By Jamie Hopkins
In my book, “Rewirement: Rewiring the Way You Think About Retirement,” I lay out a detailed ten-step process that everyone can use while doing retirement income planning. This is also the same process that is taught to thousands of financial advisers in the Retirement Income Certified Professional education program.
However, in reality, many people are not even taking baby steps to pave the way for a financially secure retirement. For some, retirement planning seems too difficult; for others it seems like retirement won’t ever apply to them. The facts are that most workers will retire someday and, by taking a few basic steps now, they can vastly improve the outlook for their future retirement security.
A secure retirement plan is more than just savings, it’s about generating income. As Managing Director of Clear Path Financial, Brandon Levithan, CFP®, ChFC®, stressed, “many pre-retirees have a plan to accumulate retirement assets, however, they do not have an efficient plan to distribute assets over their lifetime. There are decisions that can be made many years before retirement to create more robust and more efficient income options for retirement.”
Teaching Retirement Planning
THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF FINANCIAL SERVICES
Envision Your Retirement: To get anywhere in life and achieve success, you need a vision of success. Start by envisioning what you see as a successful and financially secure future in retirement. This technique of creating a mental image of the desired outcome is used by many of the most successful professional athletes and business entrepreneurs. Athletes mentally envision how the perfect race or game will play out long before they take the field. Of course the plan doesn’t always go perfectly, but imagining the future can at least help you develop a game plan. By adopting this technique, you can set goals and realize that the future you want is achievable. Do you want to have financial independence? What does that look like for you? Does that mean you will live independently or with family? Do you want to travel or would you prefer to stay in your community? Any retirement plan starts with setting your own goals and envisioning your desired outcomes.
Review Your Current Situation: After you envision where you want to go, you then need to take a look at where you are today. We can’t get anywhere without first acknowledging and knowing where the starting line is. If you are in the early stages of your career and just getting started with savings, how are you going to handle your investments and debt management? If you are mid-career, is now the time to really ramp up your savings? Or are you in your peak earning years? As State Farm Agent Jen Sias-Lyke points out “many people hit their peak earning years in their 50s and early 60s.” But she also notes that “The closer you get to retirement, the more focus you’ll need on planning.” So as you near retirement, you need to see if your debt is under control, do you know what you are spending each and every year, and do you have a retirement date in mind?
But, for all career and life stages a few important questions always stand out. First, are you managing your debt? Second, and usually tied to the first, are you managing your expenses? The answers might mean you need to set up a more detailed budget and stick to it. And lastly, are you saving and investing appropriately? This means that you are both setting money aside for retirement and investing in assets that will provide you with returns that match your risk tolerance level. At a younger age, you should be willing to take on more risk and be more heavily invested in stocks. As you near retirement, you can take some risk off the table and invest in more bonds, CDs, and annuities.
Review Your Income Sources:
Now that you have examined your income needs in retirement, you can figure out if you will have an adequate retirement income stream. If you realize that you need $50,000 a year in retirement to achieve your goals, you will want to see if you can generate that much income. Make sure you consider all your income sources including Social Security, investment portfolios, home equity (see editor’s footnote for clarification), and possibly remaining longer in the workforce at some level. Social Security benefits depend on how much you have paid into the system, and at what point you begin collecting benefits.
Average benefits are typically around $1,500 a month but can be as high as $3,500. Making an informed and appropriate Social Security claiming decision is crucial. Another decision will be determining how to turn your savings into income, and determining how much income your investment portfolio can provide in retirement.
The 4 percent safe withdrawal rate is a good start, but it is not the solution for everyone. The 4 percent rule says that historically a 50 percent stock and 50 percent bond portfolio mix could generate 4 percent of available funds each year. If adjusted for inflation, this would last for 30 years before the retiree would run out of money. This means if you have $500,000 saved, you can safely generate $20,000 a year from it and not run out of money in retirement. You can get more income from this savings if you are willing to make adjustments to spending in down market years, but it provides a good starting point.
A financially secure retirement starts with planning. Research shows that those who have retirement plans in place have a happier, less stressful, and more financially secure retirement. While earning more money and saving regularly are important factors, you can improve your situation by cutting expenses, prioritizing expenses, and sticking to a good plan. You don’t have to buy into all the doom-and-gloom retirement predictions. Decide to be more proactive, take the first few planning steps, and begin to take charge of your financial future.
I am the Co-Director of the American College’s New York Life Center for Retirement Income and an Associate Professor of Taxation at the American College where I helped develop the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation.