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One thing you can do to … your retirement savings

Re-posted from MSN Money

Being able to contribute consistently enough to your retirement savings accounts is the most important aspect of any retirement plan, but it’s also by far the most challenging. So finding a way to make regular, adequate contributions easier is really the key to a successful retirement. And the best way to accomplish this is by having a written financial plan.

Why does a written plan help?

Self-help gurus uniformly urge their clients to write down their goals, plans, and dreams for a reason. Writing something down has a significant psychological impact on the writer: It makes that written declaration more “real” to us and gives us accountability. Once it’s in writing, we feel more compelled to follow through on it. For a task like saving for retirement, that feeling of accountability can make all the difference in sticking to a contribution plan versus having a plan but only contributing “when it’s convenient.” A written plan also motivates us by reminding us what we stand to gain tomorrow by sacrificing today.

The power of written financial plans

A recent study by Charles Schwab highlighted the impact that written financial plans have on retirement savings. The study compared various financial attributes of Americans with a written financial plan to those who did not have one. For many important financial tasks, the difference between the two groups was startlingly high.

For example, 27% of savers with written financial plans maxed out their contributions to their retirement savings accounts, compared to 11% of savers without plans. Thirty-four percent of savers with written financial plans had investments in addition to their retirement investments, versus only 16% of those without written plans. And 49% of savers with written financial plans felt very confident in their ability to reach their financial goals, as opposed to just 13% of those without written plans.

Starting your financial plan

Financial plans come in many forms — debt payment plans, down payment savings plans, investing plans, and so on. And while the idea of creating a financial plan may sound daunting, in reality such a plan can be extremely simple, as you’ll see shortly. We’ll focus on a retirement savings plan, but the principles are similar for creating any type of financial plan.

First, your plan needs a goal. For a retirement savings plan, the goal will typically be to save enough during your working years so that when you reach your planned retirement date, you will have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life. Because different savers have very different ideas of what “living comfortably” entails during retirement, the exact number you end up with as a savings goal will depend largely on your own preferences and situation.

In order to know how much money you’ll need to save for retirement, you first need to figure out how much you’ll be spending during that time. Ideally, you’ll write up a list of the expenses that you expect to carry during retirement and add them up. If that sounds like too much work, you can get a pretty fair estimate based on your current income.

If you anticipate a fairly sedate retirement without a lot of fancy, expensive activities, you can assume for planning purposes that 80% to 90% of your current income will suffice as annual income during retirement. Aim for the low end of this range if you’re sure you’ll be debt free by the time you retire (that includes owning a home that’s completely paid off). Otherwise, aim for at least 90% of your current income. On the other hand, if you dream of an adventurous retirement touring the capitals of the world, aim for at least 100% of your current income (or possibly even more, if you have really expensive plans).

Making it official

Once you have a goal for your retirement income, you can plug that number into a retirement calculator to find out how much you need to save in order to hit your target by your planned retirement date. Let’s say that your goal is to save $1 million by age 65 and the retirement calculator tells you that in order to reach your goal, you need to save $1,000 per month. Write this down in a form that will inspire you to follow through. For example, you might write “Millionaire by age 65: $1,000 every month into the 401(k).” Then post a copy of this document somewhere you’ll see it on a regular basis, such as next to your bathroom mirror, on the front of the refrigerator, or attached to the side of your computermonitor.

Just having the plan in writing, staring you in the face on a regular basis, can work wonders to improve your follow-through.

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Women stressed over finances

10 Financial Decisions You Will Regret in Retirement

Re-posted from Kiplinger.com

As more and more baby boomers start eyeing the coastline of retirement, thoughts turn from the daily worry over the Monday-through-Friday commute to concerns about how to fund the golden years.

How prepared are you? Do you know the ins and outs of your pension (if you’re lucky enough to have one)? How about your 401(k), IRA and other retirement accounts that make up your nest egg? Do you have a good handle on when to claim Social Security benefits? These are some of the questions you will have to contemplate as the work days wind down. But long before you punch out, make sure you are making the right choices.

