Objective information about financial planning, investments, and retirement plans

7 Retirement Savings Tips to Help Avoid Regret

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According to TIAA-CREF’s Ready to Retire Survey “…more than half of people approaching retirement (52 percent) say they wish they had started saving for the future sooner.”    Some key findings from the survey include:

  • “Many respondents say they wish they had made smarter financial decisions earlier in their career, including saving more of their paycheck (47 percent) and investing their savings more aggressively (34 percent).
  • Forty-five percent of participants age 55-64 say financial readiness is the most important factor in determining when they will retire, but only 35 percent say they saved in an IRA or met with a financial advisor.
  • By not making the most of these options, many Americans now feel uncertain about their financial futures, with 68 percent of those approaching retirement saying they are not prepared for what’s to come
  • These retirement savings challenges are causing Americans to reconsider their vision of retirement. Forty-two percent of survey respondents age 55-64 say they plan on working in a part-time job, and 39 percent say they’ll be more conservative about how much they spend on entertainment and other luxuries.” 

Here are 7 retirement savings tips to help you avoid regret as you approach retirement. 

Start early 

If you are just starting out in the workplace, enroll in your employer’s 401(k), 403(b), or whatever type of retirement plan they offer.  Contribute as much as you can.  If there is a match try to contribute at least enough to earn the full matching contribution from your employer, this is free money.  There is no greater ally for retirement savers than time and the magic of compounding.  As tough as it may be to save early in your career put away as much as you can reasonably afford as early as you can afford it.

Increase your contributions 

The maximum 401(k) contribution limits for 2015 are $18,000 and $24,000 for those 50 or over at any point in the year.  No matter what you are currently contributing to your plan try to increase it a bit each year.  If you are currently deferring 3% of your salary bump that to 4% or even 5% next year.  Increase a bit more the following year.  You won’t miss the money and every bit can help fund a comfortable retirement.

Start a self-employed retirement plan 

If during the course of your career you become self-employed it is still important that you save for retirement.  Starting a plan such as a SEP or Solo 401(k) can be a great way for you to put away money for retirement.  You work hard at your own business and you deserve a comfortable retirement.

Contribute to an IRA 

Anyone can contribute to an IRA.  Traditional IRAs are subject to income limits as far as the ability to make pre-tax contributions, but anyone can contribute on an after-tax basis with no income limits.  All investment gains grow tax-deferred you do need to keep track of any post-tax contributions however.  Roth IRAs can also be a good alternative; again there are income ceilings that can limit your ability to contribute.

Don’t ignore old retirement accounts 

Today it isn’t uncommon for people to have worked for five or more employers during their career.  It is important that you make an affirmative decision as to what you with your old 401(k) or other retirement account when you leave your employer.  Leave it where it is, roll it to an IRA, or to your new employer’s plan (if allowed) but don’t ignore this money.  Even smaller balances can add up especially if you have several such accounts scattered about.

By the same token make sure that you stay on top of any pensions that you might be eligible for from old employers.  Make sure these companies can find you and be sure to carefully evaluate any pension buyout offers you might receive from old employers.  These can often be a good deal for you.

Beware of toxic rollovers 

Recently I have read a number of accounts about brokers and registered reps looking for employees of large organizations and convincing them to roll their retirement accounts into questionable investments with their brokerage firms.  Certainly rolling your 401(k) into an IRA via a trusted financial advisor is a valid strategy but like anything else you need to vet the person suggesting the rollover and the investment strategy they are suggesting.

Avoid high cost financial products

Many financial advisors who make all or part of their income from the sale of financial products will often suggest high cost financial products to implement their financial recommendations.  These might include annuities, certain mutual funds, non-traded REITs, and others.  Be leery and ask about the costs and fees associated with these products.  There is nothing wrong with annuities, but many of them that are pushed by registered reps carry excessive fees and have onerous surrender charges.

In the case of mutual funds, index funds are not the end all be all.  But you should certainly ask the advisor why the large cap actively managed fund with an expense ratio of 1.25% or more that they are suggesting is a better idea than an index fund with an expense ratio of 0.15% or less.

At the end of the day starting early, investing wisely and consistently, and being careful with your retirement savings are excellent ways to avoid the regrets expressed by many of those surveyed by TIAA-CREF.

What I’m Reading: Pre-Thanksgiving Edition

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It’s an overcast Saturday here in the Chicago area.  Watching some college football and relaxing.  We are looking forward to having everyone home this upcoming week.

