The Great Turnaround: Late-Stage Retirement Planning
What the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team can teach us about late-stage retirement planning.
It was February of 1980, at Madison Square Gardens during the height of the Cold War. It was there that the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team took on what experts considered the world’s best hockey team at the time: the U.S.S.R. It was an exhibition match meant to be a preview of the upcoming Olympics and the U.S. was trounced, 10-3.
Fast forward ten days later. After critics and fans gave them no chance, the United States men’s team pulled off one of the biggest sporting upsets of all time by defeating the U.S.S.R., 4-2. That team went on to win the Olympic gold medal, and their story became known as the “Miracle on Ice.” How did they do it? How did they go from being given no chance to pulling off the inconceivable? Some say it was one of those perfect moments when miracles happen. Others point to something more solid: preparation. The Russians spent their practice days before the medal round sitting around, studying plays and generally relaxing. They didn’t really prepare. In contrast, the U.S. team practiced as hard as they ever had. Their coach looked for weaknesses and planned a winning strategy.
This dramatic turnaround in a short time is a solid example of two things: 1) it’s never too late to reach your goals, and 2) with the proper planning and strategy, you’re more likely to accomplish great things. This is a great vision to have if you’re nearing retirement and haven’t spent much time planning and saving for life after work. While not all investment stories end successfully, with the right combination of perseverance, planning and sacrifice, you may still be able to retire in relative comfort – even if you got a late start in the game.
Strategy and frame of mind are the keys when starting to save for retirement late in the game. You can sit around like the U.S.S.R., resting and doing basic review, or you can prepare yourself mentally for the challenging (but potentially rewarding) road ahead. When faced with the reality of catching up, you may have to be more aggressive in your savings habits and your investments than some of your friends or co-workers who started saving long ago.
You may also have to consider the possibility of working longer. Today, many Americans breeze past age 65 and keep right on going because they love their jobs or just love to work. Besides the added financial benefit, you can also contribute to your mental and physical well-being. Or, you may start your own small business and make a bit of extra income while setting your own hours.
Now that you’ve sharpened your skates and prepared mentally, it’s time to go out and play. If you’re starting late in the game, it’s extremely important to take advantage of the catch-up provision offered by 401(k)s and IRAs. You’ll want to contribute the maximum amount to each, plus the extra amount you can add by law. This “catch-up provision” applies if you’re 50 and older, and the amount varies depending on the type of retirement account. While contributing this much may seem daunting, you have to ask yourself if you’d rather sacrifice now or worry a lot later. That may help you keep focused on your goal of providing for retirement’s everyday needs.
Just playing catch-up isn’t the only way to achieve a successful retirement late in the game. Another important step is reducing some of your heaviest debt. By decreasing the amount you owe in credit card bills, car loans or even your children’s college expenses, you can ensure your largest debts are behind you when you retire.
There is always something you can do to save for retirement, even if you think it’s too late. While the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team’s victory may have been called the “Miracle on Ice,” planning for retirement late in life doesn’t take a miracle. But it does take a certain amount of self-sacrifice, some elbow grease and some trusted planning from a financial professional.
If you would like help with your retirement plans talk to one of our financial advisors. They can help you develop a retirement budget and income plan. In addition, they can help you review your 401(K) and IRA’S, review your social security benefits and consolidate your accounts to build a secure retirement plan. Give them a call at 505-768-7155.
FFCU and CUE are different organizations. FFCU has contracted with CUE Financial to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members. CUE is a branch office of and securities offered through Securities America, Inc., Member FINRA & SIPC. Advisory Services Offered Through CUE Financial Group, Inc., a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Insurance Products are offered through CUE Financial Group, Inc., a General Insurance Agency. CUE Financial Group, Inc., First Financial Credit Union and the Securities America companies are unaffiliated. Securities America and its representatives do not provide tax and legal advice; therefore it is important to coordinate with your tax and legal advisor regarding your specific situation.
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Written by Securities America for distribution by John and Dan Garton.
Budgeting for Retirement
Retirement planning requires determining your retirement expenses, and that starts well before you retire. Start your budget planning process at least five years before you plan to retire to help you determine whether you’ll have enough accumulated to actually afford retirement.
Begin by drafting an entire retirement budget. Estimate how much money you will need to meet your expenses and still have enough left to meet a standard of living you will enjoy. Estimate all anticipated living expenses to get an idea of how much you'll need to retire comfortably. Remember to include food costs, mortgage payments or rent, utilities and transportation costs.
To help track your expenses MoneyInstructor.com recommends gathering your entire bank and billing statements and receipts from the past three months (or keep track of all of them for the next three months). Your goal is to record every dollar you spend, including credit, checking and cash. Once you have every expense recorded, divide your expenses into three categories: fixed essential, variable essential and non-essential.
Fixed expenses are expenses that are the same each month, such as rent or mortgage, car payments and car insurance. Variable expenses change each month and include car maintenance, gasoline, food, electricity, and phone. Non-essential expenses include most of the things we don’t need, such as movies, magazines, dining out, gifts and snacks. Clothing can be labeled both essential and non-essential. Budget enough money just for the essential amount of new clothes (to replace things that are worn or no longer fit) but not the impulse buys you purchased just because something was on sale. Once you have all your expenses in writing and separated into these three categories, it will be easier to see where your money goes, including potential waste.
Next, calculate your expected retirement income. Get together with your financial advisor to determine your current principal amount of savings. Be sure to include home equity and investments. Volatile markets and decreasing company benefits mean there are no guarantees for determining your income, but your financial advisor should be able to give you a general idea of what you can expect given your current investments and employment. The Social Security Administration also provides an annual estimate of benefits each year per income level.
The third step in creating a budget is to consider health care and long-term care expenses. Rising health care costs threaten boomers’ retirement security. In 2040, half of adults age 65 and older will spend at least 19 percent of their income on health care, up from 10 percent in 2010,” according to “Will Health Care Costs Bankrupt Aging Boomers,” a research article by Urban Institute. According to the latest retiree health care cost estimate from Fidelity Benefits Consulting, a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2018 will need an average of $280,000 (in today's dollars) to cover medical expenses throughout retirement. This amount did not include nursing home care. By assessing your current medical condition, expenses and future care plans, you and your advisor should be able to generate a relatively accurate health care estimate.
Once you have your budget together with expenses, including health care costs and your estimated income, you need to choose a hypothetical retirement date. If Social Security is part of your income plan, remember drawing Social Security benefits before your full retirement age will reduce your benefits. They will be further reduced if your earned income exceeds the annual amount determined by law. Depending on your current savings and your estimated lifestyle expenses, you may be unable to retire early or even “on time.”
