Active Investing

10 Years and Counting: Points to Consider as You Approach Retirement

If you're a decade or so away from retirement, you've probably spent at least some time thinking about this major life change. How will you manage the transition? Will you travel, take up a new sport or hobby, or spend more time with friends and family? Should you consider relocating? Will you continue to work in some capacity? Will changes in your income sources affect your standard of living?

When you begin to ponder all the issues surrounding the transition, the process can seem downright daunting. However, thinking about a few key points now, while you still have years ahead, can help you focus your efforts and minimize the anxiety that often accompanies the shift.

Reassess your living expenses

A step you will probably take several times between now and retirement--and maybe several more times thereafter--is thinking about how your living expenses could or should change. For example, while commuting and other work-related costs may decrease, other budget items may rise. Health-care costs, in particular, may increase as you progress through retirement.

Try to estimate what your monthly expense budget will look like in the first few years after you stop working. And then continue to reassess this budget as your vision of retirement becomes reality.

According to a recent survey, 38% of retirees said their expenses were higher than they expected. Keeping a close eye on your spending in the years leading up to retirement can help you more accurately anticipate your budget during retirement.

Consider all your income sources

First, figure out how much you stand to receive from Social Security. In early 2016, the average monthly retirement benefit was about $1,300. The amount you receive will depend on your earnings history and other unique factors. You can elect to receive retirement benefits as early as age 62, however, doing so will result in a reduced benefit for life. If you wait until your full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on your birth date) or later (up to age 70), your benefit will be higher. The longer you wait, the larger it will be.

You can get an estimate of your retirement benefit at the Social Security Administration website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your online Social Security statement, which contains a detailed record of your earnings and estimates for retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. Your retirement benefit estimates include amounts at age 62, full retirement age, and age 70. Check your statement carefully and address any errors as soon as possible.

Next, review the accounts you've earmarked for retirement income, including any employer benefits. Start with your employer-sponsored plan, and then consider any IRAs and traditional investment accounts you may own. Try to estimate how much they could provide on a monthly basis. If you are married, be sure to include your spouse's retirement accounts as well. If your employer provides a traditional pension plan, contact the plan administrator for an estimate of that monthly benefit amount as well.

Do you have rental income? Be sure to include that in your calculations. Might you continue to work? Some retirees find that they are able to consult, turn a hobby into an income source, or work part-time. Such income can provide a valuable cushion that helps retirees postpone tapping their investment accounts, giving the assets more time to potentially grow.

Some other ways to generate extra cash during retirement include selling gently used goods (such as furniture or designer accessories), pet sitting, and participating in the sharing economy--e.g., using your car as a taxi service.

Pay off debt, power up your savings

Once you have an idea of what your possible expenses and income look like, it's time to bring your attention back to the here and now. Draw up a plan to pay off debt and power up your retirement savings before you retire.

Why pay off debt? Entering retirement debt-free--including paying off your mortgage--will put you in a position to modify your monthly expenses in retirement if the need arises. On the other hand, entering retirement with a mortgage, loan, and credit-card balances will put you at the mercy of those monthly payments. You'll have less of an opportunity to scale back your spending if necessary.

Why power up your savings? In these final few years before retirement, you're likely to be earning the highest salary of your career. Why not save and invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan and/or IRAs? Aim for maximum allowable contributions. And remember, if you're 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions, which enable you to contribute an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) plan and an extra $1,000 to your IRA in 2016.

Manage taxes

As you think about when to tap your various resources for retirement income, remember to consider the tax impact of your strategy. For example, you may want to withdraw money from your taxable accounts first to allow your employer-sponsored plans and IRAs more time to potentially benefit from tax-deferred growth. Keep in mind, however, that generally you are required to begin taking minimum distributions from tax-deferred accounts in the year you turn age 70½, whether or not you actually need the money. (Roth IRAs are an exception to this rule.)

If you decide to work in retirement while receiving Social Security, understand that income you earn may result in taxable benefits. IRS Publication 915 offers a worksheet to help you determine whether any portion of your Social Security benefit is taxable.

If leaving a financial legacy is a goal, you'll also want to consider how estate taxes and income taxes for your heirs figure into your overall decisions.

Managing retirement income to result in the best possible tax scenario can be extremely complicated. Qualified tax and financial professionals can provide valuable insight and guidance.

Account for health care

In 2015, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that the average 65-year-old married couple would need $213,000 in savings to have at least a 75% chance of meeting their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health-care costs in retirement. This figure illustrates why health care should get special attention as you plan the transition to retirement.

