affirmation, self- identity and purpose you found in your job. You have time to engage in fun activities every day, but it’s just not enough, you aren’t fully satisfied.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Before you jump into retirement, give some serious thought about what you will do in retirement. How will you stay socially and emotionally engaged in a way that is truly meaningful and rewarding? Engage in activities that will feed your self-esteem. Consider a new, part-time career, set some fitness goals, engage in volunteer activities, or take up a meaningful hobby. Decide how you will develop new social networks. Once you are retired, what will you say and how will you feel when someone asks – What do you do?

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