The best test for determining if you are ready to retire is to practice living on your retirement budget for three months. If you struggle, look back through your budget and see which expenses you can cut. If your expenses are as bare as you can make them, you may want to look at working longer. Retirement requires you to closely manage your income and budget, so you can enjoy life. If you don’t plan for the future now, your future may be limited.
Social Security: What Should You do at Age 62?
Is 62 your lucky number? If you’re eligible, that’s the earliest age you can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits. If you decide to start collecting benefits before your full retirement age, you’ll have company. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), approximately 73% of Americans elect to receive their Social Security benefits early. (Source: SSA Annual Statistical Supplement, 2013) trade and pick up your first Social Security check, there are some factors you’ll need to weigh before deciding whether to start collecting benefits early.
What will your retirement benefit be?
Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on the number of years you’ve been working and the amount you’ve earned. Your benefit is calculated using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earnings years. If you earned little or nothing in several of those years (if you left the workforce to raise a family, for instance), it may be to your advantage to work as long as possible, because you’ll have the opportunity to replace a year of lower earnings with a higher one, potentially resulting in a higher retirement benefit.
If you begin collecting retirement benefits at age 62, each monthly benefit check will be 25% to 30% less than it would be at full retirement age. The exact amount of the reduction will depend on the year you were born. (Conversely, you can get a higher payout by delaying retirement past your full retirement age—the government increases your payout every month that you delay retirement, up to age 70.)
However, even though your monthly benefit will be 25% to 30% less if you begin collecting retirement benefits at age 62, you might receive the same or more total lifetime Social Security benefits as you would have had you waited until full retirement age to start collecting benefits. That’s because even though you’ll receive less money per month, you might receive more benefit checks.
The following chart shows how much an estimated $1,000 monthly benefit at full retirement age would be worth if you started taking a reduced benefit at age 62.
If you want to estimate the amount of Social Security benefits you will be eligible to receive in the future under current law (based on your earnings record) you can use the SSA’s Retirement Estimator. It’s available at the SSA website at www.socialsecurity.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your online Social Security Statement at the SSA website. Your statement contains a detailed record of your earnings, as well as estimates of retirement, survivor’s, and disability benefits, and other information about Social Security. If you’re not registered for an online account and are not yet receiving benefits, you’ll receive a statement in the mail every five years, from age 25 to age 60, and then annually thereafter.
Have you thought about your longevity?
Is it better to take reduced benefits at age 62 or full benefits later? The answer depends, in part, on how long you live. If you live longer than your “break-even age,” the overall value of your retirement benefits taken at full retirement age will begin to outweigh the value of reduced benefits taken at age 62.
You’ll generally reach your break-even age about 12 years from your full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 66, you should reach your break-even age at 78. If you live past this age, you’ll end up with higher total lifetime benefits by waiting until full retirement age to start collecting. However, unless you’re able to invest your benefits rather than use them for living expenses, your break-even age is probably not the most important part of the equation. For many people, what really counts is how much they’ll receive each month, rather than how much they’ll accumulate over many years.
Of course, no one can predict exactly how long they’ll live. But by taking into account your current health, diet, exercise level, access to quality medical care, and family health history, you might be able to make a reasonable assumption.
How much income will you need?
Another important piece of the puzzle is to look at how much retirement income you’ll need, based partly on an estimate of your retirement expenses. If there is a large gap between your projected expenses and your anticipated income, waiting a few years to retire and start collecting Social Security benefits may improve your financial outlook.
If you continue to work and wait until your full retirement age to start collecting benefits, your Social Security monthly benefit will be larger. What’s more, the longer you stay in the workforce, the greater the amount of money you will earn and have available to put into your overall retirement savings. Another plus is that Social Security’s annual cost-of-living increases are calculated using your initial year’s benefits as a base—the higher the base, the greater your annual increase.
Will your spouse be affected?
When to begin receiving Social Security is more complicated when you’re married. The age at which you begin receiving benefits may significantly affect the amount of lifetime income you and your spouse receive, as well as the benefit the surviving spouse will be entitled to, so you’ll need to consider how your decision will affect your joint retirement plan.
Do you plan on working after age 62?
Another key factor in your decision is whether or not you plan to continue working after you start collecting Social Security benefits at age 62. That’s because income you earn before full retirement age may reduce your Social Security retirement benefit. Specifically, if you are under full retirement age for the entire year, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $2 you earn over the annual earnings limit ($15,720 in 2015).
Example: You start collecting Social Security benefits at age 62. You continue working, and your job pays $30,000 in 2015. Your annual benefit would be reduced by $7,140 ($30,000 minus $15,720, divided by 2).
Note: If your monthly benefit is reduced in the short term due to your earnings, you’ll receive a higher monthly benefit later. That’s because the SSA recalculates your benefit when you reach full retirement age and omits the months in which your benefit was reduced.
In addition to the factors discussed here, other financial considerations may influence whether you start collecting Social Security benefits at age 62. How do other sources of retirement income factor in? Have you considered how your income taxes will be affected?
What about personal considerations? Do you plan on traveling, volunteering, going back to school, starting your own business, pursuing hobbies, or moving to a new location? Do you have grandchildren or elderly parents whom you want to help take care of? Every person’s situation is different.
For more information
Social Security rules can be complex. For more information about Social Security benefits, visit the SSA website at socialsecurity.gov , or call (800) 772-1213 to speak with a representative. You may also call or visit your local Social Security office.
Annuities as an IRA Investment Option
A deferred annuity is one of several investment options you can choose from to fund your IRA. You might think that a deferred annuity isn’t suitable as an investment option for an IRA, since both deferred annuities and IRAs generally provide for the deferral of income taxes on earnings until they’re withdrawn. However, there are several reasons, aside from tax deferral, that may make a deferred annuity a sound funding choice for your IRA.
Common features of IRAs and deferred annuities
IRAs and deferred annuities share several common features. Both IRAs and deferred annuities:
- Provide for the deferral of income taxes on gains (interest, dividends, and earnings) within the account until withdrawn
- Offer varying degrees of creditor protection based on particular state law
- Are intended as long-term savings options
- Subject the account owner to early withdrawal penalties unless an exception applies
Many deferred variable annuities offer a variety of investment options called subaccounts within which you can allocate your premium payments. A variable annuity’s subaccount choices will be described in detail in the fund prospectus provided by the issuer. However, you assume all the risk related to subaccount performance, and while you could experience positive growth in the subaccounts, it’s also possible that the subaccounts will perform poorly, and you may lose money, including principal.