As you age, the portion of your budget consumed by health-related costs (including both medical and dental) will likely increase. Although original Medicare will cover a portion of your costs, you'll still have deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Unless you're prepared to pay for these costs out of pocket, you may want to purchase a supplemental Medigap insurance policy. Medigap policies are sold by private health insurers and are standardized and regulated by both state and federal law. These plans cover certain specified services, but offer different combinations of coverage. Some cover all or part of your Medicare deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance costs.

Another option is Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C), which allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive health care through managed care plans and private fee-for-service plans. To enroll in Medicare Advantage, you must be covered under both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. For more information, visit medicare.gov.

Also think about what would happen if you or your spouse needed home care, nursing home care, or other forms of long-term assistance, which Medicare and Medigap will not cover. Long-term care costs vary substantially depending on where you live and can be extremely expensive. For this reason, people often consider buying long-term care insurance. Policy premiums may be tax deductible, based on a number of different factors. If you have a family history of debilitating illness such as Alzheimer's, have substantial assets you'd like to protect, or want to leave assets to heirs, a long-term care policy may be worth considering.

Ease the transition

These are just some of the factors to consider as you prepare to transition into retirement. Breaking the bigger picture into smaller categories and using the years ahead to plan accordingly may help make the process a little easier.

*Disclaimer: This commentary is provided for educational purposes only. The information, analysis and opinions expressed herein reflect our judgment as of the date of writing and are subject to change at any time without notice. They are not intended to constitute legal, tax, securities or investment advice or a recommended course of action in any given situation. All investments carry a certain risk and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Information obtained from third party resources are believed to be reliable but not guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Asset Strategy Advisors, LLC (ASA), a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, a broker-dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance offered through Charles River Financial Ins Agcy (CRFG). ASA, CRFG and Triad are separate companies.

Partnership with Pensionmark® Financial Group

We are very pleased to announce a new partnership with Pensionmark® Financial Group

About Pensionmark® Financial Group

Pensionmark® Financial Group network represents over 150 advisors and staff across 40 locations across the country with approximately 2,000 retirement plan clients. Pensionmark’s network of retirement specialists include defined contribution, defined benefit and terminal funding, not-for-profit, wealth management, and executive/deferred compensation specialists.

Our new partnership will allow us the leverage, strength, and resources of a national consulting firm while maintaining our independent business model and unbiased investment guidance. This structure is paramount to the client-advisor relationship and will provide a full-service relationship to our Defined Contribution Clients. We feel that our enhanced support on the employee-side will add great value for the Plan Sponsor by allowing us to provide solutions to participants by delivering a more comprehensive suite of services.

Added Value

We are adding a 24/7 bilingual call center for our clients' retirement plan participants. We hope that by expanding our services with Pensionmark we continue to prioritize assisting our clients with the highest level of service.

We are confident that this new partnership will deepen our Financial Wellness and Retirement Readiness services to help employees retire with dignity.

Asset Strategy Advisors is a, "well-established, highly respected institutional consulting firm that brings capabilities well beyond your typical defined contribution practice. They are a great addition and will add tremendous value to our national network,” commented Troy Hammond, President & CEO Pensionmark.

Monitoring Your Portfolio

You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically.

You probably already know you need to monitor your investment portfolio and update it periodically.

Even if you've chosen an asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to tweak it. For example, if stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won't be able to reach your financial goals. The same is true for bonds and other investments.

Do you have a strategy for dealing with those changes? You'll probably want to take a look at your individual investments, but you'll also want to think about your asset allocation. Just like your initial investing strategy, your game plan for fine-tuning your portfolio periodically should reflect your investing personality.

The simplest choice is to set it and forget it--to make no changes and let whatever happens happen. If you've allocated wisely and chosen good investments, you could simply sit back and do nothing. But even if you're happy with your overall returns and tell yourself, "if it's not broken, don't fix it," remember that your circumstances will change over time. Those changes may affect how well your investments match your goals, especially if they're unexpected. At a minimum, you should periodically review the reasons for your initial choices to make sure they're still valid.

Even Things Out

To bring your asset allocation back to the original percentages you set for each type of investment, you'll need to do something that may feel counterintuitive: sell some of what's working well and use that money to buy investments in other sectors that now represent less of your portfolio. Typically, you'd buy enough to bring your percentages back into alignment. This keeps what's called a "constant weighting" of the relative types of investments.