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of retirement decisions some of you may regret forever. Take a look to see if any sound familiar.

Planning to work indefinitely

Dentist

Many baby boomers like me have every intention of staying on the job until 70, either because we want to, we have to, or we desire tomaximize our Social Security checks. But that plan could backfire. You could be forced to retire early for any number of reasons.

Consider this: One in four U.S. workers expects to work beyond age 70 to make ends meet, according to a recent Willis Towers Watson survey. Yet, you can’t count on being able to bring in a paycheck if you need it. While 51% of workers expect to continue working some in retirement, found a separate 2015 survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, only 6% of actual retirees report working in retirement as a source of income.

Whether you work is not always up to you. Three out of five retirees left the workforce earlier than planned, according to Transamerica. Of those, 66% did so because of employment-related issues, including organizational changes at their companies, losing their jobs and taking buyouts. Health-related issues—either their own ill health or that of a loved one—was cited by 37%.

The actionable advice: Assume the worst, and save early and often.

Putting off saving for retirement

Change Jar

The single biggest financial regret of Americans surveyed by Bankrate was waiting too long to start saving for retirement. Not surprisingly, respondents 50 and older expressed this regret at a much higher rate than younger respondents.

“Many people do not start to aggressively save for retirement until they reach their 40s or 50s,’’ says Ajay Kaisth, a certified financial planner with KAI Advisors in Princeton Junction, N.J. “The good news for these investors is that they may still have enough time to change their savings behavior and achieve their goals, but they will need to take action quickly and be extremely disciplined about their savings.”

Morningstar calculated how much you need to sock away monthly to reach the magic number of $1 million saved by age 65. Assuming a 7% annual rate of return, you’d need to save $381 a month if you start at age 25; $820 monthly, starting at 35; $1,920, starting at 45; and $5,778, starting at 55.

Uncle Sam offers incentives to procrastinators. Once you turn 50, you can start making catch-up contributions to your retirement accounts. In 2016, that means older savers can contribute an extra $6,000 to a 401(k) on top of the standard $18,000. The catch-up amount for IRAs is $1,000 on top of the standard $5,500.

Claiming Social Security early

Social Security

You’re entitled to start taking retirement benefits at 62, but you probably shouldn’t. Most financial planners recommend waiting at least until your full retirement age – currently 66 and gradually rising to 67 for those born after 1959 – before tapping Social Security. Waiting until 70 can be even better.

Let’s say your full retirement age, the point at which you would receive 100% of your benefit amount, is 66. If you claim at 62, your monthly check will be reduced by 25% for the rest of your life. But hold off until age 70 and you’ll get a 32% boost in benefits – 8% a year for four years – thanks to delayed retirement credits. (Claiming strategies can differ for couples, widows and divorced spouses.)

“If you can live off your portfolio for a few years to delay claiming, do so,” says Natalie Colley, a financial analyst at Francis Financial in New York City. “Where else will you get guaranteed returns of 8% from the market?” Alternatively, stay on the job longer, if feasible, or start a side gig to help bridge the financial gap. There are plenty of interesting ways to earn extra cash these days.

Borrowing from your 401(K)

Glasses on Retirement Summary

Taking a loan from your 401(k) retirement-savings account can be tempting. After all, it’s your money. As long as your plan sponsor permits borrowing, you’ll usually have five years to pay it back with interest.

But short of an emergency, tapping your 401(k) is a bad idea for many reasons. According to John Sweeney, executive vice president for retirement and investment strategies at Fidelity Investments, you’re likely to reduce or suspend new contributions during the period you’re repaying the loan. That means you’re short-changing your retirement account for months or even years and sacrificing employer matches. You’re also missing out on the investment growth from the missed contributions and the cash that was borrowed.

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll be paying the interest on that 401(k) loan with after-tax dollars — then paying taxes on those funds again when retirement rolls around. And if you leave your job, the loan usually must be paid back within 60 days. Otherwise, it’s considered a distribution and taxed as income.