Nevertheless, many variable annuities allow you to reallocate among available subaccounts without cost or restriction. This feature provides you with investment flexibility, because each subaccount is typically based on a different investment strategy.
Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.
But, the common features shared by deferred annuities and IRAs do not necessarily make them mutually exclusive.
Deferred annuities offer the opportunity to annuitize the account, which involves exchanging the cash value of the deferred annuity for a stream of income payments that can last for the lifetimes of the contract owner and his or her spouse. That can help in retirement by providing a steady, reliable income. But converting your account to an income stream means you’re generally locked into those payments unless the annuity provides a commuted benefit option allowing you to “cash out” the balance of your income payments.
Another income option offered by some deferred annuities provides guaranteed* income payments without relinquishing the entire cash value of the annuity. The guaranteed* lifetime withdrawal benefit allows you to receive an annual income for the rest of your life without having to annuitize the annuity’s entire cash value.
Some deferred annuities offer a rider that provides you with a minimum income equal to no less than your premium payments less prior withdrawals. With this rider, you are assured of receiving minimum income payments based on the premiums you paid into your annuity, even if the annuity’s accumulation value has dipped below your investment in the contract due to poor investment performance.
Deferred annuities may offer protection of your principal. Fixed deferred annuities guarantee* your principal and a minimum rate of interest as declared in the contract when you buy the annuity. However, the interest rate the annuity pays may actually exceed the minimum rate and may last for a certain period of time, such as one year, after which the rate may change.
Deferred variable annuities also may offer principal protection through riders attached to the basic annuity (annuity riders typically come with an additional cost). For example, a common annuity rider restores your annuity’s accumulation value to the amount of your total premiums paid if, after a prescribed number of years, the accumulation value is less than the premiums you paid (excluding any withdrawals).
Another benefit offered by some deferred annuities is a death benefit guaranteed* to equal at least your investment in the contract. Most annuity death benefits provide that if you die prior to converting your account to a stream of income payments (annuitization), your annuity beneficiaries will receive an amount equal to your investment in the contract (less any withdrawals you may have taken) or the accumulation value, whichever is greater.
Why an annuity might not be a good idea
Fees: Some deferred annuities charge mortality and expense fees in addition to other fees that may be greater than fees charged in other investments.
Specifically, deferred annuities may charge fees for a death benefit, minimum income rider, and principal protection.
Required minimum distributions: As an owner of a traditional IRA, you are required to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) beginning at age 70½. Deferred annuities outside of IRAs do not have this requirement. So buying an annuity within an IRA now adds the RMD requirement to the annuity.
Surrender charges: Deferred annuities come with surrender charges, which charge a penalty for taking withdrawals from the annuity prior to maturity. These surrender charges may make deferred annuities less liquid than some other types of investments.
However, many deferred annuities waive surrender charges for withdrawals up to a certain amount, such as 10% of the account value; for RMDs; for withdrawals based on a guaranteed* minimum withdrawal rider; and if the annuity is annuitized into a stream of payments.
Tax deferral: Deferred annuities offer deferral of income taxes on gains and earnings of account values within the annuity. IRAs also offer tax deferral of gains and earnings. So, you are receiving no additional income tax benefit by investing in a deferred annuity through an IRA.
Is an annuity right for you?
Some deferred annuities afford benefits that may not be available in other types of investments, making annuities an option to consider for your IRA. However, most of these benefits come at a cost that can reduce your account value. Before funding your IRA with a deferred annuity, talk to your financial professional. You’ll want to know:
- Does the annuity have surrender charges and if so, how much are the charges? Is there any amount I can withdraw from the annuity (such as required minimum distributions) without incurring surrender charges?
- Can the annuity decrease in value? Are there any options available in the annuity to protect my investment?
- What are the benefit options and what are their costs? Are there any other fees or charges that apply to the annuity?
- What is the financial strength of the company issuing the annuity?
- If annuity benefits fit your financial plan, a deferred annuity may be a good option for your IRA.
- Note: Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. Variable annuities contain fees and charges including, but not limited to, mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender (early withdrawal) charges, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits and riders. You should consider the investment objectives, risk, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity, can be obtained from the insurance company issuing the variable annuity or from your financial professional.
- You should read the prospectus carefully before you invest.
The Roth 401(k)
Some employers offer 401(k) plan participants the opportunity to make Roth 401(k) contributions. If you’re lucky enough to work for an employer who offers this option, Roth contributions could play an important role in helping enhance your retirement income.
What is a Roth 401(k)?
A Roth 401(k) is simply a traditional 401(k) plan that accepts Roth 401(k) contributions. Roth 401(k) contributions are made on an after-tax basis, just like Roth IRA contributions. This means there’s no
up-front tax benefit, but if certain conditions are met, your Roth 401(k) contributions and all accumulated investment earnings on those contributions are free from federal income tax when distributed from the plan. (403(b) and 457(b) plans can also allow Roth contributions.)
Who can contribute?
Unlike Roth IRAs, where individuals who earn more than a certain dollar amount aren’t allowed to contribute, you can make Roth contributions, regardless of your salary level, as soon as you’re eligible to participate in the plan. And while a 401(k) plan can require employees to wait up to one year before they become eligible to contribute, many plans allow you to contribute beginning with your first paycheck.
How much can I contribute?
There’s an overall cap on your combined pretax and Roth 401(k) contributions. You can contribute up to $18,000 of your pay ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older) to a 401(k) plan in 2015. You can split your contribution any way you wish. For
example, you can make $10,000 of Roth contributions and $8,000 of pretax 401(k) contributions. It’s up to you. But keep in mind that if you also contribute to another employer’s 401(k), 403(b), SIMPLE, or SAR-SEP plan, your total contributions to all of these plans—both pretax and Roth—can’t exceed $18,000 ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older). It’s up to you to make sure you don’t exceed these limits if you contribute to plans of more than one employer.
Can I also contribute to a Roth IRA?
Yes. Your participation in a Roth 401(k) plan has no impact on your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. You can contribute to both if you wish (assuming you meet the Roth IRA income limits). You can contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth IRA in 2015, $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older (or, if less, 100% of your taxable compensation). 1
Should I make pretax or Roth 401(k) contributions?
When you make pretax 401(k) contributions, you don’t pay current income taxes on those dollars but your contributions and investment earnings are fully taxable when you receive a distribution from the plan. In contrast, Roth 401(k) contributions are subject to income taxes up front, but qualified distributions of your contributions and earnings are entirely free from federal income tax.
