Do you think that the best sailors go into open water with no map or compass? The successful ones don’t.
Your journey to retirement is no different, except it is more important than the outcome of any sailing trip.
In my many years as a financial planner, I have seen people take more time to plan their vacations than they do their retirement. Is this because people often think they can "wing it"? Do people believe that their savings and Social Security check will keep them afloat?
The reality is that most people don’t seek sound objective financial advice before they retire, and many don’t give it much thought.
Keep in mind that retirement preparation isn’t just about saving money. It is about creating a strategy on how to use your savings, learning how to anticipate potential costs, and being able to look down the road to spot bumps before you crash into them.
Here’s the 10 most common blunders I see people making when preparing for retirement, and my advice on how to optimize and take control of your golden years.
- Not being clear on your retirement goals: When you retire, have you thought about what your day, your week, your year look like? How do you want to spend your time? Do you want to travel, spend more time with loved ones, start a new activity, or indulge in a hobby? Your lifestyle will dictate your expenses. Knowing what you want will help you plan for those goals.
- Taking Social Security too early: The longer you wait to file for Social Security, the higher your benefit will be – up to age 70. You can register as early as 62, but full retirement occurs at 66 or 67, depending on your birth year. Whether you can hold off on taking Social Security to benefit from the cost-of-living adjustments and the higher payout depends on your health and other financial resources. If you receive Social Security early, you will have earned income limits for taxation, so knowing those rules ahead of time can save you heartache down the road. It is worth your effort to understand your options.
- Not getting accurate, up-to-date information on pension options: If you have a pension with your employer, or former employer, understand your options for taking that income stream and the survivorship option available. If you think your retirement plan and savings aren’t on track, start to make changes now while you are still working. If you have a partner, be mindful of their lifetime income needs as well. When looking at your pension elections, taking less now to receive more over a lifetime may be worth the emotional and financial security.
- Underestimating health and medical costs: Did you know that health care costs in retirement tend to be the most significant expense for most aging Americans? Most people are unaware that Medicare only will cover about 80% of retirement health care costs. So, plan to purchase supplemental insurance or plan to pay the difference out of pocket. But the healthier you can stay, the less you’ll have to pay. Spend time shopping and understanding your health insurance options.
- Retiring too early: If you retire early without making realistic projections, prepare to go back to work if needed. It’s common to believe that your expenses will decline in retirement, but this tends not to be the case. Most retirees don’t aspire to have a lower standard of living in retirement. It’s vital to remember that your assets must sustain potential, and perhaps inevitable, increases in spending over the remainder of your life in retirement.
- Not considering tax impacts: While taxes may be less of a factor after retirement than before, it is crucial to factor your taxes into your base expenses. One mistake people make is waiting to take their required minimum distribution; it may make more sense to draw from your retirement accounts to pay income taxes at lower rates. With the new government stimulation, taxes most likely will go up for most Americans, not down.
- Failing to change your investment strategy: It may seem like an easy decision, but it still bears being said; you must change your investment strategy from accumulation to distribution after retirement. Consider engaging a financial professional to assist in running what-if scenarios to see if you can maintain your lifestyle when you stop working. They also can help you make smart investment choices before you cash in that last income check, and keep your portfolio balanced.
- Failing to make a contingency plan for death or divorce: Although you may not have a crystal ball into the future, there might be post-retirement circumstances that you don’t (or cannot) anticipate, such as death or divorce. By creating buffers around your accounts, you can allocate for a "worst-case scenario" and prepare for almost anything.
- Paying for college at a cost to retirement: Many parents feel it is more important to help their child pay for college than to save for their retirement. There is financial aid for higher education, but there is no financial aid for retirement.
- Retiring with a mountain of debt: Ideally, you want to enter retirement debt-free. Especially now, interest rates are so low, it may seem reasonable to have debt, but unexpected things do happen, and if loans don’t get paid off, your banker will come and take your house, your car, and your assets. Is the debt worth the risk and stress? Only have an obligation in retirement if it is necessary.
Retirement should be a new chapter in your life journey of adventure, but unless you put in the time to plan for it, it will be complicated by life events.
Take charge of your retirement and shift your mindset from passive to active. The actions you take leading up to your retirement will affect the rest of your life.
Take the time to plan out your retirement voyage and get professional help as needed.
You are worth it.