Before borrowing from a 401(k), explore other loan options. College tuition, for instance, can be covered with student loans and PLUS loans for parents. Major home repairs can be financed with a home-equity line of credit.

Decluttering to the extreme

Couple happy with money

My parents are in their mid-80s and have been living in the same house for decades. Over the past couple of years they have started getting rid of all the bric-a-brac they’ve accumulated. Their goal is either to sell and move into a retirement community or, at the least, make it easier for my brother and I down the road when we inherit the home.

There hasn’t been much junk among the items they’ve parted with save for the wall clock they gave me and swore it worked (it doesn’t). But there were also items my father wisely ran past his lawyer before dumping: Bookkeeping records from the business he owned for years. He was cleared.

Still, that’s fair warning: Be careful about what you throw out in haste. Sentimental value aside, certain professionals including doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants can be required by state law to retain records for years after retirement. As for tax records, the IRS generally has three years to initiate an audit, but you might want to hold on to certain records including your actual returns indefinitely. Same goes for records related to the purchase and capital improvement of your home; purchases of stocks and funds in taxable investment accounts; and contributions to retirement accounts (in particular nondeductible IRA contributions reported on IRS Form 8606). All can be used to determine the correct tax basis on assets to avoid paying more in taxes than you owe.

Putting your kids first

Mother with Familyure, you want your children to have the best — best education, best wedding, best everything. And if you can afford it, by all means open your wallet. But footing the bill for private tuition and lavish nuptials at the expense of your own retirement savings could come back to haunt all of you.

“You cannot borrow for your retirement living,’’ says Joe Ready, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust. “[But] you may have other avenues beyond [borrowing from] your 401(k) plan to help fund a child’s education.” Instead, Ready says parents and their kids should explore scholarships, grants, student loans and less expensive in-state schools in lieu of raiding the retirement nest egg. Another money-saving recommendation: community college for two years followed by a transfer to a four-year college. (There are many smart ways to save on weddings, too.)

No one plans to go broke in retirement, but it can happen for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons, of course, is not saving enough to begin with. If you’re not prudent now, you might end up being the one moving into your kid’s basement later.

Avoiding the stock market

Man at Laptop

Shying away from stocks because they seem too risky is one of the biggest mistakes investors make when saving for retirement. True, the market has plenty of ups and downs, but since 1926 stocks have returned an average of about 10% a year. Bonds, CDs, bank accounts and mattresses don’t come close.

“Conventional wisdom may indicate the stock market is ‘risky’ and therefore should be avoided if your goal is to keep your money safe,” says Elizabeth Muldowney Samuelson, a financial adviser with Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill. “However, this comes at the expense of low returns and, in fact, you have not eliminated your risk by avoiding the stock market, but rather shifted your risk to the possibility of your money not keeping up with inflation.”

While there are no guarantees when it comes to stocks, you can lessen the likelihood of taking a big hit. Diversification is the key. Keep your money in a mix of large, small, domestic and foreign stocks. We favor low-cost mutual funds and exchange-traded funds because they offer an affordable way to own a piece of hundreds or even thousands of companies without having to buy individual stocks. If you aren’t comfortable picking your own funds, hire a financial adviser to help.

And don’t even think about retiring your stock portfolio once you reach retirement age, says Sweeney, of Fidelity Investments. Nest eggs need to keep growing to finance a retirement that might last 30 years. You do, however, need to ratchet down risk as you age by gradually reducing your exposure to stocks.

 

Buying into a time-share

Carl Richards at table with couple

It’s easy to see the appeal of a time-share during retirement. Now that you’re free from the 9-to-5 grind, you can visit a favorite vacation spot more frequently. And if you get bored, simply swap for slots at other destinations within the time-share network. Great deal, right? Not always.

Buyers who don’t grasp the full financial implications of a time-share can quickly come to regret the purchase. In addition to thousands paid upfront, maintenance fees average upward of $660 a year, and special assessments can be levied for major renovations. There are also travel costs, which run high to vacation hotspots such as Hawaii, Mexico or the Bahamas.

And good luck if you develop buyer’s remorse. The real estate market is flush with used time-shares, which means you probably won’t get the price you want for yours – if you can sell it at all, says Ron Kelemen, a Salem, Ore.-based financial planner. Even if you do find a potential buyer, beware: The time-share market is rife with scammers.

Experts advise owners first to contact their time-share management company about resale options. If that leads nowhere, list your time-share for sale or rent on established websites such as www.redweek.com and www.tug2.net. Alternatively, hire a reputable broker. The Licensed Timeshare Resale Brokers Association has an online directory of its members. If all else fails look into donating your time-share to charity for the tax write-off.

Falling for too-good-to-be-true offers

Risk

Hard work, careful planning and decades’ worth of wealth-building are the foundations for achieving financial security in retirement. There are no short cuts. Yet, in 2015 Americans lost $765 million to get-rich-quick and other scams, according to the FTC. Of the more than 3 million complaints received last year, 37% were filed by victims ages 60 and over.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s office and the FTC offer tips for spotting too-good-to-be-true offers. Tell-tale signs include guarantees of spectacular profits in a short time frame without risk; requests to wire money or pay a fee before you can receive a prize; or unnecessary demands to provide bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or other sensitive financial information. Also be wary of – in fact, run away from – anyone pressuring you to make an immediate decision or discouraging you from getting advice from an impartial third party.

What do you do if you suspect a scam? The FTC advises running the company or product name, along with “review,” “complaint” or “scam,” through Google or another search engine. You can also check with your local consumer protection office or your state attorney general to see if they’ve fielded any complaints. If they have, add yours to the list. Be sure to file a complaint with the FTC, too.

Relocating on a whim

Girl Hiking

The lure of warmer climates has long been the siren call of many who are approaching retirement. So you’re cooking up a plan to head south to Florida or one of the many other great places to retire if you hate the cold. Our best advice: Test the waters before you make a permanent move.

Too many folks have trudged off willy-nilly to what they thought was a dream destination only to find that it’s more akin to a nightmare. The pace of life is too slow, everyone is a stranger, and endless rounds of golf and walks on the beach grow tiresome. Well before your retirement date, spend extended vacation time in your anointed destination to get a feel for the people and lifestyle. This is especially true if you’re thinking aboutretiring overseas, where new languages, laws and customs can overwhelm even the hardiest retirees.

Once you do make the plunge, consider renting before buying. A couple I know retired and circled Savannah, Ga., for their retirement nest. But wisely, as it turned out, they decided to lease an apartment downtown for a year before building or buying a new home in the suburbs. Turns out the Deep South didn’t suit their Northern Virginia get-it-done-now temperament. They are instead thinking of joining the ranks of “halfback retirees” – people who head south, find they don’t like it, and move halfway back toward their former home up north.

Glasses on newspaper

Can Your 401(k) Impact Your SS Benefits?

By Claire Boyte-White | Updated June 26, 2017 — 6:00 AM EDT

Reposted from Investopedia

While income you receive from your 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan does not affect the amount of Social Security retirement benefits you receive each month, you may be required to pay taxes on some or all of your benefits if your annual income exceeds a certain threshold.

Why Doesn’t 401(k) Income Affect Social Security?

Your Social Security benefits are determined by the amount of money you earned during your working years for which you paid Social Security taxes. Since contributions to your 401(k) are made with compensation received from employment by a U.S. company, you have already paid Social Security taxes on those dollars.

This holds true even for traditional 401(k) accounts. Contributions to traditional accounts are made with pretax dollars, but this tax shelter only applies to income taxes, not Social Security. While you don’t pay income tax on traditional 401(k) funds until you withdraw them, you still pay Social Security taxes on the full amount of your compensation in the year you earned it.

“Contributions to a 401(k) are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, but are not subject to income taxes, unless you are making a Roth (after-tax) contribution,” notes Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.”

