13 MONEY MISTAKES RETIREES SHOULD AVOID
1. Not having a tax-efficient retirement distribution strategy.
Each retirement account is taxed differently. If you don’t strategically withdraw from each, you could pay more in taxes than you need to. Figure out your tax bracket and look at each bucket of money to determine the most efficient way to withdraw money.
What to do: Find a fiduciary investment adviser to help develop a distribution plan.
2. Starting Social Security too early.
Although you are eligible to begin taking Social Security at age 62, you will get a reduced benefit if you do so — about 25% less than you would at your full retirement age of 66. However, if you delay to age 70, then your benefit rises another 32%. This can pay off especially well for married couples in which one is a higher earner, because the survivor will get that increased benefit.
If you haven’t started taking Social Security, consider these factors. If you already have, look into withdrawal. Social Security retirement benefits, if initiated before your full retirement age, can be withdrawn within the first 12 months after filing for benefits but any money received will have to be repaid. If you’ve already reached full retirement age, suspend benefits to receive delayed retirement credits.
3. Focusing on returns and not the real issue — how to turn retirement assets into income.
Many retirees still fixate on investment return, when they should instead look at turning their assets into predictable income. Those looking for more security will want to buy an annuity or bonds while those wanting to keep as much of their assets invested could follow some kind of withdrawal rule, such as 4% of assets a year. But if you go with the latter, have other savings to draw on if the market dips and that 4% is too small to cover your expenses.
4. Being too conservative with investments.
While financial security is a big focus in retirement, getting out of the market isn’t a safe bet either. Retirees put money in savings, money market accounts and short-term certificate of deposits that earn a low rate of return. The buying power of those dollars isn’t keeping up with inflation and taxes.
At age 65, your life expectancy is, on average, another 20 years, but if you make it to 85, then you’ve still got another 6-7 years of expenses left to cover. Don’t worry about losing money over the next six months, but making it last another 25-30 years.
5. Taking advice from friends and family on how to invest.
This is like having to get a hip replacement and going to your friend and saying, ‘How can I fix my hip?’
While your friends and family have your best interest at heart, they do not know all the various tax laws or latest retirement investing strategies.
6. Failing to appreciate the power of personal spending decisions.
You and I have very little control over our investment results. However, we can control how much of our money we spend, and what we spend it on. So make sure that when you do spend your money, it is on items that you really need and want.
What to do: Make a budget that outlines your core expenses and your desired discretionary expenses. Revisit it at least yearly.
7. Supporting your adult children.
Many retirees make gifts to their children for the down payment for a home or their grandchildren’s college educations. Or, if one child needs more financial help, the parents may feel the need to give an equal amount to their other children. The problem is that retirees cannot replace their money, while their adult children can earn money to cover these expenses.
8. Being over-invested in your house.
Many retirees are house-rich but cash poor, to the point where their house will be worth more than their retirement accounts. They’re spending 40%-50% of their income on their shelter. Your house is maybe an appreciating asset if you’re lucky, but it’s also a consuming asset, It will cost you in real estate taxes, coinsurance, utilities, services, repairs and replacements.
What to do: If you’re in this spot, see if you can downsize. If downsizing isn’t the right fit, tools like reverse mortgages could be of value in creating additional retirement income, but you should do your homework and discuss this decision with family, especially if you were planning to leave the real estate to a family member. I wouldn’t recommend refinancing or tapping home equity to invest.
9. Not recognizing how expenses change in retirement.
When you retire, some of your costs go down — such as transportation or clothing, as you buy less work attire — but other expenses go up, such as health care and long-term care for yourselves or your parents. A recent Fidelity study estimated that health care will cost $220,000 over the course of retirement, but most near-retirees estimate it to be $50,000. Similarly, the cost of long-term care is rising quickly. In 2008, the median annual rate for a private nursing home was almost $68,000, but in 2013, it was just under $84,000, according to Genworth.
What to do: With a fiduciary investment adviser, work some real numbers into your budget and project how those expenses might rise in the future.
10. Worrying more about taxes than return on investment.
Some retirees become averse to paying any tax. They end up with things like tax-free bonds that won’t allow them to keep up with inflation — even if they are in a low tax bracket.
What to do: First, get a realistic idea of your tax bracket. Then, talk with a tax advisor such as a CPA, and a fiduciary investment adviser who can help you invest and withdraw your money for the greatest return with the least tax liability.
11. Not creating an estate plan.
If you don’t have an estate plan, then you may not be able to transition your wealth to your spouse or partner or your next generation of heirs. It may create huge tax liability so there’s a lot less for your spouse, partner or kids. It may tie up assets, and the assets may not go to the people you want to have them.
What to do: Draw up a will, and designate your beneficiaries on all your financial accounts, your power of attorney and a health care proxy. Make sure there are no discrepancies among your documents. Seek a fiduciary investment adviser who can coordinate everything.
12. Spending too much early in retirement.
Overspending is especially dangerous early in retirement, because spending too much early in retirement isn’t just the loss of that money; you’re also missing out on the potential returns that money would have earned over the next 20 years. That can put you on a track to outliving your money.
What to do: If you’re not yet retired, start planning five to 10 years before you retire with a fiduciary investment adviser. Make projections on how much your pension, retirement accounts and Social Security will be, so you know exactly what your budget will be in retirement.
13. Not being on the same page as your spouse.
I sometimes see couples in which, “One is risk averse and one is not, and one will not pay any of their attention to their plans and overspend, and the other one is trying not to spend.” This amounts to not having a retirement plan because everything — from risk tolerance of investments down to spending — is a delicate balance, and being out of bounds in any one area can throw off your future.
What to do: If you and your spouse disagree, find a fiduciary investment adviser who can lay out the numbers and see what works best for you.