Which is the better option depends upon your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, Roth 401(k) contributions may be more appealing, since you’ll effectively lock in today’s lower tax rates. However, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, pretax 401(k) contributions may be more appropriate. Your investment horizon and projected investment results are also important factors. Before you take any specific action be sure to consult with your own tax or legal counsel.
Are distributions really tax free?
Because your Roth 401(k) contributions are made on an after-tax basis, they’re always free from federal income tax when distributed from the plan. But the investment earnings on your Roth contributions are tax free only if you meet the requirements for a “qualified distribution.” In general, a distribution is qualified only if it satisfies both of the following:
- It’s made after the end of a five-year waiting period
- The payment is made after you turn 59½, become disabled, or die
The five-year waiting period for qualified distributions starts with the year you make your first Roth contribution to your employer’s 401(k) plan. For example, if you make your first Roth contribution to the plan in December 2015, then the first year of your five-year waiting period is 2015, and your waiting period ends on December 31, 2019.
But if you change employers and roll over your Roth 401(k) account from your prior employer’s plan to your new employer’s plan (assuming the new plan accepts Roth rollovers), the five-year waiting period starts instead with the year you made your first contribution to the earlier plan.
If your distribution isn’t qualified (for example, if you receive a payout before the five-year waiting period has elapsed or because you terminate employment), the portion of your distribution that represents investment earnings on your Roth contributions will be taxable and will be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty unless you are 59½ or another exception applies.
You can generally avoid taxation by rolling your distribution over into a Roth IRA or into another employer’s Roth 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan, if that plan accepts Roth rollovers. (State income tax treatment of Roth 401(k) contributions may differ from the federal rules.) 2
What about employer contributions?
While employers don’t have to contribute to 401(k) plans, many will match all or part of your contributions. Your employer can match your Roth contributions, your pretax contributions, or both. But your employer contributions are always made on a pretax basis, even if they match your Roth contributions. That is, your employer’s contributions, and investment earnings on those contributions, are not taxed until you receive a plan distribution.
What else do I need to know?
Like pretax 401(k) contributions, your Roth 401(k) contributions and investment earnings can be paid from the plan only after you terminate employment, incur a financial hardship, attain age 59½, become disabled, or die.
Also, unlike Roth IRAs, you must begin taking distributions from a Roth 401(k) plan after you reach age 70½ (or in some cases, after you retire). But this isn’t as significant as it might seem, since you can generally roll over your Roth 401(k) dollars (other than RMDs themselves) into a Roth IRA if you don’t need or want the lifetime distributions.
Employers aren’t required to make Roth contributions available in their 401(k) plans. So be sure to ask your employer if they are considering adding this exciting feature to your plan.
1 If you have both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, your combined contributions to both cannot exceed $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older) in 2015.
2 You can avoid tax on the non-Roth portion of your distribution (any pretax contributions, employer contributions, and investment earnings on these contributions) by rolling that portion over into a traditional IRA.
In general, a rollover is the movement of funds from one retirement savings vehicle to another. You may want, or need, to make a rollover for any number of reasons—your employment situation has changed, you want to switch investments, or you’ve received death benefits from your spouse’s retirement plan. There are two possible ways that retirement funds can be rolled over—the 60-day rollover and the trustee-to-trustee transfer.
The 60-day, or indirect, rollover
With this method, you actually receive a distribution from your retirement plan and then, to complete the rollover transaction, you make a deposit into the new retirement plan that you want to receive the funds.
You can make a rollover at any age, but there are specific rules that must be followed. Most importantly, you must generally complete the rollover within 60 days of the date the funds are paid from the distributing plan.
If properly completed, rollovers aren’t subject to income tax. But if you fail to complete the rollover or miss the 60-day deadline, all or part of your distribution may be taxed, and subject to a 10% early distribution penalty (unless you’re age 59½ or another exception applies).
Further, if you receive a distribution from an employer retirement plan, your employer must withhold 20% of the payment for taxes. This means that if you want to roll over your entire distribution, you’ll need to come up with that extra 20% from your other funds (you’ll be able to recover the withheld taxes when you file your tax return).
The direct rollover
The second type of rollover transaction occurs directly between the trustee or custodian of your old retirement plan, and the trustee or custodian of your new plan. You never actually receive the funds or have control of them, so a trustee-to-trustee transfer is not treated as a distribution. Trustee-to-trustee transfers avoid both the danger of missing the 60-day deadline and, for employer plans, the 20% withholding problem.
With employer retirement plans, a trustee-to-trustee transfer is usually referred to as a direct rollover. If you receive a distribution from your employer’s plan that’s eligible for rollover, your employer must give you the option of making a direct rollover to another employer plan or IRA.
A trustee-to-trustee transfer (direct rollover) is generally the most efficient way to move retirement funds. Taking a distribution yourself and rolling it over makes sense only if you need to use the funds temporarily, and are certain you can roll over the full amount within 60 days.
Should you roll over money from an employer plan to an IRA?
In general, you can keep your money in an employer’s plan until you reach the plan’s normal retirement age (typically age 65). But if you terminate employment before then, should you keep your money in the plan (or roll it into your new employer’s plan) or instead make a direct rollover to an IRA?
There are several reasons to consider making a rollover. In contrast to an employer plan, where your investment options are limited to those selected by your employer, the universe of IRA investments is almost unlimited. Similarly, the distribution options in an IRA (especially for your beneficiary following your death) may be more flexible than the options available in your employer’s plan.
On the other hand, your employer’s plan may offer better creditor protection. In general, federal law protects your total IRA assets up to $1,245,475 (as of April 1, 2013)—plus any amount you roll over from a qualified employer plan—if you declare bankruptcy. (The laws in your state may provide additional protection.) In contrast, assets in an employer retirement plan generally enjoy unlimited protection from creditors under federal law, regardless of whether you’ve declared bankruptcy.
When evaluating whether to initiate a rollover always be sure to (1) ask about possible surrender charges that may be imposed by your employer plan, or new surrender charges that your IRA may impose, (2) compare investment fees and expenses charged by your IRA (and investment funds) with those charged by your employer plan (if any), and (3) understand any accumulated rights or guarantees that you may be giving up by transferring funds out of your employer plan.
Some distributions can’t be rolled over, including:
- Required minimum distributions (to be taken after you reach age 70½ or, in some cases, after you retire)
- Certain annuity or installment payments
- Hardship withdrawals
- Corrective distributions of excess contributions and deferrals
All About IRAs
An individual retirement arrangement (IRA) is a personal retirement savings plan that offers specific tax benefits. In fact, IRAs are one of the most powerful retirement savings tools available to you. Even if you’re contributing to a 401(k) or other plan at work, you should also consider investing in an IRA.
What types of IRAs are available?
There are two major types of IRAs: traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. Both allow you to make annual contributions of up to $5,500 in 2015 (unchanged from 2014). Generally, you must have at least as much taxable compensation as the amount of your IRA contribution. But if you are married filing jointly, your spouse can also contribute to an IRA, even if he or she does not have taxable compensation. The law also allows taxpayers age 50 and older to make additional “catch-up” contributions. These folks can put up to $6,500 in their IRAs in 2015 (unchanged from 2014).
Both traditional and Roth IRAs feature tax-sheltered growth of earnings. And both give you a wide range of investment choices. However, there are important differences between these two types of IRAs. You must understand these differences before you can choose the type of IRA that’s best for you.
Practically anyone can open and contribute to a traditional IRA. The only requirements are that you must have taxable compensation and be under age 70½. You can contribute the maximum allowed each year as long as your taxable compensation for the year is at least that amount. If your taxable compensation for the year is below the maximum contribution allowed, you can contribute only up to the amount you earned.
Your contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible on your federal income tax return. This is important because tax-deductible (pretax) contributions lower your taxable income for the year, saving you money in taxes. If neither you nor your spouse is covered by a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan, you can generally deduct the full amount of your annual contribution. If one of you is covered by such a plan, your ability to deduct your contributions depends on your annual income (modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI) and your income tax filing status. You may qualify for a full deduction, a partial deduction, or no deduction at all.
What happens when you start taking money from your traditional IRA? Any portion of a distribution that represents deductible contributions is subject to income tax because those contributions were not taxed when you made them. Any portion that represents investment earnings is also subject to income tax because those earnings were not previously taxed either. Only the portion that represents nondeductible, after-tax contributions (if any) is not subject to income tax. In addition to income tax, you may have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under age 59½, unless you meet one of the exceptions.
If you wish to defer taxes, you can leave your funds in the traditional IRA, but only until April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½. That’s when you have to take your first required minimum distribution from the IRA. After that, you must take a distribution by the end of every calendar year until your funds are exhausted or you die. The annual distribution amounts are based on a standard life expectancy table. You can always withdraw more than you’re required to in any year. However, if you withdraw less, you’ll be hit with a 50% penalty on the difference between the required minimum and the amount you actually withdrew.
Not everyone can set up a Roth IRA. Even if you can, you may not qualify to take full advantage of it. The first requirement is that you must have taxable compensation. If your taxable compensation is at least $5,500 in 2015 (unchanged from 2014), you may be able to contribute the full amount. But it gets more complicated. Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in any year depends on your MAGI and your income tax filing status. Your allowable contribution may be less than the maximum possible, or nothing at all.
Your contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible. You can invest only after-tax dollars in a Roth IRA. The good news is that, if you meet certain conditions, your withdrawals from a Roth IRA will be completely free from federal income tax, including both contributions and investment earnings. To be eligible for these qualifying distributions, you must meet a five-year holding period requirement. In addition, one of the following must apply:
- You have reached age 59½ by the time of the withdrawal
- The withdrawal is made because of disability
- The withdrawal is made to pay first-time homebuyer expenses ($10,000 lifetime limit from all IRAs)
- The withdrawal is made by your beneficiary or estate after your death
Qualified distributions will also avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This ability to withdraw your funds with no taxes or penalty is a key strength of the Roth IRA. And remember, even nonqualified distributions will be taxed (and possibly penalized) only on the investment earnings portion of the distribution, and then only to the extent that your distribution exceeds the total amount of all contributions that you have made.
Another advantage of the Roth IRA is that there are no required distributions after age 70½ or at any time during your life. You can put off taking distributions until you really need the income. Or, you can leave the entire balance to your beneficiary without ever taking a single distribution. Also, as long as you have taxable compensation and qualify, you can keep contributing to a Roth IRA after age 70½.
Choose the right IRA for you
Assuming you qualify to use both, which type of IRA is best for you? Sometimes the choice is easy. The Roth IRA will probably be a more effective tool if you don’t qualify for tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. However, if you can deduct your traditional IRA contributions, the choice is more difficult. Most professionals believe that a Roth IRA will still give you more bang for your dollars in the long run, but it depends on your personal goals and circumstances. The Roth IRA may very well make more sense if you want to minimize taxes during retirement and preserve assets for your beneficiaries. But a traditional deductible IRA may be a better tool if you want to lower your yearly tax bill while you’re still working (and probably in a higher tax bracket than you’ll be in after you retire). A financial professional or tax advisor can help you pick the right type of IRA for you.
Note: You can have both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, but your total annual contribution to all of the IRAs that you own cannot be more than $5,500 in 2015 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older).
Reaching Retirement? What Now?
You’ve worked hard your whole life anticipating the day you could finally retire. Well, that day has arrived! But with it comes the realization that you’ll need to carefully manage your assets so that your retirement savings will last.
Review your portfolio regularly
Traditional wisdom holds that retirees should value the safety of their principal above all else. For this reason, some people shift their investment portfolio to fixed-income investments, such as bonds and money market accounts, as they approach retirement. The problem with this approach is that you’ll effectively lose purchasing power if the return on your investments doesn’t keep up with inflation.
While generally it makes sense for your portfolio to become progressively more conservative as you grow older, it may be wise to consider maintaining at least a portion of your portfolio in growth investments.
Don’t assume that you’ll be able to live on the earnings generated by your investment portfolio and retirement accounts for the rest of your life. At some point, you’ll probably have to start drawing on the principal. But you’ll want to be careful not to spend too much too soon. This can be a great temptation, particularly early in retirement.
A good guideline is to make sure your annual withdrawal rate isn’t greater than 4% to 6% of your portfolio. (The appropriate percentage for you will depend on a number of factors, including the length of your payout period and your portfolio’s asset allocation.) Remember that if you whittle away your principal too quickly, you may not be able to earn enough on the remaining principal to carry you through the later years.
Understand your retirement plan distribution options
Most pension plans pay benefits in the form of an annuity. If you’re married, you generally must choose
between a higher retirement benefit paid over your lifetime, or a smaller benefit that continues to your spouse after your death. A financial professional can help you with this difficult, but important, decision.
Other employer retirement plans like 401(k)s typically don’t pay benefits as annuities; the distribution (and investment) options available to you may be limited. This may be important because if you’re trying to stretch your savings, you’ll want to withdraw money from your retirement accounts as slowly as possible. Doing so will conserve the principal balance and will also give those funds the chance to continue growing tax deferred during your retirement years.