The Tax Impact of 401(k) Savings

Though the amount of your benefit is not affected by your 401(k) savings, you may have to pay income taxes on some of your benefits if your combined annual income exceeds a certain amount. In fact, about one-third of benefit recipients must pay taxes on a portion of their benefits.

The income thresholds are based on your combined income, which is equal to the sum of your adjusted gross income (AGI) – which includes withdrawals from any retirement savings accounts – any non-taxable interest earned and one-half of your Social Security benefits. If you take large distributions from your 401(k) in any given year that you receive benefits, you are more likely to exceed the income threshold and increase your tax liability for the year.

In 2017, if your total income for the year is less than $25,000 and you file as an individual, you won’t be required to pay taxes on any portion of your Social Security benefits. If you file jointly as a married couple, this limit is raised to $32,000. You may be required to pay taxes on up to 50% of your benefits if you are an individual with income between $25,000 and $34,000, or if you file jointly and have income between $32,000 and $44,000. Up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable if you are single and earn more than $34,000 or if you are married and earn more than $44,000. If you are married but file a separate return, you are likely to be liable to for income tax on the total amount of your benefits, regardless of your income level.

Other Types of Retirement Income

In some cases, other types of retirement income may affect your benefit amount, even if you collect benefits on your spouse’s account. Your benefits may be reduced to account for income you receive from a pension based on earnings from a government job or from another job for which your earnings were not subject to Social Security taxes. This primarily affects people working in state or local government positions, the federal civil service or those who have worked for a foreign company.

If you work in a government position and receive a pension for work not subject to Social Security taxes, your Social Security benefits received as a spouse or widow or widower are reduced by two-thirds of the amount of the pension. This rule is called the government pension offset (GPO). For example, if you are eligible to receive $1,200 in Social Security but also receive $900 per month from a government pension, your Social Security benefits are reduced by $600 to account for your pension income. This means your Social Security benefit amount is reduced to $600, but your total monthly income is still $1,500.

The windfall elimination provision (WEP) reduces the unfair advantage given to those who receive benefits on their own account and receive income from a pension based on earnings for which they did not pay Social Security taxes. In these cases, the WEP simply reduces Social Security benefits by a certain factor, depending on the age and birth date of the applicant.

How Your Is Benefit Determined?

Your Social Security benefit amount is largely determined by how much you earned during your working years, your age when you retire and your expected life span.

The first factor that influences your benefit amount is the average amount that you earned while working. Essentially, the more you earned, the higher your benefits will be, up to the maximum benefit amount of $3,538. The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates an average monthly benefit amount based on your average income and the number of years you are expected to live.

In addition to these factors, your age when you retire also plays a crucial role in determining your benefit amount. While you can begin receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62, your benefit amount is reduced for each month that you begin collecting before your full retirement age. Full retirement age varies between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth. Conversely, your benefit amount may be increased if you continue to work and delay receiving benefits beyond full retirement age. For example, in 2017, the maximum monthly benefit amount for those retiring at full retirement age is $2,687. For those retiring early, at age 62, the maximum drops to $2,153, while those who defer collection until age 70 – the latest age at which collection can commence – can collect a benefit of $3,538 per month.

“Delaying Social Security until age 70 can be beneficial since you will receive an 8% gain every year after reaching your full retirement age,” says Carlos Dias Jr., wealth manager, Excel Tax & Wealth Group, Lake Mary, Fla.

Eligibility Requirements

To receive Social Security benefits, you must have accrued 40 credits, which you earn by working and paying into the Social Security system. Each year of work is worth a maximum of four credits, so you must work a minimum of 10 years to be eligible. However, each credit is equivalent to $1,300 of taxable earnings in 2017. Once you’ve earned $5,200 in any given year, you have already earned the maximum four credits. This means you could elect to stop working for the rest of year without endangering your eligibility, though this is not a very sustainable strategy. For one thing, a lower income will mean your benefits will be lower.