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A Retirement Income Roadmap for Women

More women are working and taking charge of their own retirement planning than ever before. What does retirement mean to you? Do you dream of traveling? Pursuing a hobby? Volunteering your time, or starting a new career or business? Simply enjoying more time with your grandchildren? Whatever your goal, you’ll need a retirement income plan that’s designed to support the retirement lifestyle that you envision, and minimize the risk that you’ll outlive your savings.

When will you retire?

Establishing a target age is important, because when you retire will significantly affect how much you need to save. For example, if you retire early at age 55 as opposed to waiting until age 67, you’ll shorten the time you have to accumulate funds by 12 years, and you’ll increase the number of years that you’ll be living off of your retirement savings. Also consider:

  • The longer you delay retirement, the longer you can build up tax-deferred funds in your IRAs and employer-sponsored plans like 401(k)s, or accrue benefits in a traditional pension plan if you’re lucky enough to be covered by one.
  • Medicare generally doesn’t start until you’re 65. Does your employer provide post-retirement medical benefits? Are you eligible for the coverage if you retire early? Do you have health insurance coverage through your spouse’s employer? If not, you may have to look into COBRA or a private individual policy–which could be expensive.
  • You can begin receiving your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62. However, your benefit may be 25% to 30% less than if you waited until full retirement age. Conversely, if you delay retirement past full retirement age, you may be able to increase your Social Security retirement benefit.
  • If you work part-time during retirement, you’ll be earning money and relying less on your retirement savings, leaving more of your savings to potentially grow for the future (and you may also have access to affordable health care).
  • If you’re married, and you and your spouse are both employed and nearing retirement age, think about staggering your retirements. If one spouse is earning significantly more than the other, then it usually makes sense for that spouse to continue to work in order to maximize current income and ease the financial transition into retirement.

How long will retirement last?

We all hope to live to an old age, but a longer life means that you’ll have even more years of retirement to fund. The problem is particularly acute for women, who generally live longer than men. To guard against the risk of outliving your savings, you’ll need to estimate your life expectancy. You can use government statistics, life insurance tables, or life expectancy calculators to get a reasonable estimate of how long you’ll live. Experts base these estimates on your age, gender, race, health, lifestyle, occupation, and family history. But remember, these are just estimates. There’s no way to predict how long you’ll actually live, but with life expectancies on the rise, it’s probably best to assume you’ll live longer than you expect.

Project your retirement expenses

Once you know when your retirement will likely start, how long it may last, and the type of retirement lifestyle you want, it’s time to estimate the amount of money you’ll need to make it all happen. One of the biggest retirement planning mistakes you can make is to underestimate the amount you’ll need to save by the time you retire. It’s often repeated that you’ll need 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income after you retire. However, the problem with this approach is that it doesn’t account for your specific situation.

Focus on your actual expenses today and think about whether they’ll stay the same, increase, decrease, or even disappear by the time you retire. While some expenses may disappear, like a mortgage or costs for commuting to and from work, other expenses, such as health care and insurance, may increase as you age. If travel or hobby activities are going to be part of your retirement, be sure to factor in these costs as well. And don’t forget to take into account the potential impact of inflation and taxes.

Identify your sources of income

Once you have an idea of your retirement income needs, your next step is to assess how prepared you (or you and your spouse) are to meet those needs. In other words, what sources of retirement income will be available to you? Your employer may offer a traditional pension that will pay you monthly benefits. In addition, you can likely count on Social Security to provide a portion of your retirement income. Other sources of retirement income may include a 401(k) or other retirement plan, IRAs, annuities, and other investments. The amount of income you receive from those sources will depend on the amount you invest, the rate of investment return, and other factors. Finally, if you plan to work during retirement, your earnings will be another source of income.

When you compare your projected expenses to your anticipated sources of retirement income, you may find that you won’t have enough income to meet your needs and goals. Closing this difference, or “gap,” is an important part of your retirement income plan. In general, if you face a shortfall, you’ll have five options: save more now, delay retirement or work during retirement, try to increase the earnings on your retirement assets, find new sources of retirement income, or plan to spend less during retirement.

Transitioning into retirement

Even after that special day comes, you’ll still have work to do. You’ll need to carefully manage your assets so that your retirement savings will last as long as you need them to.

  • 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 enter 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 it generally 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 in growth investments.
  • Spend wisely. You 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 that ends when your spouse dies, or a smaller benefit that continues in whole or in part to the surviving spouse. A financial professional can help you with this difficult, but important, decision.
  • Consider which assets to use first. For many retirees, the answer is simple in theory: withdraw money from taxable accounts first, then tax-deferred accounts, and lastly, tax-free accounts. By using your tax-favored accounts last and avoiding taxes as long as possible, you’ll keep more of your retirement dollars working for you. However, this approach isn’t right for everyone. And don’t forget to plan for required distributions. 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.
  • Consider purchasing an immediate annuity. Annuities are able to offer something unique–a guaranteed income stream for the rest of your life or for the combined lives of you and your spouse (although that guarantee is subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuer). The obvious advantage in the context of retirement income planning is that you can use an annuity to lock in a predictable annual income stream, not subject to investment risk, that you can’t outlive.*

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to retirement income planning. Roshan Loungani can review your circumstances, help you sort through your options, and help develop a plan that’s right for you.   Follow Roshan Loungani on twitter (https://twitter.com/roshanloungani) or Medium (https://medium.com/@RoshanLoungani_85629/about-roshan-loungani-949dd5e6875d#.c3wmjk9sx).

Five Keys to Investing For Retirement

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 alternatives such as money market accounts 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 alternatives or bonds, even though they also involve greater risk of volatility and potential loss.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Money market funds are neither insured nor guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in such a fund.

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.

Inflation means that you’ll probably need to contribute more to your retirement plan than you think. What seems like a healthy amount now is likely to feel smaller and smaller over time.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful. And diversification alone can’t guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of loss.
The dollar cost averaging you do when you make automatic contributions to the investments in your retirement plan account involves continuous investment in a security regardless of changes in its price. You should consider your financial and emotional ability to continue making purchases during times when prices are low. Dollar cost averaging does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.