Consider whether it makes sense to roll your employer retirement account into a traditional IRA, which typically has very flexible withdrawal options. 1 If you decide to work for another employer, you might also be able to transfer assets you’ve accumulated to your new employer’s plan, if the new employer offers a retirement plan and allows a rollover.
Plan for required distributions
Keep in mind that you must generally begin taking minimum distributions from employer retirement plans and traditional IRAs when you reach age 70½, whether you need them or not. Plan to spend these dollars first in retirement.
If you own a Roth IRA, you aren’t required to take any distributions during your lifetime. Your funds can continue to grow tax deferred, and qualified distributions will be tax free. 2 Because of these unique tax benefits, it generally makes sense to withdraw funds from a Roth IRA last.
Know your Social Security options
You’ll need to decide when to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits. At normal retirement age (which varies from 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born), you can receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. You can elect to receive your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving your benefit before your normal retirement age, your benefit will be reduced. Conversely, if you delay retirement, you can increase your Social Security retirement benefit.
For many workers, the sudden change from employee to retiree can be a difficult one. Some employers, especially those in the public sector, have begun offering “phased retirement” plans to address this problem. Phased retirement generally allows you to continue working on a part-time basis—you benefit by having a smoother transition from full-time employment to retirement, and your employer benefits by retaining the services of a talented employee. Some phased retirement plans even allow you to access all or part of your pension benefit while you work part time. Of course, to the extent you are able to support yourself with a salary, the less you’ll need to dip into your retirement savings. Another advantage of delaying full retirement is that you can continue to build tax-deferred funds in your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to start taking minimum distributions from your qualified retirement plan or traditional IRA once you reach age 70½, if you want to avoid substantial penalties.
If you do continue to work, make sure you understand the consequences. Some pension plans base your retirement benefit on your final average pay. If you work part time, your pension benefit may be reduced because your pay has gone down. Remember, too, that income from a job may affect the amount of Social Security retirement benefit you receive if you are under normal retirement age. But once you reach normal retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit.
Facing a shortfall
What if you’re nearing retirement and you determine that your retirement income may not be adequate to meet your retirement expenses? If retirement is just around the corner, you may need to drastically change your spending and saving habits. Saving even a little money can really add up if you do it consistently and earn a reasonable rate of return. By making permanent changes to your spending habits, you’ll find that your savings will last even longer. Start by preparing a budget to see where your money is going. Here are some suggested ways to stretch your retirement dollars:
- Refinance your home mortgage if interest rates have dropped since you obtained your loan or reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.
- Access the equity in your home. Use the proceeds from a second mortgage or home equity line of credit to pay off higher-interest-rate debts or consider a reverse mortgage.
- Sell one of your cars if you have two. When your remaining car needs to be replaced, consider buying a used one.
- Transfer credit card balances from higher-interest cards to a low- or no-interest card, and then cancel the old accounts.
- Ask about insurance discounts and review your insurance needs (e.g., your need for life insurance may have lessened).
- Reduce discretionary expenses such as lunches and dinners out.
By planning carefully, investing wisely, and spending thoughtfully, you can increase the likelihood that your retirement will be a financially comfortable one.
Rule of thumb
Many investment professionals recommend you follow this simple rule of thumb when allocating your retirement assets:
The percentage of stocks or mutual funds in your portfolio should equal approximately 100% minus your age. (Obviously you should adjust this rule according to your risk tolerance and other personal factors.)
1 When considering a rollover, to either an IRA or to another employer’s retirement plan, you should consider carefully the investment options, fees and expenses, services, ability to make penalty-free withdrawals, degree of creditor protection, and distribution requirements associated with each option.
2 To qualify for tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, a Roth IRA must meet a five-year holding requirement and the distribution must take place after age 59½, with certain exceptions.
Investment Planning: The Basics
Why do so many people never obtain the financial independence that they desire? Often, it’s because they just don’t take that first step—getting started. Besides procrastination, other excuses people make are that investing is too risky, too complicated, too time consuming, and only for the rich.
The fact is, there’s nothing complicated about common investing techniques, and it usually doesn’t take much time to understand the basics. One of the biggest risks you face is not educating yourself about which investments may be able to help you pursue your financial goals and how to approach the investing process.
Saving Versus Investing
Both saving and investing have a place in your finances. However, don’t confuse the two. Saving is the process of setting aside money to be used for a financial goal, whether that is done as part of a workplace retirement savings plan, an individual retirement account, a bank savings account, or some other savings vehicle. Investing is the process of deciding what you do with those savings. Some investments are designed to help protect your principal—the initial amount you’ve set aside—but may provide relatively little or no return. Other investments can go up or down in value and may or may not pay interest or dividends. Stocks, bonds, cash alternatives, precious metals, and real estate all represent investments; mutual funds are a way to purchase such investments and also are themselves an investment.
Note: Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objectives, risks, charges, and fees, which can be found in the prospectus available from the fund. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.
You invest for the future, and the future is expensive. For example, because people are living longer, retirement costs are often higher than many people expect. Though all investing involves the possibility of loss, including the loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful, investing is one way to try to prepare for that future.
You have to take responsibility for your own finances, even if you need expert help to do so. Government programs such as Social Security will probably play a less significant role for you than they did for previous generations. Corporations are switching from guaranteed pensions to plans that require you to make contributions and choose investments. The better you manage your dollars, the more likely it is that you’ll have the money to make the future what you want it to be.
Because everyone has different goals and expectations, everyone has different reasons for investing. Understanding how to match those reasons with your investments is simply one aspect of managing your money to provide a comfortable life and financial security for you and your family.
What is the Best Way to Invest?
Get in the habit of saving. Set aside a portion of your income regularly. Automate that process if possible by having money automatically put into your investment account before you have a chance to spend it.
Invest so that your money at least keeps pace with inflation over time.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Though asset allocation and diversification don’t guarantee a profit or ensure against the possibility of loss, having multiple types of investments may help reduce the impact of a loss on any single investment.
Focus on long-term potential rather than short-term price fluctuations.
Ask questions and become educated before making any investment.
Invest with your head, not with your stomach or heart. Avoid the urge to invest based on how you feel about an investment.
Before You Start
Organize your finances to help manage your money more efficiently. Remember, investing is just one component of your overall financial plan. Get a clear picture of where you are today.
What’s your net worth? Compare your assets with your liabilities. Look at your cash flow. Be clear on where your income is going each month. List your expenses. You can typically identify enough expenses to account for at least 95 percent of your income. If not, go back and look again. You could use those lost dollars for investing. Are you drowning in credit card debt? If so, pay it off as quickly as possible before you start investing. Every dollar that you save in interest charges is one more dollar that you can invest for your future.
Establish a solid financial base: Make sure you have an adequate emergency fund, sufficient insurance coverage, and a realistic budget. Also, take full advantage of benefits and retirement plans that your employer offers.
Understand the Impact of Time
Take advantage of the power of compounding. Compounding is the earning of interest on interest, or the reinvestment of income. For instance, if you invest $1,000 and get a return of 8 percent, you will earn $80. By reinvesting the earnings and assuming the same rate of return, the following year you will earn $86.40 on your $1,080 investment. The following year, $1,166.40 will earn $93.31. (This hypothetical example is intended as an illustration and does not reflect the performance of a specific investment).
Use the Rule of 72 to judge an investment’s potential. Divide the projected return into 72. The answer is the number of years that it will take for the investment to double in value. For example, an investment that earns 8 percent per year will double in 9 years.
Consider Whether You Need Expert Help
If you have the time and energy to educate yourself about investing, you may not feel you need assistance. However, for many people—especially those with substantial assets and multiple investment accounts—it may be worth getting expert help in creating a financial plan that integrates long-term financial goals such as retirement with other, more short-term needs. However, be aware that all investment involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.
Review Your Progress
Financial management is an ongoing process. Keep good records and recalculate your net worth annually. This will help you for tax purposes and show you how your investments are doing over time. Once you take that first step of getting started, you will be better able to manage your money to pay for today’s needs and pursue tomorrow’s goals.
Saving and Investing Wisely for Retirement
The more you can save for retirement, the better your chances of retiring comfortably. Some ways to get started include:
- Start saving as early as possible
- Invest on a regular basis
- If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, take advantage of automatic contributions
- If your plan allows, make appropriate investment choices for your retirement time frame
Creating an Investing Road Map for Retirement
Setting goals for retirement is an important part of retirement investing. For example, do you want to retire early? Would you like to travel during retirement? Do you plan on working post-retirement? Having goals can help you and your financial professional develop an appropriate investment plan for your retirement. Before investing for your retirement, you should set retirement goals and also consider your time horizon, risk tolerance, and liquidity needs.
Types of Retirement Plan Investments: Stocks
When you buy a company’s stock, you’re purchasing a share of ownership in that business. You become one of the company’s stockholders. Your percentage of ownership in a company also represents your share of the risks taken and profits generated by the company. If the company does well, your share of its earnings will be proportionate to how much of the company’s stock you own. Of course, your share of any loss also will reflect your percentage of ownership.
Types of Retirement Plan Investments: Bonds
A bond is basically an IOU. Bonds, sometimes called fixed-income securities, are essentially loans to a corporation or governmental body. The borrower (the bond issuer) typically promises to pay the lender, or bondholder, regular interest payments until a certain date. At that point, the bond is said to have matured. When it reaches that maturity date, the full amount of the loan (the principal or face value) must be repaid.
Types of Retirement Plan Investments: Cash and Cash Alternatives
In daily life, cash is all around you, as currency, bank balances, negotiable money orders, and checks. However, in investing, “cash” is also used to refer to so-called cash alternatives: investments that are considered relatively low-risk and can generally be converted to cash quickly. Money market mutual funds and guaranteed investment contracts (GICs), government savings bonds, U.S. Treasury bills, and commercial paper are some examples of cash alternatives.
Investing for Retirement with Mutual Funds
You can invest in all three major asset classes through mutual funds, which pool your money with that of other investors. Each fund’s manager selects specific securities to buy based on a stated investment strategy.
The combination of investments you choose for your retirement portfolio can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, account for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.
Five Keys to Investing for Retirement
Making decisions about your retirement account can seem overwhelming, especially if you feel unsure about your knowledge of investments. However, the following basic rules can help you make smarter choices regardless of whether you have some investing experience or are just getting started.
Don’t lose ground to inflation
It’s easy to see how inflation affects gas prices, electric bills, and the cost of food; over time, your money buys less and less. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your investments are earning only 1% at best.
And that’s not counting any other costs; even in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a 401(k), you’ll eventually owe taxes on that money. Unless your retirement portfolio at least keeps pace with inflation, you could actually be losing money without even realizing it.
What does that mean for your retirement strategy? First, you’ll probably need to contribute more to your retirement plan than you think. What seems like a healthy sum now will seem smaller and smaller over time; at a 3% annual inflation rate, something that costs $100 today would cost $181 in 20 years. That means you’ll probably need a bigger retirement nest egg than you anticipated. And don’t forget that people are living much longer now than they used to. You might need your retirement savings to last a lot longer than you expect, and inflation is likely to continue increasing prices over that time. Consider increasing your 401(k) contribution each year by at least enough to overcome the effects of inflation, at least until you hit your plan’s contribution limits.
Second, you need to consider investing at least a portion of your retirement plan in investments that can help keep inflation from silently eating away at the purchasing power of your savings. Cash equivalents may be relatively safe, but they are the most likely to lose purchasing power to inflation over time. Even if
you consider yourself a conservative investor, remember that stocks historically have provided higher long-term total returns than cash equivalents or bonds, even though they also involve greater risk of volatility and potential loss.
Caution: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Invest based on your time horizon
Your time horizon is investment-speak for the amount of time you have left until you plan to use the money you’re investing. Why is your time horizon important? Because it can affect how well your portfolio can handle the ups and downs of the financial markets.
Someone who was planning to retire in 2008 and was heavily invested in the stock market faced different challenges from the financial crisis than someone who was investing for a retirement that was many years away, because the person nearing retirement had fewer years left to let their portfolio recover from the downturn.
If you have a long-time horizon, you may be able to invest a greater percentage of your money in something that could experience more dramatic price changes but that might also have greater potential for long-term growth. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up despite its frequent and sometimes massive fluctuations.
Think long-term for goals that are many years away and invest accordingly. The longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to be able to ride out market downturns and improve your opportunities for gain.
Consider your risk tolerance
Another key factor in your retirement investing decisions is your risk tolerance—basically, how well you can handle a possible investment loss. There are two aspects to risk tolerance. The first is your financial ability to survive a loss. If you expect to need your money soon—for example, if you plan to begin using your retirement savings in the next year or so—those needs reduce your ability to withstand even a small loss. However, if you’re investing for the long term, don’t expect to need the money immediately, or have other assets to rely on in an emergency, your risk tolerance may be higher.
