Getting ready to retire involves more than just setting aside a nest egg, especially in the final years before "R" day, financial planners here say.
Financial planners tend to move up on their clients' speed-dial lists as they seek more frequent checkups on their retirement plans, says Jerry Felts, principal at Jerry Felts CFP, of Spokane.
In those closing years, people go through a to-do list of preparations for the transition into retirement, including making a retirement budget, converting savings into income, deciding when to collect Social Security benefits, choosing health care options, and planning what they'll do with their time, Felts says.
Even before thenat around age 50clients should consider including long-term care insurance in their plans, says John Marcheso, principal at Marcheso & Associates Inc., of Coeur d'Alene.
"The cost of doing it at that age is a lot less than trying to do it at 65 or 70," Marcheso says.
Likewise, Felts says, starting a long-term care policy at age 50 is more based on age than how close the person is to retirement.
"You don't want an extended stay in nursing home and lose everything you've built up," Felts says.
Also, periodically check wills and estate plans to ensure they're in order, he suggests.
Such plans clarify intentions, reduce tax liabilities, and avoid unintentional disinheriting. Felts says he includes wills on his pre-retirement checklist, because most American adults don't have them.
At about five years before retirement, planners can help clients firm up estimates for what they can afford to spend in retirement and recommend further ways to save and invest, Marcheso says.
Tips published in the Wall Street Journal last year on a five-year plan to retirement also suggest using free or low-cost services such as Fidelity Investments' Retirement Income Planner and Charles Schwab's Real Life Retirement Services.
Some of the biggest concerns among people preparing to retire are inflation, taxes, and health care, Marcheso says.
"You have to have a plan that's flexible enough to adjust for certain variables, including inflation," he says. "People can cut some things from their budgets, but they can't take energy and food out of the budget."
In those years, people should revisit their risk tolerance for retirement investments, or adjust their financial goals.
"Clients might say they need $75,000 in annual income. It might be hard to do that without a considerable amount of risk," Marcheso says. "They have to be judicious and manage expectations."
Although people over 50 years old can sock extra funds into their 401(k) plans, they still should consider their anticipated post-retirement taxes.
"If the client believes taxes will be higher in the future, the tax on their retirement plan might be onerous," Marcheso says. "If taxes are going to be higher, they might look into converting or adding toa Roth IRA, which has nontaxable growth with tax-free withdrawals after retirement."
There are some up-front tax costs to doing such a conversion, but for many people, the long-run benefits of such a conversion exceed the costs, Felts says.
"For the last two years, Uncle Sam has allowed people to do qualified conversions to stretch out the tax bill," he says.
A financial planner also can help clients look into supplemental plans that have tax advantages at retirement, Marcheso says.
Certain life insurance policies are designed as tax-advantaged investments, he says.
"If they're properly structured, the policy holder can take out funds tax free as a retiree," Marcheso says. "As a supplemental retirement plan, it can be a good opportunity for higher net worth people."
Felts says a common fallacy is for people to assume they'll be in a lower tax bracket after they retire.
"We've found about 70 percent will be in the same bracket," he says.
Another fallacy people fall into when planning retirement is that they won't need as much money after they retire as before. For instance, people who plan to focus more on their hobbies in retirement should take into account how much money they will need to feed those interests.
"They might find they want to take up travel," he says, adding that would add a considerable component to their budgets.
Retirees shouldn't deny themselves hobbies, though, Marcheso says, adding that retirees who don't pursue hobbies or interests tend to have a less healthy retirement than those who do.
"The more they think about what they're going to be doing with their time, the better off they're going to be," he says. "Retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be if you don't know what to do with your time."
Felts says people approaching retirement age should look at cutting expenses where they can. He's seen an increase in the number of people who still owe on home mortgages as they approach retirement.
"If you can concentrate on paying off the mortgage, it helps," he says, adding that "minimizing outgo" has the same effect as increasing income.
Sometime around age 60, many clients face the decision over when to start receiving Social Security benefits, Felts says.
Those who elect to delay receiving benefits after becoming eligible at age 62 receive higher payments later, up to age 70.
"It's a question of whether they can afford to retire at 62," Felts says. "We do a Social Security analysis to see whether you should take it at62, or 65, or 67."
The U.S. Social Security Administration and the AARP, the nonprofit advocacy group for people over 50, also offer retirement-benefit calculators and tips on their websites.
For clients without earned income sufficient to reduce immediate Social Security benefits, he recommends taking them earlier rather than later.
"Most often, if you can keep it and not have to pay it back, we recommend taking it as early as possible," Felts says.
People should apply for Social Security payments three to four months before they want to start receiving retirement benefits.
Felts recommends that people who plan to retire before they're eligible for Medicare seek individual health-care coverage, even if their employer group plan remains in effect for a time after retirement. Those who have remaining employer coverage usually are eligible to receive it only for 18 months. Because of that, people who retire more than 18 months before they're 65 shouldn't wait until the employer's group insurance lapses before seeking additional coverage, he says.
"What if they are healthy when they retire at age 60 and they have a serious health issue before they turn 61-1/2? They might not be able to get individual coverage," Felts says. Medicare coverage kicks in at age 65.
In the final year preceding retirement, people with retirement investments should restructure them into reliable income vehicles, he says.
"Hopefully, they can get income off dividends from investments rather than cashing in stocks and bonds," Felts says.
The goal is to use retirement assets to supply income without withdrawing more than 4 percent or 5 percent of the total value of assets annually, he says. Ideally, that strategy would provide the same amount of spendable dollars year over year, he says.
If an employer has a pension plan, it likely would have a number of options for retirement benefits. The retiree should be mindful that some options could unintentionally disinherit a spouse upon the death of the pensioner, Felts says.
"A lot of times, maxing out payments goes to the retiree and not the spouse when pensioner dies," Felts says. "If they want the pension to go to the spouse, they are going to have to take less income."
When it's all said and done, many people don't have the desire or financial resources to retire completely. For some of them, retirement will mean slowing down rather than ending their careers, Felts says. Some people start up new enterprises in their retirement, such as consulting services in their areas of expertise, to supplement retirement income, he says.
"A lot of people want to go to part time in the same position or one they would enjoy more," he says. "Most of them are doing it to supplement retirement income."
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