Here are a few financial articles I suggest checking out for some good weekend reading:

Keli Grant asks Which country gives the most to charity? at CNBC.com.

Check out Barbara Freidberg’s first piece as a fellow contributor to Investopedia How Advisors Can Help Clients Stomach Volatility.

Jonathan Clements cautions that In retirement, a big house can lead to the poor house at Market Watch.

Sterling Raskie provides An End of Year Financial Checklist at Getting Your Financial Ducks in a Row.

Ben Steverman suggests Maybe You Don’t Need Long-Term Care Insurance After All at Bloomberg.

Mike Piper answers a reader question Are Dividends More Important Than Price Appreciation? at Oblivious Investor.

Here is my most recent contribution to Investopedia Financial Advisor Salary.

Enjoy your weekend, back to college football.  I’m hoping for a big Packer victory over the hated Vikings this weekend as well.  I wish you, your families, and loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Financial Independence or Retirement – Which is the Better Goal?

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This is a post by author and financial journalist Jonathan Chevreau.  Jon is at the forefront of a movement he calls “Findependence.”  This is essentially looking at becoming financially independent so that you can pursue the lifestyle of your choosing.  This may be a form of semi-retirement, but the point is to work because you want to, not so much because you have to. Findependence is a process and a journey rather than a big financial event like the traditional concept of retirement.  I agree with Jon’s views on this issue.  Jon is the author of the book Findependence Day, be sure to check out his new site Financial Independence Hub.  

One of the problems with selling the concept of Retirement to young people is that old age just seems so impossibly far away in the distant future. The financial services industry and the mass media love to talk about retirement but let’s face it, if you’re a recent college graduate just entering the workforce, retirement is perceived as something far far in the future, just one step before the equally remote prospect of death. 

Findependence far more accessible for the young than Retirement

The pity is there’s a much better term that could be substituted for Retirement. It’s called Financial Independence or what I’ve dubbed “Findependence.” (simply a contraction of the two words.)

Financial independence is a goal that can be achieved not 30 or 40 years from now but in 10 or 15 years. It’s not unreasonable for a 25 year old just taking their first step on the career ladder and embarking on marriage, family formation and home ownership to set a goal of financial independence (or “Findependence”) by the time they’re age 40. 

Findependence is not synonymous with Retirement

Does that mean “early retirement” at such a tender age? No, because Findependence is not synonymous with Retirement. Most of us know what Retirement is but for a refresher course on Financial Independence, go to Wikipedia and search the term Financial Independence. You’ll find an entry which is simple enough to grasp: financial independence is the state of being able to have enough financial wealth to live “without having to work actively for basic necessities.”

If you’re findependent, your assets generate income greater than your expenses. Note that Findependence is not correlated with age. If you have modest means and have been frugal enough to build up a nest egg in 10 or 15 years, you may well be “findependent” by age 40 or so. Conversely, if you’re a high-earning high-spending professional who requires hundreds of thousands of dollars of income a year, findependence may not be in your grasp even by the traditional age of retirement.

You can see why people often confuse the terms since two ways of generating passive income is often employer pensions and Social Security or other pensions paid by governments. These particular income sources do not begin until one’s late 50s or 60s. But again, if your needs are modest, you might well be able to establish early findependence solely with a portfolio of dividend-paying stocks, perhaps supplemented by part-time jobs or freelance work. 

Boomertirement

For baby boomers, the so-called “New Retirement” will often prove to be a variant of Findependence and traditional Retirement. Very few boomers, even if they have the financial means, will embrace the traditional “full-stop” retirement of their parents who enjoyed Defined Benefit pension plans. The older generation may have experienced the gold watch and a quarter century of golf, bridge, reading but boomers are much more likely to embrace a semi-retirement that consists partly of employer pensions, supplemented by government pensions, taxable investment income and part-time employment income, and perhaps the fruits of certain creative endeavors: royalties from literary or musical creations, licensing fees from various entrepreneurial ventures, fees from serving as corporate directors and other sources of income. 

Jonathan Chevreau is a financial journalist and author.  He is the author of the book  Findependence Day.   The original version of this post appeared on his new site Financial Independence Hub.  Jon is a must follow on Twitter

Should You Accept a Pension Buyout Offer?

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Corporate pension buyout offers have been in the news lately with Hartford Financial Services offering lump-sum payment options to former employees and with Boeing offering a choice of lump-sum or annuity payments to a similar group.

Other major corporations have made similar offers in recent years including General Motors, who actually offered retired employees a “pension do-over.”