The second aspect of risk tolerance is your emotional ability to withstand the possibility of loss. If you’re invested in a way that doesn’t let you sleep at night, you may need to consider reducing the amount of risk in your portfolio. Many people think they’re comfortable with risk, only to find out when the market takes a turn for the worse that they’re actually a lot less risk-tolerant than they thought. Often that means they wind up selling in a panic when prices are lowest. Try to be honest about how you might react to a market downturn, and plan accordingly.
Remember that there are many ways to manage risk. For example, understanding the potential risks and rewards of each of your investments and its role in your portfolio may help you gauge your emotional risk tolerance more accurately. Also, having money deducted from your paycheck and put into your retirement plan helps spread your risk over time. By investing regularly, you reduce the chance of investing a large sum just before the market takes a downturn.
Integrate retirement with your other financial goals
Make sure you have an emergency fund; it can help you avoid needing to tap your retirement savings before you had planned to. Generally, if you withdraw money from a traditional retirement plan before you turn 59½, you’ll owe not only the amount of federal and state income tax on that money, but also a 10% federal penalty (and possibly a state penalty as well). There are exceptions to the penalty for premature distributions from a 401(k) (for example, having a qualifying disability or withdrawing money after leaving your employer after you turn 55). However, having a separate emergency fund can help you avoid an early distribution and allow your retirement money to stay invested.
If you have outstanding debt, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of saving for retirement versus paying off that debt as soon as possible. If the interest rate you’re paying is high, you might benefit from paying off at least part of your debt first. If you’re contemplating borrowing from or making a withdrawal from your workplace savings account, make sure you investigate using other financing options first, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. If your employer matches your contributions, don’t forget to factor into your calculations the loss of that matching money if you choose to focus on paying off debt. You’ll be giving up what is essentially free money if you don’t at least contribute enough to get the employer match.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Diversifying your retirement savings across many different types of investments can help you manage the ups and downs of your portfolio. Different types of investments may face different types of risk. For example, when most people think of risk, they think of market risk—the possibility that an investment will lose value because of a general decline in financial markets. However, there are many other types of risk. Bonds face default or credit risk (the risk that a bond issuer will not be able to pay the interest owed on its bonds, or repay the principal borrowed). Bonds also face interest rate risk, because bond prices generally fall when interest rates rise. International investors may face currency risk if exchange rates between
U.S. and foreign currencies affect the value of a foreign investment. Political risk is created by legislative actions (or the lack of them).
These are only a few of the various types of risk. However, one investment may respond to the same set of circumstances very differently than another, and thus involve different risks. Putting your money into many different securities, as a mutual fund does, is one way to spread your risk. Another is to invest in several different types of investments—for example, stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Spreading your portfolio over several different types of investments can help you manage the types and level of risk you face.
Participating in your retirement plan is probably more important than any individual investing decision you’ll make. Keep it simple, stick with it, and time can be a strong ally.
Financial Planning: Helping You See the Big Picture
Do you picture yourself owning a new home, starting a business, or retiring comfortably? These are a few of the financial goals that may be important to you, and each comes with a price tag attached.
That’s where financial planning comes in. Financial planning is a process that can help you target your goals by evaluating your whole financial picture, then outlining strategies that are tailored to your individual needs and available resources.
Why is financial planning important?
A comprehensive financial plan serves as a framework for organizing the pieces of your financial picture. With a financial plan in place, you’ll be better able to focus on your goals and understand what it will take to reach them.
One of the main benefits of having a financial plan is that it can help you balance competing financial priorities. A financial plan will clearly show you how your financial goals are related—for example, how saving for your children’s college education might impact your ability to save for retirement. Then you can use the information you’ve gleaned to decide how to prioritize your goals, implement specific strategies, and choose suitable products or services. Best of all, you’ll know that your financial life is headed in the right direction.
The financial planning process
Creating and implementing a comprehensive financial plan generally involves working with financial professionals to:
- Develop a clear picture of your current financial situation by reviewing your income, assets, and liabilities, and evaluating your insurance coverage, your investment portfolio, your tax exposure, and your estate plan
- Establish and prioritize financial goals and time frames for achieving these goals
- Implement strategies that address your current financial weaknesses and build on your financial strengths
- Choose specific products and services that are tailored to meet your financial objectives
- Monitor your plan, making adjustments as your goals, time frames, or circumstances change
Some members of the team
The financial planning process can involve a number of professionals.
Financial planners typically play a central role in the process, focusing on your overall financial plan, and often coordinating the activities of other professionals who have expertise in specific areas.
Accountants or tax attorneys provide advice on federal and state tax issues.
Estate planning attorneys help you plan your estate and give advice on transferring and managing your assets before and after your death.
Insurance professionals evaluate insurance needs and recommend appropriate products and strategies.
Investment advisors provide advice about investment options and asset allocation and can help you plan a strategy to manage your investment portfolio.
The most important member of the team, however, is you. Your needs and objectives drive the team, and once you’ve carefully considered any recommendations, all decisions lie in your hands.
Why can’t I do it myself?
You can, if you have enough time and knowledge, but developing a comprehensive financial plan may require expertise in several areas. A financial professional can give you objective information and help you weigh your alternatives, saving you time and ensuring that all angles of your financial picture are covered.
Staying on track
The financial planning process doesn’t end once your initial plan has been created. Your plan should generally be reviewed at least once a year to make sure that it’s up-to-date. It’s also possible that you’ll need to modify your plan due to changes in your personal circumstances or the economy. Here are some of the events that might trigger a review of your financial plan:
- Your goals or time horizons change
- You experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child, health problems, or a job loss
- You have a specific or immediate financial planning need (e.g., drafting a will, managing a distribution from a retirement account, paying long-term care expenses)
- Your income or expenses substantially increase or decrease
- Your portfolio hasn’t performed as expected
- You’re affected by changes to the economy or tax laws
What if I’m too busy?
Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of a financial crisis before beginning the planning process. The sooner you start, the more options you may have.
Is the financial planning process complicated?
Each financial plan is tailored to the needs of the individual, so how complicated the process will be depends on your individual circumstances. But no matter what type of help you need, a financial professional will work hard to make the process as easy as possible and will gladly answer all of your questions.
What if my spouse and I disagree?
A financial professional is trained to listen to your concerns, identify any underlying issues, and help you find common ground.
Can I still control my own finances?
Financial planning professionals make recommendations, not decisions. You retain control over your finances. Recommendations will be based on your needs, values, goals, and time frames. You decide which recommendations to follow, then work with a financial professional to implement them.