Let's look at a hypothetical illustration. If stocks have risen, a portfolio that originally included only 50% in stocks might now have 70% in equities. Rebalancing would involve selling some of the stock and using the proceeds to buy enough of other asset classes to bring the percentage of stock in the portfolio back to 50. The same would be true if stocks have dropped and now represent less of your portfolio than they should; to rebalance, you would invest in stocks until they once again reach an appropriate percentage of your portfolio. This example doesn't represent actual returns; it merely demonstrates how rebalancing works. Maintaining those relative percentages not only reminds you to take profits when a given asset class is doing well, but it also keeps your portfolio in line with your original risk tolerance.

When should you do this? One common rule of thumb is to rebalance your portfolio whenever one type of investment gets more than a certain percentage out of line--say, 5 to 10%. You could also set a regular date. For example, many people prefer tax time or the end of the year. To stick to this strategy, you'll need to be comfortable with the fact that investing is cyclical and all investments generally go up and down in value from time to time.

Forecast the future

You could adjust your mix of investments to focus on what you think will do well in the future, or to cut back on what isn't working. Unless you have an infallible crystal ball, it's a trickier strategy than constant weighting. Even if you know when to cut back on or get out of one type of investment, are you sure you'll know when to go back in?

Mix it up

You could also attempt some combination of strategies. For example, you could maintain your current asset allocation strategy with part of your portfolio. With another portion, you could try to take advantage of short-term opportunities, or test specific areas that you and your financial professional think might benefit from a more active investing approach. By monitoring your portfolio, you can always return to your original allocation.

Another possibility is to set a bottom line for your portfolio: a minimum dollar amount below which it cannot fall. If you want to explore actively managed or aggressive investments, you can do so--as long as your overall portfolio stays above your bottom line. If the portfolio's value begins to drop toward that figure, you would switch to very conservative investments that protect that baseline amount. If you want to try unfamiliar asset classes and you've got a financial cushion, this strategy allows allocation shifts while helping to protect your core portfolio.

Points to consider

  • Keep an eye on how different types of assets react to market conditions. Part of fine-tuning your game plan might involve putting part of your money into investments that behave very differently from the ones you have now. Diversification can have two benefits. Owning investments that go up when others go down might help to either lower the overall risk of your portfolio or improve your chances of achieving your target rate of return. Asset allocation and diversification don't guarantee a profit or insure against a possible loss, of course. But you owe it to your portfolio to see whether there are specialized investments that might help balance out the ones you have.
  • Be disciplined about sticking to whatever strategy you choose for monitoring your portfolio. If your game plan is to rebalance whenever your investments have been so successful that they alter your asset allocation, make sure you aren't tempted to simply coast and skip your review altogether. At a minimum, you should double-check with your financial professional if you're thinking about deviating from your strategy for maintaining your portfolio. After all, you probably had good reasons for your original decision.
  • Some investments don't fit neatly into a stocks-bonds-cash asset allocation. You'll probably need help to figure out how hedge funds, real estate, private equity, and commodities might balance the risk and returns of the rest of your portfolio. And new investment products are being introduced all the time; you may need to see if any of them meet your needs better than what you have now.

Balance the costs against the benefits of rebalancing

Don't forget that too-frequent rebalancing can have adverse tax consequences for taxable accounts. Since you'll be paying capital gains taxes if you sell a stock that has appreciated, you'll want to check on whether you've held it for at least one year. If not, you may want to consider whether the benefits of selling immediately will outweigh the higher tax rate you'll pay on short-term gains. This doesn't affect accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs, of course. In taxable accounts, you can avoid or minimize taxes in another way. Instead of selling your portfolio winners, simply invest additional money in asset classes that have been outpaced by others. Doing so can return your portfolio to its original mix.

You'll also want to think about transaction costs; make sure any changes are cost-effective. No matter what your strategy, work with your financial professional to keep your portfolio on track.

*Disclaimer: This commentary is provided for educational purposes only. The information, analysis and opinions expressed herein reflect our judgment as of the date of writing and are subject to change at any time without notice. They are not intended to constitute legal, tax, securities or investment advice or a recommended course of action in any given situation. All investments carry a certain risk and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Information obtained from third party resources are believed to be reliable but not guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investment Advisory Services offered through Asset Strategy Advisors, LLC (ASA), a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, a broker-dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance offered through Charles River Financial Ins Agcy (CRFG). ASA, CRFG and Triad are separate companies.

There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful; all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.