The answer to the question of whether you should accept a pension buyout offer is that it depends upon your situation.  Here are a few things to consider.

Are they sweetening the deal? 

I don’t know the details of either the Hartford or the Boeing offers but I have to think they are offering these former employees some sort of incentive to forgo their normal pension and to take the buyout offer.  Perhaps the lump-sum is a bit larger and in the case of the Boeing offer the annuity payments are a bit better.  Or perhaps there normally wouldn’t be a lump-sum option available from the pension plan so this in and of itself is an incentive.

Remember the incentive for the companies offering these deals is to get rid of these future pension liabilities.  The potential cost savings and impact on their future profitability is huge. 

Can you manage the lump-sum? 

The decision to take your pension as a lump-sum vs. a stream of payments is always a tough decision.  A key question to ask yourself is whether you are equipped to manage a lump-sum payment.  Ideally you would be rolling this lump-sum into an IRA account and investing it for your retirement.  Are you comfortable managing this money?  If not are you working with a trusted financial advisor who can help you?

There has been much written about financial advisors who troll large organizations (both governmental and corporate) looking for large numbers of folks with lump-sums to rollover.  In some cases these advisors have moved this rollover money into investments that are wholly inappropriate for these investors.  As always be smart with you money and with your trust.  Be informed and ask lots of questions.

Do you have concerns about the company’s financial health? 

Do you have doubts about the future solvency of the organization offering the pension?  This pertains to both a public entity (can you say Detroit?) and to for-profit organizations like Hartford Financial and Boeing.  In the latter case pension payments are guaranteed up to certain monthly limits set by the PBGC.  If you were a high-earner and your monthly payment exceeds this limit you could see your monthly payment reduced.

While I am not familiar with the financial state of either Hartford Financial or Boeing I’m guessing their financial health is not a major issue.  However if you receive a buyout offer you might consider taking it if you have concerns that your current or former employer may run into financial difficulties down the road.

Who guarantees the annuity payments? 

If the buyout offer includes an option to receive annuity payments make sure that you understand who is guaranteeing these payments.  Typically if a company is making this type of offer they are looking to reduce their future pension liability and they will transfer your pension obligation to an insurance company.  They will be the one’s making the annuity payments and ultimately guaranteeing these payments.

This is not necessarily a bad thing but you need to understand that your current or former employer is not behind these payments nor is the PBCG.  Typically if an insurance company defaults on its obligations your recourse is via the appropriate state insurance department.  The rules as to how much of an annuity payment is covered will vary.

An additional consideration in evaluating a buy-out option that includes annuity payments of this type is the fact that most of these annuities will not include cost of living increases.  This means that the buying power of these payments will decrease over time due to inflation. 

What other retirement resources do you have? 

If you will be eligible for Social Security and/or have other pension plans it quite possibly will make sense to take a buyout offer that includes a lump-sum.  Take a look at all of your retirement accounts and those of your spouse if you are married.  This includes 401(k) plans, 403(b) accounts, IRAs, etc. This is a good time to take stock of your retirement readiness and perhaps even to do a financial plan if don’t have a current one in place.

The Bottom Line

I’m generally a fan of pension buyout offers, especially if there is a lump-sum option.  As with any financial decision it is wise to look at your entire retirement and financial situation and to have a plan in place to manage this money.  Where an annuity is also available you need to understand who will be behind the annuity and to analyze whether this is a good deal for you.  I suspect that pension buyout offers will continue to be offered by more and more organizations seeking to reduce their pension liability.  You need to be prepared to deal with an offer if you receive one.

Your 401(k) – A To Do List for the Rest of 2014

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In a recent post Eight Financial To Do Items for the Rest of 2014, I outlined several items for your financial to do list for the rest of 2014.  One of those items was to review your 401(k) plan.  Here are a few more steps to take with your 401(k) plan yet this year.

Review your salary deferral amount

The maximum dollar amount that you can defer from your salary is $17,500 or $23,000 if you are 50 or over at any point during 2014.  If you are not on track to max out your contributions now is a good time to see if you can increase your salary deferral percentage even by 1%.  In the long run this will put you that much farther ahead in your question to build a retirement nest egg.

Review and if needed rebalance your account

Both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average have hit a number of new record highs during 2014 on the heels of a very solid 2013.  In fact the S&P 500 Index is up almost threefold since the market lows of March, 2009.  If you haven’t recently rebalanced the asset allocation of your account back to your target allocation this is an excellent time to do so.  Better still if your plan offers auto rebalancing this is a great time to sign up if you haven’t already.

Be aware of any changes to the plan

Fall is open enrollment time for employee benefits for many companies.  While changes to the level of your salary deferral contributions as well as to the investment choices you make can be done throughout the year, many companies choose this time frame to announce changes to their plan for the upcoming year.  This might include the level of the employer match, the addition of a Roth 401(k) feature, or changes to the menu of investment choices available to you.  You need to be aware of any and all changes to the plan and be ready to make any applicable adjustments based upon your situation.

Be cautious when it comes to company stock 

Perhaps as a sub-set of the rebalancing section mentioned earlier if your account includes an investment in your company’s stock this is a good time to review how much you have allocated there and if needed pare that amount down.  There are no hard and fast rules but many financial advisors suggest keeping your allocation to company stock to 10% or less.  The rational here is that you already depend upon your employer for your livelihood; if the company runs into problems you might find yourself unemployed and holding a lot of devalued company stock in your retirement plan.

Get a handle on any old 401(k) accounts 

It’s not uncommon for folks to have several old 401(k) accounts from former employers.  It’s also not uncommon for these accounts to be neglected and unwatched.  If this describes you make this the year to get your arms around these accounts and make some decisions.  Roll them over to an IRA or if eligible to your current 401(k) plan.  If leaving one or more of them with that former employer is a good decision make sure you monitor the account, rebalance when needed, etc.  The point is even if these accounts are relatively small they can add up and help as you save for retirement.  Take charge and take affirmative action here.

Understand your options should you leave your current employer 

Let’s face it the last part of the year is often when companies do layoffs.  If you suspect that you will be impacted in this way you should at least start thinking about what you will do with your 401(k) account.  The same holds true if you are looking for a new job or considering going out on your own.

As we head into football season, the kid’s activities at school, and the holidays please make some time to tend to these and perhaps other items in connection with your 401(k) plan.  For many of us our 401(k) is our primary retirement savings vehicle, make sure that it is working hard for you.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. 

The Plutus Awards – Finance Blogs to Read and Discover

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The finalists for the 2014 Plutus Awards which celebrates the best in personal finance blogging were recently announced.  Check out the official announcement here.  I was very honored and flattered to have this blog named as a finalist in the Best Financial Planner Blog category.

What is most gratifying is that the finalists were chosen by other finance bloggers.  I am humbled by and grateful for being selected as a finalist among all of these outstanding finance blogs.  I read many of them and plan to check out the ones that I am not familiar with.

If you are looking for a list of finance blogs to read and learn from here is list of the finalists by category:

Best New Personal Finance Blog

FITnancials
Listen, Money Matters!
Rock Star Finance
Stapler Confessions
ValerieRind.com

Best-Kept Secret Personal Finance Blog

Debt Discipline
Free From Broke
L Bee and the Money Tree
The Frugal Exerciser
Wealthy Single Mommy

Best Designed Personal Finance Blog

Be Wealthy & Smart
Budget Blonde
Christian PF
Financially Blonde
Good Financial Cents

Most Humorous Personal Finance Blog

The Empowered Dollar
Financial Uproar
Frugalwoods
Len Penzo dot Com
Punch Debt in the Face

Best Microblog

@JimYih
@MMarquit
@MoneyCrashers
@rockstarfinance
@wisebread

Best Personal Finance Podcast

Cash Car Convert
Dough Roller
Listen Money Matters
Money Plan SOS
Stacking Benjamins

Best Retirement Blog

Escaping Dodge
Financial Mentor
Mr. Money Mustache
Retire by 40
Retire Happy

Best Entrepreneurship Blog

Beat the 9 to 5
Careful Cents
Create Hype
Microblogger
My Wife Quit Her Job

Best Blog for Teens/College Students/Young Adults

Broke Millennial
Making Sense of Cents
TeensGotCents
The Broke and Beautiful Life
Young Adult Money

Best International Personal Finance Blog

Monster Piggy Bank
Reach Financial Independence
The Skint Dad Blog
The Money Principle
Miss Thrifty

Best Canadian Personal Finance Blog

Blonde on a Budget
Boomer & Echo
Canadian Budget Binder
Canadian Finance Blog
Money after Graduation

Best Religious Personal Finance Blog

Bible Money Matters
Christian PF
Indebted and in Debt
Luke1428
Out of Your Rut

Best Tax Blog

The Blunt Bean Counter
Tax Girl
JoeTaxpayer
TaxProfBlog
The Wandering Tax Pro

Best Deals and Bargains Blog

$5 Dinners
Bargain Babe
Bargain Briana
CouponMom
Hip2Save

Best Frugality Blog

Club Thrifty
Frugal Rules
I Am That Lady
Pretty Frugal Living
Stapler Confessions

Best Debt Blog

Dear Debt
Debt Roundup
Enemy of Debt
Money Plan SOS
The Frugal Farmer

Best Investing Blog

Dividend Mantra
Financial Mentor
Investor Junkie
Personal Dividends
The College Investor

Best Contributor/Freelancer for Personal Finance

Cat Alford
Jason Steele
Michelle Schroeder
Miranda Marquit
Stefanie O’Connell

Best Green/Sustainability Blog

DIY Natural
Prairie Eco-Thrifter
Sustainable Life Blog
Sustainable Personal Finance
The Frugal Farmer

Best Financial Planner Blog

Financially Blonde
Good Financial Cents
Nerd’s Eye View
Mom and Dad Money
The Chicago Financial Planner

Lifetime Achievement

FMF (Free Money Finance )
FrugalTrader (Million Dollar Journey)
Jim Wang (Bargaineering)
Lazy Man (Lazy Man And Money)
Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

BLOG OF THE YEAR

Afford Anything
Broke Millennial
Canadian Finance Blog
The Empowered Dollar
Making Sense of Cents
Mr. Money Mustache
PT Money
Stacking Benjamins
Wealthy Single Mommy
Wise Bread

Congratulations to all of the finalists.  Note I did leave off a couple of categories that were mostly internal blogging resources.

There is plenty of excellent personal finance information contained in the list above, time to get reading.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. 

Pension Payments – Annuity or Lump-Sum?

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I’m often asked by folks approaching retirement whether to take their pension as a lump-sum payment or as an annuity (a stream of monthly payments).  Investment News recently published this excellent piece on this topic which is worth reading.

As with much in the realm of financial planning the answer is that “it depends.”  Everybody’s situation is different.  Here are some factors to consider in deciding whether to take your pension payments as an annuity or as a lump-sum.

Factors to consider 

Among the factors to consider in determining whether to take your pension payments as an annuity or as a lump-sum are: 

  • What other retirement assets do you have?  These might include:
    • IRA accounts
    • 401(k) or 403(b) accounts
    • Taxable investments such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or others
    • Cash and CDs
  • Will you be eligible for Social Security?
  • Will the monthly pension payments be fixed or will they include cost of living increases?
  • Are you comfortable managing a lump-sum yourself and/or do you have a trusted financial advisor to help you?
  • What are your expectations for future inflation? 
  • What is your current tax situation and what are your expectations for the future?

Factors that favor taking payments as an annuity 

An annuity might be the right option for you if:

  • You have sufficient other retirement resources and are seeking to diversify your sources of income during retirement.
  • You are uncomfortable with managing a large lump sum distribution.
  • You are not eligible for Social Security.
  • Your pension payments have potential cost of living increases built-in (typical for public sector plans but not for private pensions).

Factors that favor taking payments as a lump-sum 

A lump-sum distribution might be the right option for you if:

  • You are comfortable managing your own investments and/or work with a financial advisor with whom you are comfortable.
  • You have doubts about the future solvency of the organization offering the pension.  This pertains to both a public entity (can you say Detroit?) and to a for-profit company.  In the latter case pension payments are guaranteed up to certain monthly limits set by the PBGC.  If you were a high-earner and your monthly payment exceeds this limit you could see your monthly payment reduced.
  • You are eligible for Social Security payments. 

The factors listed above favoring either the annuity or lump-sum options are not meant to be complete lists, but rather are intended to stimulate your thinking if you are fortunate enough to have a pension plan and the plan offers both payment options.  A full listing for each option would be much longer and might vary based upon your unique situation.

Moreover the decision as to how to take your pension payments should be made in the overall context of your retirement and financial planning efforts.  How does each payment method fit?

Lastly those evaluating these options should be aware of predatory financial advisors seeking to convince retirees from major corporations and other large organizations to roll their retirement plan distributions over to IRA accounts with their firm.  While this issue has seen a lot of recent press in terms of 401(k) plans it is also an issue for those eligible for a lump-sum pension distribution. If you are working with a trusted financial advisor an IRA rollover can be a viable option, but in some cases rollovers have been directed to questionable investment options putting many retirement investors at risk.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra.