How to Convert an IRA to a Roth IRA

Is a Roth conversion right for you?

Moving your money from a traditional IRA or 401k and into a Roth IRA can be a smart choice for your future finances. But, while the mechanics of a Roth conversion are simple, it’s important to get the full picture to find out if it will benefit you in the long term.

In this post, we share everything you need to know about doing a Roth conversion, including what a Roth conversion is, why you may choose to do one, and the process of moving your money between these two different types of accounts.

You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

The differences between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA

A traditional IRA or 401k is considered pre-tax money. It gives you an immediate tax benefit. So, for example, you may be using salary deferrals to contribute to a 401k which automatically comes off your income for the year. When you withdraw from a traditional IRA, then the money becomes taxable, similar to a paycheck.

A Roth IRA contains after-tax dollars, but it grows tax-free, and you won’t be taxed when you withdraw it. Say you contribute $50,000 to a Roth IRA that’s invested in the market, and it grows to $100,000 or even $200,000. You can withdraw this without being taxed.

So, these are the two key differences:

  • Traditional IRAs and 401ks are pre-tax (but you’ll pay tax on withdrawal)
  • Roth IRAs use after-tax money (but you get a tax benefit later)

One thing that is the same between the two accounts is how you invest. You can invest both a traditional IRA and Roth IRA exactly the same.

How much of a traditional IRA can you convert to a Roth IRA?

Broadly speaking, you can convert 100% of your traditional IRA or 401k into a Roth IRA. There are no conversion limits. So, if you have $1 million in your traditional IRA, you can convert the entire $1 million into a Roth IRA.

But don’t get conversion and contributions mixed up. There are contribution limitations. However, these depend on your age and income.

How to convert your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA

Converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA is a simple process, similar to switching any account. The easiest way to do a Roth conversion is when both IRAs are held at the same institution.

For example, if you had a traditional IRA at Charles Schwab and wanted to do a Roth conversion, the easiest option is to open a Roth IRA also at Charles Schwab. Then it’s a straightforward transfer to move your money from your traditional account into your Roth account. You just have to know how much you want to convert, then sign the document and the custodian (in this case Charles Schwab) will take care of the rest.

If your traditional IRA and Roth IRA accounts aren’t held at the same institution, the process is almost the same, but with a few extra steps. It’s best to check with your traditional IRA or 401k account holder to find out what their exact process is, and they’ll help you through it.

Taxes: what to look out for when converting

When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes as you’re moving money out of a pre-tax account and into an account for after-tax dollars only.

You might consider holding back some money to cover these taxes. However, we believe this isn’t the best option. You may not be able to make contributions to your Roth IRA, so a conversion is the only way to put as much money as you can in this tax-free account. So, we advise converting 100% of your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and paying the taxes from another account, such as savings or a brokerage account.

Say you want to convert $30,000 from your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. First, you should make sure you have enough money outside of your traditional IRA to cover the taxes. On $30,000, these taxes may equate to around $6,000. If you decide to take that $6,000 from your IRA money, you’re putting yourself at a long-term disadvantage. The tax-free growth of a Roth IRA means you should put as much money in as possible to reap the future benefits.

Depending on your tax situation, you may need to think strategically about how much you can convert. You don’t want to end up in a higher tax bracket because you converted too many extra dollars. If you’re unsure about how much you can convert without changing your tax bracket, speak to your financial planner or advisor who can help you play with the numbers.

Why you need to consider future tax

The number one reason to do a Roth conversion is to protect against higher tax rates in future. The idea is to pay lower tax rates now and avoid rising ones later down the line. So, if you believe that your taxes will be lower in future, a Roth IRA will not make sense for you.

If you currently have a high-income rate, say $250,000, but are expecting this to drop to $60,000 in 15-20 years, then you could be paying less tax in future. However, if tax rates rise, you may pay a higher percentage, even though you’re earning a lower amount. So, the question is, would you still convert?

In this situation, one solution is to do smaller conversions and split your money into both pre-tax and after-tax assets. Ultimately, we don’t know what might happen in the future, so you will need to think carefully about whether a conversion is really right for you and put a strategy in place.

How to avoid required minimum distributions with a Roth conversion

Any pre-tax account, including traditional IRAs, 401ks, and 403bs, are subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs). These are to make sure that you do eventually pay tax on this money. At age 72, you’ll be required to take withdrawals from your pre-tax account based on your life expectancy.

Another reason many people choose to do a Roth conversion is to avoid these RMDs. You may prefer to pay your taxes now rather than on RMDs at age 72. If you’re already at this age, it becomes more challenging to do a Roth conversion as the IRS requires you to take the RMDs every year.

Say you have $1 million in a traditional IRA and your RMD for that year is $50,000. If you want to do a Roth conversion, you have to take the $50,000, put it in your bank, pay the taxes on it, and only then can you proceed with the Roth conversion. So, if you wanted to convert $20,000 from your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, you could do this after you’ve taken and paid tax on your RMD. It’s important to note that this means you’ll have to pay tax on both amounts, so $70,000 in total that’s been added to your income for the year.

Our advice is, if you’re planning to do a Roth conversion, don’t wait until you’re RMD age.

It’s important to look at the whole picture when deciding whether to do a Roth conversion. Tax numbers can be confusing, so it’s best to find out what solution suits your specific situation. If you want to get more insight on converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, you can book a complimentary 15-minute call with us and we’ll discuss what option is right for you.

How the SECURE Act and Cares Act Affect Your IRA

Changes made in 2019 have affected a lot of people’s retirement accounts and how they work for their beneficiaries. It’s important for anyone with an IRA to know how the Secure Act and Cares Act affect their IRA because the changes are both good and bad.

The SECURE Act and Your IRA

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was signed into law on December 20, 2019. Changes under the SECURE Act have both good and bad points, which have many people confused. These changes include:

Repeal on Age Restriction for Contributions

Before the ACT passed, you couldn’t contribute to your traditional IRA after you reached 70 ½. Now, you can continue making contributions after this age, which is beneficial for people that continue working after they reach 70 ½ age.

You will need to have eligible compensation to be able to make these contributions.

New 10% Early Distribution Penalty Exception

Exceptions are now given for adoption expenses along with the birth of a child. If you take distributions before 59 ½, any portion of the distribution that is taxable is subject to a 10% additional tax.

This is a steep penalty, and since most people don’t realize that they’ll suffer a 10% penalty until they do their taxes at the end of the year.

Under the new rules, there is a $5,000 exemption per participant if you want to take money out for qualified adoption or birth expenses. The changes are beneficial for anyone that plans to adopt or have a child and needs to find some way to pay for these expenses.

Death of the Stretch IRA

People save in retirement accounts because of tax deferment. You can allow compound interest to work for your retirement account and grow your money more without paying taxes now.

If you die, your beneficiaries can also leverage this same deferment to a certain extent.

Prior to the SECURE Act

A designated beneficiary could stretch distributions for your life expectancy. For a beneficiary, this was highly desirable because assets would remain in the account and grow year-over-year and only have to pay beneficiary required minimum distributions.

The practice was a great way to build wealth.

With a Roth IRA, the distributions became tax free with a qualified event, such as the death of the owner. For many beneficiaries, this was one of the most devastating changes under the SECURE Act.

The SECURE Act changed it so that the stretch IRAs now requires beneficiaries to drain the account in the first 10 years after the account owner’s death. The rule is in place for most non-spouse beneficiaries.

Distributions are optional from year 1 – 9, but if you don’t drain the account, you must increase it by the end of year 10.

A few exceptions are if the beneficiaries are:

  • Disabled
  • Chronically ill
  • Minor child
  • Spouse of the deceased

Even with a minor child, once the child hits the age of majority, the account is switched to the new 10-year period.

A lot of articles seem to miss on exception, which is if the beneficiary is no more than 10 years younger than the account owner. You’ll be able to take a distribution of the account over your lifetime.

What does this mean for you?

The stretch is available for older beneficiaries, which is a nice perk that is offered to eligible for certain beneficiaries. For any beneficiaries that are listed above, the stretch exists otherwise the SECURE Act does remove the stretch IRA.

Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) and Why You May Want to Make Them

QCDs shouldn’t be tied into your required minimum distributions. You can begin QCDs as long as you’re 70 ½ at the age of distribution. The Cares Act allows you to make a QCD without needing to take a required distribution.

A lot of financial managers are excited with changes to the QCD because, under the old rules, if you took a distribution from your retirement account, any pre-taxed amount is included in your income.

The exception is if you make a QCD to an eligible charity.

It’s vital that the charity be eligible because if the distribution is made to the charity, the distribution will be tax-free. You can do this up to $100,000 per person each year. Churches are included in this tax-free distribution treatment.

Note: Under the SECURE Act, you don’t have to start taking out your required minimum distribution (RMD) until you’re 72.

CARES Act and Its Importance to Your IRA, 401(k), etc.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act also has some important changes for your retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, the RMDs aren’t required for 2020.

Under the CARES Act, if you lost your employment or income, you can take up to $100,000 in distributions from your account in 2020. You won’t need to claim 100% of the distribution on your taxes, but you can spread it across three years instead.

You’ll also not have to take a penalty due to the coronavirus-related distribution.

Qualifying for the distribution requires you to be a qualified individual, which falls into the following categories:

  • Test positive for COVID-19 (you, household member, etc.), or
  • Have your income, or a household member negatively impacted due to the coronavirus

If you took someone into your home this year, you could take this benefit if the person is experiencing hardship because of the pandemic. 

The IRS hasn’t mentioned how they will verify that your claims are true.

The CARES Act isn’t subject to that 10% early distribution penalty mentioned earlier.

Note: Many 401(k) plans don’t allow this distribution. You may be able to treat the distribution as a coronavirus distribution.

RMDs and 2021 Possibilities

A lot of advisers were uncertain of what changes may occur in 2021 as the pandemic lingered and even surged to start 2021. There was lot of speculation that there may be some RMD benefits, but this doesn’t seem to be the case as of April 2021.

It seems that those 72 or older will have to resume their RMDs in 2021, with a few changes to keep in mind:

  • You can postpone your 2021 RMD to April 1, 2022, but you will need to take two RMDs and risk having to pay higher taxes if the distribution puts you into a new tax bracket.
  • It’s expected that new legislation will take place in 2021, so you may want to hold off on your RMD because it’s possible that they could be affected.
  • Life expectancy tables have been updated by the IRS and will affect your RMD. The changes will reduce a 72’s first RMD by 6.57% under the change.

Congress has also signaled some interest in pushing the starting age for an RMD up to 75 years old, but it remains to be seen whether this type of legislation will be approved.

If you’re turning 72 this year, you will have to take your first RMD by April 1, 2022.

Overall, the SECURE and CARES Acts have changed IRA RMDs and have some tax advantages. If you’re confused about the changes, speaking to an adviser can add some clarity and help you make the most out of your retirement accounts.

If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

Buy and Hold is Dead: Why Risk Management is Fundamental in Today’s World

Buy and sell investments were all the rage just a few years ago. People would invest in a new, hot tech stock, hold on to it and reap the benefit of their shares rising drastically. Warren Buffett was a major supporter of buying and holding, and the strategy led him to being one of the richest men in the world.

We’re here to tell you that the buy and hold is dead for the individual investor thanks to risk management.

Buy and Hold’s Main Flaw for Asset Allocation and Investing

Buy and hold is ideal for institutions that have an infinite lifespan. A business that can be around for a hundred years doesn’t need to concern itself with the prospect of their stock fluctuating up and down and potentially losing 50% of its value.

These institutions can continue holding until the stock recovers, which is something that a person nearing retirement may not be able to do.

A regular individual that is investing and holding is unlikely to withstand a plummeting stock market.

Risk assessment is an option that allows investors to interpret and react to a changing market. For example, the risk assessment for the most recent market crash could have helped a lot of investors keep money in their retirement and investment portfolios.

Between 1999 and 2013, the S&P 500 was below its average until mid-2013.

Tens of millions of investors needed their money during this time. For example, a person in 1999 at 55 might have needed just average returns over the next decade to retire comfortably. But the market dipped by as much as 50%, causing the investor to put his life on hold.

Massive fluctuations in the market, even over a 10-year period, can be devastating for an investor or someone that has been growing an investment portfolio for retirement because 10 years is a long time.

Risk Management is Not Timing the Market

Risk management is about the ebb and flow of the market. When the market starts to become too risky, a risk management approach will take immediate measurements in the market to reallocate investments to help avoid massive losses.

And there are a lot of approaches that we take to determine risk, including:

  • Supply and demand balances to better understand how an investment may pan out in the short-, mid- and long-term.
  • The inner workings of a market. This helps us determine what the lows and highs are for a certain industry’s stock to pinpoint potential risks that an average investor may not realize is happening in the market.

Risk management also includes another important aspect: when to get back into the market. For example, when the market began to tank in 2006, a lot of investors sold off their stock and never really got back into the market because they didn’t have the data to properly calculate their risks.

Proper risk management can alert an investor when the market is good to enter again and when, even if it’s difficult, it’s time to offload an investment.

Risk Off and How a Risk Manager Determines When It’s Time to Reduce Risk

Risk is all based on a timeframe. In most circumstances, there’s a short and long timeframe that may indicate that it’s time to offload certain stocks. A long-term timeframe may be based on supply and demand measurements, especially internally in markets where these factors aren’t witnessed by the average investor.

Oftentimes, when markets are seeing a sway in supply and demand, it’s months after these internal factors are being recorded.

Rebalancing a portfolio to remove assets that may suffer from these factors is a good idea, and you may stay out of these markets for the long-term, which can be five, six or even ten years. Short-term factors also play a role in risk management.

A short-term indicator can help a portfolio withstand short-term fluctuations, such as those seen with COVID. Stocks fell in the first-quarter of the year but rebounded, which allowed someone considering their risk to reenter the market at the right time and reap the growth seen just a quarter or two after.

Multiple timeframes can be followed, which are tailored to a specific client and based on:

  • Declining internals
  • Supply and demand
  • Improving fundamentals

Buy and hold is a good strategy for some, but as you age, risk management needs to takeover. The risks that you can face when you’re younger shouldn’t be a part of your portfolio later on in life when you have proper risk management in place.

Risk management models can help predict a market’s direction, allowing investors to capture a market’s upside while not capturing a lot of downside.

While you’ll always capture a little upside and downside, the right data and management strategy will allow you to capture more of the upside in the market, reducing risk and generating more gains in the long-term.

If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

How Does Inflation Affect Retirement?

Are you concerned about how inflation is going to affect your retirement savings?

There’s a lot of talk right now about inflation and how it’s going to change in the future. When you’re planning for retirement, this can feel like a curveball.

However, it’s no secret that inflation does impact your spending over time, especially when you’re no longer earning a monthly income. What can help is knowing how much it will impact your spending and what you can do about it.

In this post, we share everything you need to know about inflation in retirement. We illustrate how varying inflation rates can affect your savings over time and why you need to carefully consider your spending plan.

You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

How inflation has changed in recent years

Inflation can have a very real impact on your retirement funds, which is why we include it as part of your written retirement plan. But it’s important that we base the inflation rate on realistic, yet conservative figures.

To do this, we look at the average rate over the last 10 and 100 years. So, over the last century, the average inflation rate is just over 3%, which is why, when we build a retirement income plan, we set it at 3%. However, if you look at the average over the last ten years, it’s 1.7%. Therefore, we consider 3% a conservative rate as we expect inflation to be closer to the 1.7 mark.

Inflation and retirement planning

In this example, we’re going to talk about fictional retiree Cindy. Cindy is 67 years old, and she’s decided to retire now. She’s saved $1.5 million and receives $3,000 a month in Social Security.

Typically, there is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) with Social Security, which is somewhat tied to inflation. However, in this example, we are not going to include this adjustment or any other raise to Cindy’s Social Security benefits.

The key player when thinking about inflation in retirement is spending. Cindy plans to spend $7,000 a month in her early years of retirement. This is more than she plans to spend long-term because she wants to travel and do lots of activities while she’s able to. So, her initial spending in retirement will be higher than in her later years.

At age 67, Cindy will have to combine her $3,000 from Social Security with a $4,000 draw from her savings to provide her with $7,000 each month. It’s important to note here that we are factoring in a conservative 5% rate of return on Cindy’s savings.

How inflation affects spending

By adding 3% of inflation every year to her monthly spending after retirement, it’s going to require Cindy to gradually withdraw more and more from her assets. So, what does this look like year on year? Here’s how a 3% rate is projected to affect Cindy’s planned $7,000 spending each month.

  • Year one: $7,000
  • Year two: $7,300
  • Year three: $7,500
  • At age 80: $10,000
  • At age 90: $14,000

If Cindy wants to continue the lifestyle she has at age 67 through into her 80s and 90s, she’s going to have to withdraw increasingly more from her savings each year. Here, you can clearly see how inflation puts significant pressure on your savings.

In this scenario, at age 90, Cindy’s savings of $1.5 million have now dwindled down to just $56,000. With a monthly spend of $14,000, this is too uncomfortably low for us. But what if inflation isn’t as high as 3%?

How much difference 1% makes

If inflation was particularly high (around 3%) Cindy would know that she has to cut back on her spending in order to be more financially secure at age 90. However, if inflation was more in line with the most recent 10-year average (1.7%), what difference would that make?

If Cindy plans to spend $7,000 a month with a 2% inflation rise, she’ll have $765,000 left in her savings at age 90. This tiny tweak leaves her with a far more comfortable figure.

Now, we can’t choose inflation rates, but it’s important to see how much a 1% difference can impact your retirement savings. For Cindy, a higher inflation rate means she has to be more conservative with her spending, or she risks running out of her savings. But she also knows that if inflation holds steady, she can spend more comfortably for longer.

Changing your spending plan as you age

A key part of our roles as retirement planners is to help people like Cindy think through their spending. In Cindy’s case, she wants to spend more in her initial retirement years. She could live comfortably off $5,000 a month ­– the $2,000 is just extra.

Now let’s see what happens if we change Cindy’s spending based on this plan. In this example, we’ll add 3% inflation to her monthly spending of $5,000 and allow her 10 years of “fun money” – an extra $2,000 a month, with 0% inflation.

With this spending approach, Cindy would have $1.1 million left in her savings at age 90. Compared to the two other scenarios, this spending plan is more likely to give her peace of mind that her finances are secure for longer.

Navigating inflation in your retirement plan

This type of scenario is very common for our clients. People often plan to make the most of their first 5-10 years in retirement and then consider cutting back. We illustrate how spending and inflation affect our clients’ financial situations so that they can make informed decisions about their retirement plan. 

Inflation is a factor you need to take into account when planning your finances for retirement. However, it’s often not an issue to stress over. If you’re concerned about how it will impact your retirement, do reach out to your financial advisor or get in touch with us.

We offer a 15 minute complimentary call and can help put your mind at ease about inflation, saving for retirement, or any other questions you may have about preparing for retirement. Book your call with one of our advisors here.

Can You Retire Early? The Key Things You Need to Consider

Wanting to retire early is relatively common. Even if your goal was to stick it out until 67, your circumstances may have changed, or you might feel different about work than you did a couple of years ago.

And that’s OK. We speak to lots of people who are in the same scenario – looking for a viable way out that won’t jeopardize their quality of life in retirement.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the process of early retirement, including how it works, what to consider, and whether it’s the best option for you.

You can watch the video on this topic above, or to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below. Or you can read on for more…

Why do some people want to retire early?

There are lots of reasons why you might be considering early retirement. You may be feeling stressed and exhausted at work or have a new boss that you don’t get along with.

A wish to retire early isn’t always based on negative aspects of work, either. You may want to spend more time with your grandkids or start that round-the-world trip a few years earlier than you planned.

The question is: can you make it happen without endangering your financial freedom in retirement?

Retiring early – what it looks like and how it works

Retiring early may be something you can think about, but it does all depend on your finances and assets.

To show you how retiring early works, we’ve put together a detailed example which covers our process and all the things you’ll need to consider. But before we get on to that, allow us to introduce our character for this particular scenario, Cindy.

Cindy is 62 and looking to retire. She had planned to work until social security starts at 67, but she’s no longer happy in her job and wants to call it a day.

Does that sound familiar? Many of our clients are in a similar situation, so we thought it would be useful to look at whether Cindy could take early retirement.

Finances and spending

First, we need to get a picture of Cindy’s finances, assets, and spending. We want to find out:

  • Does she have any savings?
  • Does she have a pension?
  • Does she have any other forms of income?
  • What is her spending plan, and how much money will she need in retirement?

In Cindy’s case, it turns out she doesn’t have a pension or any other forms of income. But she does have a healthy savings pot, with about $1.1 million in a 401k.

She’s also projected to receive $3,000 a month in social security at 67, so that’s a good source of income to include in her retirement plan.

But what about her spending? Well, Cindy needs around $5,000 a month to cover both her essential needs and her “wants”. That could be money to spend on her grandchildren or to put towards regular vacations.

From here, we can create Cindy’s retirement income plan. This is a detailed document that sets out how she’ll use her money and how far it will stretch in retirement.

Creating a retirement income plan

Until you know what your finances will look like in retirement, it can be difficult to plan ahead and look forward to finishing work. That’s where a retirement income plan comes in.

After talking through Cindy’s finances, we’re now in a position to create her bespoke retirement income plan. To do this, we use specialist software that allows us to input all her information and make quick changes – like her chosen retirement age.

Let’s say Cindy already had an income plan which was set up for a retirement age of 67. By changing it to 62, this will affect the numbers and how much money Cindy has in leftover assets.

When creating a retirement income plan, it’s important to account for a person’s entire life – regardless of existing medical conditions or other factors. That’s why we calculate retirement assets up to age 90.

Based on Cindy’s circumstances and projected spending ($5,000 a month), this would leave her with only $100,000 at 90 if she were to retire at 62. For us, that’s not a reasonable enough buffer to say, “yes, you can retire right now”.

The problem with Cindy’s situation is that she’s too reliant on her savings assets. Even with $3,000 a month in social security (which doesn’t start for another five years), she’s drawing a lot from her savings pot each month to get by.

It’s impossible to predict what unexpected costs our retirement years will bring. That’s why Cindy’s $100,000 isn’t adequate for us to confidently say that now is the right time to retire.

And there are other things to consider too, like the cost of inflation. The inflation rate may be low at the moment, but history tells us that the average is around 3% – so that’s the figure we use when projecting retirement income and expenditure.

Consider that Cindy’s average monthly spending is around $5,000. Taking the 3% inflation rate into account, that rises to $6,800 by the time she turns 72, and over $9,000 when she’s in her 80s – meaning she be could be using more and more of her savings in later life.

What are the options?

This might sound like bad news for Cindy, but there are a few things we’d recommend.

First, she could wait it out for a couple more years. This would reduce her reliance on savings in the years before receiving social security, but it wouldn’t solve the problem of feeling dissatisfied at work.

Second, Cindy could look to reduce her spending. Again, this would reduce the draw on her assets, but it’s not ideal if she’s been looking forward to a retirement free from financial worries.

The third option, and one we’d recommend, is for Cindy to look at alternate income streams. Is there anything she’s always wanted to do that would pay an income, even if it means taking a significant pay cut compared to her current job?

Whether it’s selling artwork or becoming a part-time gardener, Cindy could quit her job and still earn income elsewhere. This would protect her savings and give her a greater safety net in later life.

Say, for example, she started a new part-time position which brought her $3,000 a month in regular income. This would be of huge benefit to her retirement income plan, even if she only did it for a few years until social security kicks in.

A final word on early retirement

Taking early retirement can feel like the only way out when you’re through with work and ready to put your feet up. But often, having the security of knowing what your finances will look like in retirement is enough to get you through those final years.

Having seen their retirement income plan, many of our clients reconsider early retirement. It changes their mentality towards work, showing them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t retire early if your finances allow. But if you’re concerned that doing so might jeopardize your financial freedom, we would encourage you to get a retirement income plan and find out how you’re set for the future.

If you’re ready to take control of your finances, we can help you create a bespoke retirement income plan that puts your money into perspective. Remember, if you need any advice or expertise, our financial specialists are here to help. Book a complimentary 15-minute call with a member of our team to discuss your retirement goals today.

Medicare Parts Explained

Medicare is a big topic for people turning 65, but it’s also a difficult one to get a firm understanding of. You have multiple parts that you may or may not need and trying to get answers about Medicare from the government can be frustrating and fruitless.

The options and choices available can be very overwhelming along with yearly changes that are too easy to overlook.

Understanding Medicare and all of its parts will allow you to go into retirement with peace of mind.

What is Medicare and What is it There for?

Medicare is federally funded healthcare that is available for people when they turn 65. You’ve paid into it all of your life if you’ve worked for 40 quarters. Earning 40 credits throughout your life allows you to pay $144 a month for Medicare Part A and B, and if you didn’t reach this threshold, you’ll be paying $400 to $500 a month, with some adjustments available.

The health insurance offered through Medicare gets tweaked annually, and you’ll have access to a robust form of health insurance.

Claiming Medicare

You can claim Medicare in a few different ways when you reach 65:

  • If you’re on social security, the government will automatically deduct your B premiums from your check when you become eligible for Medicare.
  • If you’re working, on group coverage and not on social security, the government will automatically deduct your premiums. In this case, you can sign the back of the card and reject coverage at this time.
  • If you’re younger than 65 and on disability for 2 years, you’ll automatically be given Medicare and will receive your benefits.

Note: Medicare Part A is free and given to you regardless of your work situation.

Why People Deny Part B Coverage

The main reason people will reject Part B coverage is that it costs money. You can choose to maintain your current health coverage rather than apply for Part B coverage if it saves you money or offers better coverage.

If you have group coverage, you probably don’t want Part B. Otherwise, you do.

Penalties for Not Taking Coverage When It’s Available

If you’re turning 65 and don’t have insurance, you will be penalized. Anyone with credible coverage will not be penalized. Otherwise, the penalty will be 10% higher premiums per year that you don’t take the coverage.

The penalty is forever and never goes away.

Both Part A and D will be penalized. So, over a 5-year period, you’ll be paying 10% more per year for those 5 years, so:

  • $148.50 is the standard cost
  • $163.35 for a one-year penalty
  • $179.68 for a two-year penalty
  • $197.65 for a three-year penalty
  • $217.41 for a four-year penalty
  • $239.16 for a five-year penalty

As you can see, the costs rise drastically year-over-year that you don’t take Medicare.

What Does Medicare Cover?

Medicare covers everything medically necessary. You won’t have coverage for non-necessary procedures, such as hair implants or plastic surgery.

Alternative medicine and acupuncture are starting to be covered with new changes to Medicare.

Different parts of Medicare offer different forms of coverage, and this is a major part of understanding Medicare.

Part A

The standard part of Medicare that is offered to all people 65 or older or people that have been disabled for two years. Part A is your hospital coverage, and it’s an entitlement. Unfortunately, there are co-pays and deductibles that make it a poor form of coverage.

Part B

Medicare Part B essentially wraps around Part A and fills the holes in the coverage. A lot of the co-pays and deductibles are also covered under Part B, which make Part A much better. Together, 80% of your claims are covered by Part A and B.

You’ll have a lot of coverage, including:

  • Doctor visits
  • Lab work
  • Diagnostics, etc.

Part D

Part D is the prescription drugs that are offered from a policy. There are normally 5 or 6 tier plans. This plan’s fee has an IRMAA, or income related monthly adjustment amount, which is an extra charge on top of your premiums if you’re a high-income earner.

A lot of the Part D standalone plans, which accompanies a Medigap plan, have a lot of high standalone plans.

Part C – Medicare Advantage

What is Medicare Advantage? These plans are offered by health insurance companies that work directly with the government. What this plan does is combine Plan:

  • A
  • B
  • D

So, you can apply for Medicare Advantage to really cover the 20% that isn’t covered by Part A and B.

But there’s a drawback: there are some co-pay and deductibles that you’ll have to pay. There are zero premium plans and other plans that do keep these costs down. 

Why Choose a Medigap or Medicare Supplement Policy Over Medicare Advantage?

If you don’t want Part C, you can also apply for a Medigap or Medicare Supplement policy, which is slightly different. A Medigap plan will be for the 20% left that isn’t covered by Medicare Part A and B.

You’ll still be paying for prescription plans, too.

Typically, you’ll be paying $100 to $150 more for this plan than you would otherwise. Medicare Supplement plans are not government backed and prices go up each year. Part C doesn’t go up each year, so it’s often the best option to go with Part C to save money.

When Does Medicare Advantage Make More Sense Than Medigap?

Medigap plans can be expensive, and if you’re healthy with no imminent health issues and barely go to the doctor, you’re paying a lot of extra money to avoid potential co-pays. In most cases, the Medicare Advantage plan makes more sense because you’ll be paying a lot less money for your premiums – if any.

If you have a lot of medical issues and prescription drugs, Medigap may make more sense.

Of course, everyone has their own comfort zones where they’re less comfortable with cost sharing. You’ll need to sit down and discuss your options with a professional Medicare advisor who can help you form a plan that works best for your needs.

How IRMAA is Determined

The government will look at the last two tax returns you’ve filed to determine your payment for Medicare.

You can also make an appointment with a social security advisor if, for example, the following occurs:

  • Two years ago, you received a massive retirement bonus, or
  • You were working and made a lot of money.

You can go back and have an adjustment made to your IRMAA to try and bring your costs back down.

Understanding Medicare Premiums

Premiums are not rated based on your medical history. The exception is some Medigap plans that will rate tobacco users, which will impact your premiums. Advantage plans do not rate the plans, so your medical issues will not have to worry about paying more for their premiums.

Understanding Medicare is a smart decision for anyone nearly or at 65 that doesn’t have health insurance through a group plan already. You have two main enrollment periods per year where you can apply for plans or switch plans as necessary.

The enrollment periods are January 1 to March 31 for Open Enrollment and October 15 to December 7, which is the annual enrollment period.

Remember, Medicare starts on the 1st day of the month on your 65th birthday.

You should take the time to review plans annually, especially if you’re taking expensive drugs. Tweaking your coverage can be beneficial because there may be better coverage options available that save you money.

Speaking to someone that specializes in Medicare is really key to ensuring that you’re enrolled in the right plan that offers you the utmost in healthcare coverage possible. Ideally, you should start talking to someone once you are eligible to enroll. You may need the three months before the first day of the month of your birthday to correct any issues that may exist, such as an error on the side of the government, because these issues can take a long time to resolve.

If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

 In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

What is a Fiduciary and Why Is It Important?

When searching for a financial advisor, you may have come across the term “fiduciary.” But what does it mean? And is it something you should check for before agreeing to work with a particular company or individual?

Choosing a financial advisor can be tricky. You want someone who will work hard for you, sourcing the right products and offering advice that you can rely on.

A fiduciary could be that person. They’re legally bound to put your interests first, regardless of how much they’ll make in return.

But that isn’t the complete picture. Not all financial businesses are fiduciaries, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust their advice.

In this post, we’re taking a detailed look at fiduciaries, including what they are, how they work, and why they could be the best option for your retirement plan.

You can watch the video on this topic above, or to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below. Or you can read on for more…

What is a fiduciary?

A fiduciary is a person or company that has a legal and ethical relationship of trust with another person. It’s a legal standard that holds financial advisors to account in their interactions with clients and customers.

The most important thing to remember about fiduciaries is that they must always act in their client’s interests. That means finding the best options based on the client’s requirements, regardless of the rate of commission they’ll receive for selling a certain product.

Fiduciaries are held to these standards through licensing and certification, including CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation. So, when you see a financial advisor with these letters, you know they’re held to fiduciary standards and would lose their accreditation if they breached them.

By now you may be thinking, why aren’t all financial advisors fiduciaries? Shouldn’t they all act in the best interests of their clients?

Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Fiduciary standards don’t work for every type of financial business, for reasons we’ll set out below.

What is suitability?

Suitability is the alternative to fiduciary. Think of it as a diluted version, wherein financial businesses aren’t held to the same strict standards.

Where fiduciaries always act in the best interests of their clients, suitability places more control in the hands of financial businesses. They don’t need to give the best advice and can recommend products based on commission, even if they’re not the best for the client.

That’s not to say financial advisors working within the suitability criteria are unethical. They still take into account a client’s requirements, and the products they recommend must align with their client’s financial goals.

But what kind of businesses and individuals would choose to work within the suitability criteria? And why do they choose not to adhere to fiduciary standards?

Typically, commission-based financial businesses are most likely to work to suitability standards. That’s because they need to make a certain rate of return, and so recommend products that are of more benefit to them than their clients.

This might sound questionable, but suitability is necessary to keep some businesses afloat. It’s also worth remembering that those working within the suitability criteria must consider their customer’s requirements; they can’t recommend poor products and bad deals.

For this reason, many suitability advisors take the stance of: “I’m not bound by the fiduciary law, but I treat my clients like I am.” This is a common practice but something you should take with a pinch of salt. After all, there’s a high likelihood that they’re benefiting from a sale as much as you are.

How do fiduciary and suitability compare?

To help you understand how fiduciary and suitability differ, here’s a helpful analogy showing how each model works in practice.

Let’s say you want to buy a new car for your family. The first dealership you visit recommends large saloons, station wagons, and SUVs, all at different price points. There’s no pressure to buy from the dealer, and you make a choice based on the information they’ve given.

Then, you visit another car lot. Here, the dealer recommends a car that, though suitable for a family, is slightly over your budget. However, they convince you that it’s the right car and you buy it even if it’s not the deal you were looking for.

Can you guess which was the fiduciary dealer and which was the suitability dealer?

That’s right, dealer one was a fiduciary. They offered lots of options that were suitable for families and didn’t recommend any cars that were over your budget to make more commission.

Dealer two was the suitability model. They had one or two suitable cars and used salesmanship to convince you to spend more, making more commission for themselves in the process.

Again, this might sound questionable, but it comes down to how a business is set up and the type of industry they work in.

A final word on fiduciaries and suitability

After reading this guide, you might be thinking that suitability advisors are all bad and fiduciaries are the only way to go – but don’t. Sure, you should be cautious about taking suitability advice at face value, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get a bad deal that doesn’t work for you.

At Peace of Mind Wealth Management, we choose to stay within the fiduciary arena because we believe it’s the best fit for our practice and our clients. Both Radon and Murs are accredited CFPs and are licensed investment advisors, meaning they’re legally bound by fiduciary standards.

If you’re looking for wealth management advice with the assurance of fiduciary accreditation, we can help. Putting your needs at the heart of everything we do, our financial services can help you on your retirement journey.

We hope this guide on fiduciaries helps you think differently about your financial decision-making. Remember, if you need any advice or expertise, our financial specialists are here to help. Book a complimentary 15-minute call with a member of our team to discuss your retirement goals today.

Reverse Mortgages Explained

Reverse mortgages are a hot topic among retirees. Some retirees want to have access to a reverse mortgage for financial security, while others are still unsure of how they feel because of some of the practices in the industry in the 60s, 70s and 80s that gave these types of mortgages a bad name.

If you’re considering a reverse mortgage, it’s important to know what these mortgages offer you, their benefits and your obligations when taking out a reverse mortgage.

Traditional vs Reverse Mortgage

A traditional mortgage is what you likely used when you purchased your home. You’ll go through a mortgage company that has a lien on your home and will have to pay the mortgage note for 15, 20 or 30 years (terms can vary).

When you make a payment, you’ll be paying down your principal and interest.

Reverse mortgages are different because there are no payment obligations, but there will be a lien against the property. The loan will be paid at some time in the future where interest and principal are repaid, but the loan has no monthly obligation.

Since a reverse mortgage is only allowed for someone 62 or older, the lender often only recuperates their money when the last borrower passes away and the home is sold.

Reverse Mortgage Example

Confused?

Let’s look at an example:

  • You own a $500,000 home.
  • You own the home outright and no longer have a mortgage.
  • You want to take money out of the home through a reverse mortgage.

In this scenario, you’ll typically opt to take out money via a line of credit. You’ll likely be able to take out $275,000 if you’re 70 years old. You can take money out of this line of credit where the repayment is made at some time in the future.

With a reverse mortgage line of credit, there’s no repayment obligation, and these lines of credit cannot be:

  • Frozen
  • Reduced
  • Cancelled

A reverse mortgage line of credit can only be cancelled if the borrower doesn’t meet their obligations. During COVID-19, a lot of home equity lines of credit were frozen, leaving a lot of older homeowners unable to access money that could have potentially helped them navigate the pandemic.

Scenarios Where a Reverse Mortgage Makes Sense

A lot of people choose to do a reverse mortgage when they’re in retirement and still have a mortgage payment to make. The mortgage payment causes a cash flow problem, which causes a lot of people to take out a reverse mortgage to free up some cash.

Other people want to create a new source of income, while others open a line of credit for when they need long-term care insurance. Need to make a down payment for a continuous care retirement community? A reverse mortgage can help you generate the cash to make this payment.

There are also others that want to downsize, so they’ll use this mortgage to make a second or vacation home purchase.

Using the previous example, let’s say that you a $500,000 home and want to take $200,000 out for the down payment on a continuous care retirement community buy-in with the expectation that you’ll be able to move into the community in two years.

So, in two years, you’re able to move in and take out $200,000 in a reverse mortgage line of credit,

What happens?

  • Closing costs were rolled in.
  • Interest accrued for two years.
  • Loan balance is $240,000.

If the home is sold for $500,000, you would have net proceeds of $260,000 leftover. The sale of the house pays off the reverse mortgage, which doesn’t require any payments during the two-year period.

Baby Boomers Transitioning Into New Homes

Over a million baby boomers have decided to transition into a new home. The transition may be because the homeowner wants to:

  • Avoid having to do maintenance and move into a retirement community.
  • Downsize because their home is too big for them now.

A reverse mortgage can also be used in this scenario. The homebuyer can choose to use a reverse mortgage to invest money or to pay for the down payment for the new home. You can also opt to use the reverse mortgage money as a down payment, move into the retirement home and then sell off the other property to repay the reverse mortgage.

There are a lot of options to use the reverse mortgage to make money.

Now, when you’re reaching end of life and pass away, what happens to your heirs? Your heirs will have to pay the loan balance. Traditionally, the home’s appreciation will outpace the reverse mortgage loan balance interest growth.

The heirs would sell the home at the appreciated value and pay off the reverse mortgage.

Let’s assume that over a 10-year period, the home’s value rose $80,000. The loan value will, in most cases, rise less than this amount, allowing the heirs to sell the home with a net profit.

Using a Reverse Mortgage for Cash Flow When You Have Investments

COVID-19 is a prime example of when investors can use a reverse mortgage line of credit when the market’s conditions aren’t optimal. At the start of the pandemic when the markets dipped, a lot of people relied on their reverse mortgage because it’s:

  • Tax-free
  • Doesn’t require the sale of assets
  • Made more sense to use at the time

You don’t want to sell when the market is on a dip because you’ll be losing money. Instead, a lot of people used their reverse mortgage to allow the market to rebound before selling off the investments you have.

If you need $500 a month to pay your bills, you can draw from the line of credit much like an annuity.

#1 Misconception About A Reverse Mortgage

If you’re considering a reverse mortgage, the largest misconception is that the bank now owns the home. You still own your home, but the reverse mortgage lender has a lien on the home that allows them to be repaid when the home is sold.

Practices in the 60s through 80s did foster this misconception, but times have changed for the better.

Once you sell the home, you will receive 100% equity you have in the home minus the reverse mortgage repayment. So, once the reverse mortgage is repaid, you or your heirs will receive all of the remaining equity.

Can the Home Be Underwater?

No. The loans are backed by the FHA and insured for the borrowers and their heirs. For example, if a market collapse occurred and your $500,000 home is now worth $200,000 and your reverse mortgage was $300,000, you or your heirs would:

  • Sell the home for $200,000
  • Repay the $200,000
  • Not have to repay the remaining $100,000 balance

Essentially, your heirs would not be inheriting a debt that they cannot afford to repay with a home that has a reverse mortgage.

The heirs nor the estate would have to repay any excess debt beyond the price of the home at the market value at the time of sale of the home.

Steps to Taking Out a Reverse Mortgage

If you’re thinking about a reverse mortgage, you should sit down with a local representative of a reverse mortgage broker who can discuss your goals with you. Local representatives can see where you live and better understand what your needs are.

Local loan officers can run calculations to see if a reverse mortgage is a good option for you.

Counselors will request a meeting with you, which lasts about an hour, and ensures that the loan officer walked you through all of the steps in the mortgage process. If you decide the mortgage is a good option for you, an appraisal is done, and then closing takes about 30 days to complete.

Your money is then available for you to access after closing.

When you meet with a counselor, they do not have an opinion on the mortgage. Instead, the counselor answers all of your questions and provides you with all of the fine details relating to the reverse mortgage. These individuals make sure that you understand a reverse mortgage 100%.

Credit history is considered, but the lender wants to reduce the risk that you’ll go into default rather than make sure you have a high credit score.

A lot of homeowners want to enjoy a better retirement, and a reverse mortgage can help fund this goal. Yes, your heirs will not receive the full value of the home because the mortgage needs to be repaid, but you’ll be able to enjoy a better retirement.

And a lot of children are happy with their parent’s decision to take money out of their home to fund the retirement that they envisioned.

If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

 In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

When Is the Right Time to Take Social Security?

If you’re getting ready for retirement, one of the most important questions you’ll want answering is: when should I take Social Security?

This is the most frequently asked question by all of our pre-retiree clients. There’s lots of information out there that dives into when the right time to take Social Security is, and, usually, people already have an idea of when might suit them. However, what this information fails to take into account is your own personal situation.

In this post, we illustrate the long-term impact taking Social Security at different times can have on your assets. So, if you’re considering taking it early, at full retirement age (FRA), or waiting until you’re 70, it’s important to know the long-term effects it can have.

You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

When can you take Social Security?

The earliest age you can take Social Security from is 62. The latest is age 70. That’s an eight-year window where you can choose to start taking Social Security.

Each year that you wait, the amount of Social Security you’ll get increases. So, if you take it earlier, you’ll receive less, but if you wait until the upper age limit, you’ll get the maximum amount possible. This is why a lot of the information says you should wait and take your Social Security as late as you can. However, we don’t believe this is the best option for everyone.

Many people choose to take Social Security at full retirement age. The IRS and Social Security define when this is, and currently, it’s contingent on the year you were born, making you either 66 or 67 at full retirement age.

Now, if you reach full retirement age and decide not to take Social Security right away, that’s going to draw on your assets. Those who retire at 66, and wait to take Social Security when they’ll get the most bang for their buck, have to face 4 years of withdrawals on their assets first. In this case, you have to live for a long time to truly reap the benefits!

Our approach to taking Social Security is to evaluate what works best for your individual retirement plan. Perhaps waiting until you’re 70 doesn’t make sense for you. In which case, taking it earlier could preserve your assets in the long run.

On the other hand, if you take Social Security after age 62 but before full retirement age, you need to be aware of some limitations.

Social Security penalties

If you’re still working between age 62 and full retirement age and choose to take Social Security, there’s a limit to the amount you can earn, otherwise, you will face a penalty.

In 2021, the maximum that a person age 62 can make and still take Social Security penalty-free is $18,960 a year. If you earn less than this, your Social Security will not be penalized. But what if you earn more?

As an example, say you’re planning on consulting and making $35,000-$40,000 a year at age 62. The math quickly tells us it does not make sense for you to take Social Security yet. If your Social Security benefit is $10,000 a year and you earn $10,000 more than the $18,960 limit, you’ll be penalized 50% of your Social Security. That means you’ll lose $1 for every $2 you earn over that limit. Now, instead of receiving $10,000 a year in Social Security, you’ll only get $5,000.

So, if you’re earning above this limit, then it’s highly unlikely that taking Social Security makes financial sense for you. To avoid these penalties, be clear with your financial advisor about how much you’re expecting to make at age 62. If you want to work part-time, or in a low-paid position, it could still be possible to take Social Security penalty-free. But you need to be aware of the numbers.

But what if you’re not planning on working at age 62? If you’re hoping to retire at this age, is taking Social Security a good option for you?

When is the right time to take Social Security?

We’re going to use a fictional person to demonstrate the differences between taking Social Security at various ages. In three example scenarios, we have Mary. She is 60 and planning to retire at age 62. We’re going to use our system to work out when would be the best age for Mary to start taking Social Security.

Before we dive into this example, it’s important to note that Social Security typically rises every year with a cost-of-living adjustment. To keep this example as straightforward as possible, the Social Security amount will not include any increases.

At age 60, Mary has an IRA with $1.2 million in retirement savings, that’s making a rate of return of around 6%. With two more years of work ahead of her, and the interest rates’ growth, Mary can expect to have around $1.4 million at age 62. This is when she hopes to retire.

One thing that Mary needs to know going into retirement is how much money she’s spending each month. Let’s say her expenses are $5,000 a month, with an additional 3% inflation rate.

Scenario 1: Taking Social Security at full retirement age

So, what happens if Mary chooses not to start taking Social Security until full retirement age (67)? For the first five years of her retirement, she will need to draw $5,000 each month on her own assets to cover all of her expenses. When Mary reaches full retirement age, she will start receiving $3,500 of Social Security a month. This now reduces the draw on her assets down to $1,500 each month.

If we look forward to Mary’s assets at age 90, we have some significant changes. Due to inflation, her expenses have increased to $12,000 a month. But thanks to a good rate of return, Mary’s assets have grown to $1.6 million. This is a good outcome for Mary, she can comfortably maintain her lifestyle well into retirement and has more money leftover than she initially retired with.

Scenario 2: Taking Social Security at age 62

But what if Mary took her Social Security when she retires at age 62? We know that she would receive less in Social Security each month because she’s taking it early. So, in this scenario, Mary receives $2,450 instead of $3,500. This means that while she won’t receive as much Social Security each month, she won’t need to draw as much on her assets as she’ll have support throughout her retirement.

In this instance, at age 90, Mary has $1.75 million left over. That’s over $100,000 more than if she waits until full retirement age.

So, you can see that while it might be tempting to hold off taking Social Security early to get more each month, that might not be the best decision. In Mary’s case, it’s more beneficial to take the lower payments long-term.

Scenario 3: Taking Social Security at age 70

Finally, let’s take a look at what happens if Mary waits until age 70 to take Social Security. Because she’s waited until the upper limit, Mary will now receive $4,340 a month. This may instantly look more appealing than taking it early at the lower rate of $2,450, or even in comparison to full retirement age at $3,500.

However, Mary will now have to draw on her assets from age 62 until she’s 70 to cover her expenses. This is a long and sizeable draw. If we look forward to age 90, Mary now has around $1.5 million left over in her nest egg.

So, even though she’s receiving more money on a monthly basis, that initial period of withdrawal has had a big knock-on effect. Looking solely at Mary’s assets at age 90, Mary’s best option will be to take Social Security at the earliest possible age, 62.

What does this mean for you?

This example isn’t reflective of everyone’s situation. If Mary wanted to continue working, had other sources of income, or there was a spouse involved, it may change the outcome. So do not take this example as individualized advice.

What we want you to take away from this article is, if you’re researching when to take Social Security, it’s likely that you’ll get a mass answer that won’t translate to your own situation.

If you want to find out more about when you should take Social Security and how your retirement decisions affect this, reach out to us. We offer a completely free, no-obligation 15-minute phone consultation, where we can run through your numbers and give you an idea of when is right for you to take Social Security. Book your call now.

Continuous Care Retirement Community – Understanding Your Options

Becoming a member of a continuous care retirement community (CCRC) is something people nearing retirement should be considering. These communities are often called life plan communities because you’re making a decision today for your future living and healthcare needs.

What is a Continuous Care Retirement Community?

A CCRC is a community that you enter when you’re still in good health but getting older. The idea is that you join these communities and effectively secure your spot as your care needs increase.

Perhaps you’re in the community for 10 years, but then your hips or knees continue to get a little worse, and you could use some additional care.

As a member of the community, you would be able to secure one of these care spots as they become available so that you can get the care you need. You’ll have peace of mind that as a resident, you can be confident that your care needs will be met for life.

5 CCRCs Contract Types

1. Extensive

An extensive contract has a higher upfront price, but no matter your care needs, the costs never increase. You’ll be buying into a contract, and you can be confident that your costs will remain the same despite potentially increasing medical concerns and needs.

2. Modified

A modified contract has an entrance fee, which is typically smaller than an extensive contract, but the costs will change as your care needs change. So, if you need a skilled nurse, you will have to pay for the care.

The care may be offered at a discounted rate, or you may receive a certain number of care days for free each year.

The modified contract does have an upfront cost, but you will risk potentially higher medical costs as you age.

3. Fee for service

This contract has an entrance fee, but it’s typically cheaper. This option allows you to secure your CCRC, but you will pay a standard fee for any service that you do need.

4. Equity

An equity share is a very important type of CCRC because you’ll actually purchase the property in which you reside. The equity share differs from a contract because you own the property, which will then become an asset.

5. Rental

As a rental, you’ll rent the home, and care may or may not be provided to you. This option is the most affordable, but you’re also taking a major risk because there may or may not be care available when you need it.

One of the things that is important to understand is that all of these options have risks. If you pay more, you reduce your risk in most cases. High upfront costs allow you to have the comfort in knowing that your risks are rather low.

For most people, they’ll often choose:

  • Modified
  • Fee for service

Rental properties are also rising in popularity, as people are considering their options when retiring.

Wait Lists and Continuous Care Retirement Communities

Every community has a different commitment to join a wait list for a community. The population is getting older and living longer, so the demand for CCRCs is very high. Joining one of these lists will vary from community to community, but it will typically require:

  • Application
  • Deposit

The deposits are often refundable or will go to your costs if you do decide to join a community in the future.

With waitlists being long, it’s important to consider joining one as soon as possible. The waitlist can be years – sometimes 4 to 5 years. It’s worth considering joining a waitlist early, especially when you’re in good health, so that you can secure a spot if you want to join in the future.

Good Health and Qualifying for a CCRC

A continuous care retirement community will often recommend joining when you’re in good health. The term “good health” can be subjective. What usually occurs is that when you’re ready to join a community, you’ll be asked to have an exam to better understand what your health needs are today.

Communities are only able to provide a certain level of care, and they safeguard members by ensuring that their care needs can be met.

As a general rule of thumb, if you can live independently, you’re in good health.

Members may be able to join a community if they need assisted living or skilled nursing. Each community is different, so it’s important to ask the community upfront what options are available for new members.

CCRCs are built to help independent members, those that pay a lot upfront, if they have medical issues. A lot of CCRCs don’t allow people that are not independent to join because the commitment is to the independent individuals that joined the community when they’re healthy.

When Should You Join the Community?

A CCRC is a community that you can join and be amongst like minded people. While a lot of members are over 70, this figure is starting to come down. Many communities have a minimum age of 62.

When it comes to couples, one person may be older than the other, and this can cause some conflicts. There is often a lower age requirement for one spouse, but it’s only a few years, making it difficult for couples to enter into a CCRC.

Some people join waitlists in their 50s in preparation that they’ll have a spot available in the community when they need it.

Understanding Entrance and Monthly Fees

A continuous care retirement community will often have an entrance fee and a monthly fee. The entrance fee is sort of like an insurance that allows you to become a part of the community. This fee will have some potential medical costs rolled into it.

The monthly fee is for all of the additional perks, such as:

  • Meal plan
  • Housekeeping
  • Utilities
  • Amenities
  • Fitness center
  • Classes
  • Transportation 
  • Maintenance, etc.

Monthly fees cover virtually everything with the exception of Internet. The monthly service fee at a CCRC covers everything so that you can relax and not worry about fixing a roof or mowing the lawn.

Specific Situations Within a CCRC

CCRCs have had to adapt with the times. There was a time when everything was standard, and meal plans couldn’t be adapted based on a person’s dietary needs or desires. Today, a lot of these retirement communities are offering made-to-order meals to adhere to the dietary differences of their members.

In addition to food concerns, another concern is how the fee structure may be different for couples when one is healthy, and one has higher care needs.

If a community can serve these individuals, they’ll often work with you. Members are different because if they enter as an independent, these communities understand that one individual may have more needs, while others don’t.

One spouse would move into the assisted living while one remains in independent living.

There are also options where an outside agency may send someone to care for the spouse so that the couple can stay together for longer.

A continuous care retirement community is a great option for anyone that wants to cover their bases as they age and grow older in a community that is more like a resort than a traditional retirement home. If you need additional care in the future, the CCRC can offer you the care you need at a place that you’ve long called home.

If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

 In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

The Difference Between Asset Allocation and the Strongest Assets

When working with a financial planner or advisor, it’s important that you’re aligned on how you want your money invested. There are many different investment strategies and what you might be comfortable with may not be your advisor’s preference. So, how can you ensure that your money will be managed how you like?

The first step is to have a basic understanding of investment strategies. This way, you’ll know what’s more suited to your personality and how you want your investments taken care of.

In this post, we’re explaining the differences between two investment strategies, asset allocation and strongest assets. We share the fundamentals of each, why people choose them, and how to figure out if they’re appropriate for your money management style.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What is asset allocation?

Asset allocation is the most common way of investing. It’s a preferred method for two reasons.

  1. Asset allocation is relatively easy to do
  2. There’s very little maintenance, unlike other investment strategies

If you’re familiar with the buy and hold strategy or buying a well-diversified portfolio, then you’ll already have an idea of how asset allocation works.

For example, if you have money to invest, and decide to put it in the stock market, you might distribute it to more than one area. You may want to put a portion of your money in stocks, such as large cap stocks, like Apple, Amazon, Google, or mid cap or small cap stocks. There are also sectors that you might want to get involved in. Financials, healthcare, technology, and energy are all popular sectors that many people invest in. Finally, you could decide to buy up some bonds and fixed-income investments.

When you add all of these investments together, you get an investment pie. You can use this to visualize where all of your slivers are in the market, as they may all be in different areas. Essentially, this investment method is asset allocation.

Why asset allocation is a long-term strategy

With asset allocation, you’re advised to hold these investments for the long term. The idea is, if you hold these investments for 5, 10, 15+ years, then the market will go up, and so will all your different pieces of the pie.

Now, let’s look at how this method performed in a tumultuous year, such as 2020. Overall, large cap stocks did well, but mid and small cap stocks were greatly affected. So, if you held a mixture of large, mid, and small cap stocks, the increase in large cap stocks may make it look like your portfolio performed adequately. If you hold a diversified portfolio, you’re always going to have slivers that outperform others. The aim of this strategy is to wait long enough that, eventually, the pie as a whole increases over time.

Many of us first encounter this kind of strategy when we get our first job and 401(k). Often, people pick different investments in this scenario. A popular choice is target-date funds, which create an asset allocation based on how much longer you have to work. This will then adjust according to your age.

In terms of maintaining an asset allocation, it requires very little attention. Your advisor may rebalance the account quarterly or even once a year. This strategy is an easy way to “set it and forget it.”

Understanding your investment risk tolerance

It’s important to note that you can still lose money with an asset allocation strategy – even if you have a very conservative portfolio. The idea is that if you stick with it and stay invested, then you will make your money back. The question is, can you stomach the negative?

This is where understanding your risk tolerance comes into play. Knowing what downside number you’re comfortable with can help you figure out what investment strategy is right for you. We demonstrate this by using real figures. For example, instead of theoretically asking you if you’re happy with a 20% loss, we’d ask if you’re happy to lose 20% of $1million, so, $200,000. This puts your loss into perspective.

Remember that if you’re using an asset allocation strategy, you do not sell when the market is crashing. You have to be able to withstand the financial impact of a pandemic, a financial crisis, or anything else that might be thrown at you. If you sell when the market goes down, you defeat the purpose of this strategy. Your advisor will tell you to hang in there.

What is the strongest asset strategy?

A strongest asset strategy differs from asset allocation because it allows you to sell whenever those assets are no longer strong.

When you’re thinking about investing using this strategy, you need to picture the entire stock market world. This includes equities, stocks, companies, bonds, fixed income, cash options and then you’ve got some alternatives. Once you’re looking at them altogether, you can start to see who’s winning the race.

Now, usually equities win the race because they have growth. Bonds are stable and make a good rate of return, but they may not always be the strongest option. Cash, on the other hand, hardly moves. However, if there’s a scenario where the market is crashing and equities and bonds are pulling back, cash could be the front runner because it’s not moving backward.

You then use this analysis to see where the strongest area is to invest. You could invest 100% of your portfolio in equities, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay there. You could move that 100% from equities to bonds, and again from bonds to cash, depending on market performance.

Strongest asset: a more active approach

If you decide to invest 100% of your portfolio in equities, you can take the same approach again. This time looking at the top performers in the equity world. In 2020, for example, large cap technologies were winning the race. This sector thrived during the pandemic, with mid and small caps struggling. So, we shifted all of our portfolios to accommodate this. In January 2021, mid and small caps started to come back, so we shifted again.

A strongest asset strategy does require more maintenance than asset allocation. You need to be actively managing your portfolio and prepared to make changes. We want to make a good rate of return for our clients, so we watch the market every day. If the market starts to change, then we make decisions, such as selling, to protect our clients’ investments from a downturn.

Which strategy suits your personality?

So, if you’re building out an investment portfolio or considering your investment options, think about which strategy suits your personality more. Do you prefer the idea of buy and hold (asset allocation), or do you want to keep a closer eye on your money and how it’s performing (strongest asset)?

When you decide which option is for you, the next step is to find a financial advisor who can help you manage your money this way.

To learn more about preparing your finances for the future, check out our complimentary masterclass, 3 Keys To Secure Your Retirement. The free interactive webinar gives you more information on how to build a retirement income plan and shares valuable money management tips and advice. Get it here.

2021 Tax Deductions and Tips

Tax professionals offer the best option for learning about 2021 tax updates. A good CPA can provide you with updates that can affect you when filing your taxes and can hopefully reduce the taxes you owe or increase the refund you’re owed.  Here are some suggestions from a CPA that we know and trust.

2021 Tax Updates You May Have Overlooked

Charitable Tax Deductions

Charity tax deductions are still available, allowing you to take advantage of giving away some of your money. One of the main differences this year is that you’ll need to itemize your charitable tax deduction, which is an unexpected change for a lot of people.

You can deduct at least $300 for an individual or $600 for a couple.

Itemizing your deductions only makes sense when you have more than the standard deduction of $12,500 or $25,000 for couples. For example, it makes more sense not to itemize your deductions when the itemized deduction comes out to less than the standard deduction.

Straight donations are mostly the same, so it’s important to get a receipt. You should be itemizing deductions to really leverage straight deductions which may include:

  • Cleaning out your attic
  • Donating items to Goodwill or another charity

When you’re donating to charity, you can donate up to 60% of your adjusted gross income for tax purposes. Most individuals will not hit this threshold because it’s high, but it is something high net worth individuals may want to think about.

Bonus: Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) are for people older than 70.5, and it allows you to take money out of your IRA and donate directly to charity. This can be done on top of your standard deduction and must be made out directly to the charity. When you do this, you’re not taxed on the withdrawal and you can deduct the donation on your taxes to offer a double benefit to you.

Medical Deductions

When you’re older, closer to retirement or have had to pay for medical procedures in the past year, medical deductions are something that you should be considering. A lot of medical deductions can be made:

  • Insurance
  • Prescriptions
  • Direct doctor costs

If you have a major deduction, you may want to itemize to leverage these deductions. The $12,500 or $25,000 deduction will need to be considered because there’s really no reason to itemize if you’re not trying to deduct higher than this amount.

Reaching a high enough threshold to itemize your medical deductions is often only possible when you’ve had major medical procedures performed. A few of the procedures that may be included are:

  • Dental implants
  • Nursing care
  • Other major issues

Earned Income Tax Credit

The earned income tax credit is based on how much you earn and how many qualifying children that you have. You need to be between 25 and 65 years old and have qualified earned income. A person must earn $16,000 as a single person or $22,000 as a couple to maximize this credit.

When you hit $51,500 as a single person and $57,500 as a couple, this is when the earned income tax credit starts to really phase out for you.

If you have no children, you can expect up to $543, and with three children, $6,700.

Child Tax Credit

A $2,000 tax credit is given to a qualified child between the age of 0 and 16. Once they hit 17 and older, this credit drops to $500, which is quite a jump. The year that the child turns 17, the credit is lowered.

There is also an income threshold for this credit:

  • $200,000 for a single person
  • $400,000 for a couple

Home Office Deductions

A lot of people are working from home this year. COVID has changed a lot of people’s working situations, and there are a lot of questions surrounding home office deductions. Employees that receive a W2 are no longer able to deduct their home offices.

Business owners can write off their home office if it remains their primary place of business.

You can deduct $5 per square foot, or you can itemize your deductions. The itemization is only beneficial if you can deduct more than the square foot value of your office. Remember to keep receipts on all of your expenses from your home office to ensure that you can maximize your deductions and have proof of your expenditures.

If you only work from your home office once or twice a week, you won’t be able to claim this deduction because it’s not your principal place of business if you’re working more days per week outside of your home.

Unemployment Benefits and Your Taxes

All of your unemployment income is viewed as wages. The income is reported on a 1099G, which you will use to claim all of these benefits on your taxes.

Bonus: Stimulus Check and Claiming It as Income

You do not need to claim your stimulus check on your tax return.

Tips When Thinking About Your 2021 Taxes

A few of the tips that we want you to know about when thinking about your taxes in 2021 are:

  • Financial management to manage your portfolio can help you leverage capital gains rates at the current rate.
  • Employee benefits should be managed, such as HSA, 401(k) and other options. Maximize your 401(k) and consider an HSA to use for your health expenses. The HSA can be funded and grow, and by the age of 65, you can take out the money while enjoying tax benefits. Otherwise, the HSA withdrawals all need to be medical related.
  • Review federal withholdings early in the year to ensure that your withholdings are proper. Recent changes to the withholding rate have left many people paying more at the end of the year than they expected. Use the IRS.gov Tax Withholding Estimator to properly adjust your rates at the beginning of the year so that you have fewer surprises at tax season.
  • Try and donate $300 to $600 to a charity this year for additional savings.
  • If you’re going to itemize, consider giving more to charity if you can. Double up on donations to maximize your deductions.
  • Mortgage interest rates can also be deducted on the itemized deductions.

On a final note, be sure to be compliant and file your taxes on time or get an extension. Also, make all of your estimated payments and pay what you think you’ll owe on April 15 because you’ll be penalized otherwise even if filing an extension.

 If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

 In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

How to Implement an Annuity into Your Portfolio

You understand what an annuity is, how it works, and what the advantages are, but do you know how to implement it into your portfolio?

In this eighth and final installment of our “Annuities – Why Ever Use Them series, we’re sharing how to use an annuity as part of your retirement portfolio.

You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

A quick summary

Before we dive into how you can incorporate an annuity into your portfolio, there are some things to be aware of. We’ve already covered these points in detail in other articles within this series, so do visit our blog to find more information about anything covered below.

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Our focus for the “Annuities – Why Ever Use Them series is on fixed index annuities only.
  • We prefer fixed index annuities over variable annuities because you can lose money in a variable annuity.
  • Fixed index annuities protect your principal, so your investment is guarded against market volatility.
  • Fixed index annuities are linked to an index, such as the S&P 500 – they earn interest depending on how the index performs.
  • You can choose from a range of strategies for how you want to receive interest, for example a cap or a participation rate strategy.
  • If you use a cap strategy set at 5%, for example, and your index earns 10% over an annual point-to-point reset, your annuity will earn a maximum of 5% interest.
  • If you use a participation strategy set at 50% and your index earns 10% over the reset period, you’ll earn 50% of the index’s 10% growth (5% interest on your annuity).
  • There are liquidity restrictions, so we recommend using an annuity as part of a more diverse portfolio.
  • Most annuities allow you penalty-free access to 7-10% of your money in any given year.
  • Annuities often have a surrender charge that applies for a set number of years.

Why choose a fixed index annuity?

Most people use an annuity as part of their retirement portfolio for two reasons. First, a fixed index annuity gives you complete safety and still grows your investment at a good rate of return. A fixed index annuity is not affected by market downturns and is protected against risk. So, if your main concern is safety, an annuity would be a good option for your portfolio.

The second reason is income planning. There are a few ways to get guaranteed income in retirement, including taking a pension and Social Security. A fixed index annuity is a straightforward addition you can make to your guaranteed income sources that lasts for the rest of your lifetime.

Implementing an annuity in your portfolio

We’re going to use an example to demonstrate how to build an annuity into your retirement portfolio. In this example, we’re going to be using hypothetical figures and a fictional retiree, Mary. Please bear in mind that while these figures are representative of fixed index annuities, these are not accurate rates.

Mary is 60 years old and has $1 million of IRA/401k savings. She wants to retire in 7 years time, at the traditional retirement age of 67. She’s calculated how much she spends on her essential needs, wants, and legacy money each month, and discovered that she needs $4,000 of guaranteed income a month to cover her essential needs alone.

Social Security will give Mary $3,000 a month. She doesn’t have any other forms of guaranteed income, so Mary is looking for a way to get an extra $1,000 a month.

What is your risk tolerance?

One thing we talk to all of our clients about is risk. Knowing what your risk tolerance is can help you make decisions about your portfolio that you’re comfortable with. So, before we can advise Mary about finding that additional $1,000 per month, we need to understand how much risk she’s willing to take.

There are a few different ways that you can make a return and manage risk. Banks, for example, have essentially no risk, but the rate of return is very low. Money markets in general are well below 1% currently. So, while there is no risk, there is also hardly any return.

However, if you look at the stock market, this is the complete opposite. There is potential for incredible returns, but also huge losses. Annuities, on the other hand, give a good rate of return, but there are liquidity issues. Your total investment won’t be easily accessible to you. This is something to be aware of in case liquidity is a concern for you.

Let’s go back to Mary. To find out Mary’s risk tolerance, we’d have a conversation with her about how much she’s prepared to lose. Take her $1 million, for example. If we’re talking in percentages, a 10% gain or loss might be something Mary is willing to accept. But if we convert that into dollars, a $100,000 loss may be too much for Mary. In this case, we would keep discussing figures until we land on a percentage that Mary is comfortable with.

Once you understand how much risk you’re prepared to take, then you can decide how to build a portfolio that suits you.

How to construct your portfolio

Mary’s risk tolerance helps her decide that she wants to invest 50% of her $1 million in the stock market and 50% in a fixed index annuity. This gives her roughly $550,000 of liquidity. Mary still needs that extra $1,000 of guaranteed income a month, so she puts $150,000 into an income-based annuity. At age 67, this will start providing her with a lifetime monthly payout of $1,000. Now, she has complete peace of mind that her essential income needs will be covered when she reaches retirement age.

In terms of Mary’s portfolio, she still has $850,000 left. So, to achieve that 50/50 split, Mary could invest $350,000 into another fixed index annuity. She’s got the guaranteed income coming from her first annuity, the second one will be to give her that risk-free growth that she wants. The remaining $500,000 will go towards the stock market as she wishes.

So, where will Mary’s portfolio get her by the time she retires? If the $350,000 in her annuity earns 4%, it will grow to around $480,000. Meanwhile, if the $500,000 that she invested in stock market earns 7%, it will have grown to over $1 million.

The final piece to this portfolio is her remaining annuity, which will start generating $1,000 a month of guaranteed income to add to the Social Security payments of $3,000.

However, one thing that we need to consider is inflation. Mary’s expenses are now $6,500 a month. So that original $4,000 of guaranteed income no longer completely covers her essential income needs. But, thanks to Mary’s growing investment portfolio, she can afford to withdraw from her accounts to cover that extra cost.

Inflation and other costs can drastically impact your retirement plan, but we can use our system to adjust numbers and show you exactly how your funds could play out in different scenarios. We can illustrate what happens to your money if you want to withdraw more at the beginning of your retirement than you do later on, or if you want to purchase a second home, for example.

Overall, Mary’s retirement plan shows that her funds last throughout her retirement, and well into her 90s. Constructing a portfolio that’s safe, liquid, and has income, can give you this same security and peace of mind that you don’t need to worry about your retirement finances. But, please remember, this is based on an illustration only.

If you want to learn more about using an annuity as part of your portfolio, please do reach out to us by booking a complimentary 15-minute call. We can give you individualized advice about annuities and constructing a portfolio that’s right for you.

Documents for Estate Planning and Retirement

Documents Every Person Needs for Estate Planning

     Is Estate Planning on your priority list? A common misconception about estate planning is that it is only necessary if you have a big estate, many assets, or a complicated family situation. 

The reality is, estate planning ensures that decisions that would be difficult to make in the moment are made in advance to make things easier in the future. 

    By making these decisions in advance and setting them out in writing or in some other way, you can ensure that the wishes of you or a loved one are preserved and that there is a concrete plan for what happens if someone needs to make a decision on your behalf after you die.

     Estate planning also governs what comes next after you die, from what happens to your property to how your funeral will be handled. At its core, estate planning is giving yourself the peace of mind that the people you leave behind will know what to do and will be taken care of, a concept that is very comforting for many. This can be part of your Retirement Planning Checklist.

Estate Planning Documents

      A number of legal documents must be prepared as a part of the estate plan. It is important that these documents are prepared correctly to ensure that your intent is reflected, that nothing slips through the cracks, and of course, that your will and other related documents are validly executed so you do not die intestate. 

      When Preparing for Retirement with estate planning, there are generally three main documents that attorneys advise families to prepare: A will, a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney with a living will component. These three documents allow others to legally act for you, which is a powerful, invaluable tool when it comes to managing your end-of-life affairs.

  • Will
  • A will is a legal document that tells readers your wishes after your death, from the distribution of your property to the management of your estate to your intentions for how your children will be raised, in some situations. 
  • While, in some states the law recognizes handwritten/holographic wills, working with a seasoned estate planner or attorney will ensure that your estate is distributed exactly as you would like it to be. 
  • Some wills benefit from the inclusion of specialized clauses that allow for others to act on behalf of the estate, which can come in handy if the language of a will is unclear or if the way a certain property is set to be distributed is impracticable. 
  • For example, wills can include a power of sale provision, which allows the executor of the estate to sell a given property and distribute the funds among the will’s beneficiaries. 
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that allows an established person to make healthcare decisions on the behalf of another. 
  • This kind of estate planning document is particularly helpful in situations where you or a loved one are unable to make healthcare decisions on your own behalf, like if you are in a medically induced coma or experience a lack of capacity. 
  • A living will is often part of the healthcare power of attorney document. The living will expresses what a person wants, while the healthcare power of attorney states who is authorized to be a decisionmaker.
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Durable power of attorney is similar to the healthcare power of attorney but is much broader. Durable power of attorney allows a person to entrust another with virtually all legal decisions. 
  • Someone who has durable power of attorney can make healthcare and financial decisions and even sign legal documents on behalf of another in the event that the person who gave them the power is incapacited or otherwise cannot act on their own behalf. 
  • Power of attorney is a powerful tool to entrust someone with, and can be used to make changes and allow access to bank accounts, various assets, and even change the beneficiaries of a will or similar legal document.

      With the help of these three key estate planning documents, you can feel confident that your loved ones will be taken care of and that it will be as simple as possible for your wishes to be respected after you die.

      If you want more information about preparing your finances for the future or retirement, check out our complimentary Master Class, ‘3 Steps to Secure Your Retirement’. 

      In this class, we teach you the steps you need to take to secure your dream retirement. Get the complimentary Master Class here.

The Retirement Planning Checklist

As you start to think about retirement planning, you might quickly feel overwhelmed or unsure about what to plan for. Retirement is made up of many different elements, and you’re going to have to make decisions about all of them – but where do you start?

We realized that many people approaching retirement don’t know what they should be thinking about or what questions they should be asking. So, we’ve put together a checklist of the nine most important things you need to consider before retirement.

You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

In this post, we walk you through each of these nine elements and help you better understand some key retirement planning aspects. You can make notes on these yourself, use them to talk to your financial advisor, or even see them as retirement planning conversation starters between you and your family. Let’s dive in.

List your retirement goals

You only retire once, so make sure you’re prepared for it! You might have lots of big plans and ideas about what you want to do in retirement. This might include going on a trip, spending more time with grandkids, or anything that you’re initially very excited to do. But often, people don’t plan beyond their first year of retirement. We call this the “retirement honeymoon phase.”

You need to think about what you want to be doing in retirement long-term. We’re talking for 10-20 years! After that first year or “honeymoon phase,” what would you like to be doing regularly, or what would you like to accomplish? Take a pen and paper and write some ideas down in a list or create a retirement journal. Here are a few questions to get you thinking.

  • Do you want to work part-time or volunteer? Are there any organizations that you’d like to work with?
  • Where do you want to live? Perhaps you want to downsize, move into your retirement transition home, or look into other retirement accommodation.
  • Do you want to travel? If so, will it be one long trip, annual vacations, or frequent getaways to places nearby?

Having a list of all the things you want to do in retirement is a great way to get excited about your future. It can also help you make the right choices so that you get to live your dream retirement.

Know your numbers

You may have opened many different bank accounts throughout your life. Perhaps you have multiple 401ks or have various assets. One of the first steps to preparing for retirement is gathering up all of this financial information.

When you’ve consolidated these accounts, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve got, and start building your financial retirement plan. From here, you can find out how much guaranteed income you can expect to receive when you retire.

Your incomings are one thing to know, but you should also be aware of your spending. If you’re working, you may be less worried about how much you’re spending month-to-month, but after you’ve retired, you’ll no longer have money coming in the door. It’s important to know what your fixed expenses will be so you can budget accordingly.

Ideally, your guaranteed income (e.g., your Social Security and pension) will cover all of your fixed expenses. But remember, the unexpected can happen. Sudden healthcare costs or inflation, for example, can affect your retirement plan. So, while we can make illustrations and help get your finances in a good place, we can’t predict the future.

Social security: look at the big picture

People usually want to know how they can get the most money from Social Security. While this is completely understandable, we want to urge you to look at the big picture.

If you wait and start taking Social Security at age 70, then you will receive more money in total – if you live into your 90s. However, if you’re withdrawing more on your assets because you’re not taking Social Security yet, this could have a massive impact on your finances 10-15 years down the road.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting more from Social Security, but we strongly advise you to look at what waiting will do to your assets in the long-term. A comprehensive, written retirement plan can show you and help you understand how something like this will affect your overall finances.

Take an interest in your investing

You don’t need to be a stock-guru, but we recommend that you find out what strategy best suits your money goals and risk tolerance. There are many different ways to invest, but we break these down into two main categories: passive and active.

The passive, or buy-and-hold strategy, is more suited to those who want to invest their money and leave it. This is typically a long-term strategy, where you’ll invest over many years and (hopefully) your money will accumulate. However, when the stock market is volatile, you need to have a high-risk tolerance to weather the storm.

For those approaching retirement, we advocate a more active strategy. This is where you make adjustments depending on market shifts. It’s more suitable for those with a lower risk tolerance, as it attempts to protect against any downturns or crashes that may have a big impact on your retirement savings.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider what your risk tolerance is. If you lost 5% of your invested money today, for example, how would that make you feel? What percentage would you be comfortable with losing?

Understand your Medicare options

You will start receiving Medicare at age 65. However, there will be many, many options to consider. We suggest that you don’t wait until the last minute.

A year before you’re due to receive Medicare (around age 64), start finding out what options will be available to you and get an idea of what to expect. This way, you won’t be as overwhelmed when the time comes. We also recommend speaking to an expert, if you can.

On the Secure Your Retirement podcast, we spoke to Medicare specialist Lorraine Bowen about navigating its complexity. To hear Lorraine answer some of our questions, please listen to the podcast episode “Navigating Medicare in Retirement.

Get your legal documents in order

It’s imperative to update all of the legal documents you may have before you retire. There can be complications if your documents don’t match up or if there is conflicting information in them, so make it a priority to get these in order.

Check that your power of attorney, will, and account beneficiaries are all correct. If these are not aligned with each other, one may usurp the other in case of an event. For example, a beneficiary form can be more powerful than a will – so it’s necessary to make sure that these are all in line with your wishes.

If you have trust documents or think you may need a trust, you should also start having a conversation about if this is a good option for you.

Plan your long-term care options

You may already know that you need long-term care insurance, but, again, there are many options, and it can be complicated.

You could opt to self-insure, or you could purchase traditional long-term care insurance or hybrid insurance. Traditional long-term care insurance has previously presented problems with sharp rate increases making it less affordable for many. Meanwhile, hybrid insurance premiums do not increase, but the insurance model itself can be a combination of many things. It could be part annuity, part life insurance, and part long-term care.

To learn more about long-term care and the differences between hybrid and traditional insurance, read our post “Long-Term Care Insurance: Traditional vs. Hybrid.”

Understand your taxes

Taxes will always be a part of your finances, so you need to plan for them. When you’re consolidating your accounts, it’s a good idea to note how each one will be taxed.

Many account types are taxed differently. For example, if you take withdrawals from a pre-tax IRA, that will be considered taxable income, so you’ll need to plan for this. If you have a Roth IRA, this will grow tax-free and can be a big tax advantage in the future. Annuities and brokerage accounts are taxed differently again – it’s up to you to find out the implications of each on your retirement plan.

Get your retirement income plan in writing

Finally, we strongly recommend putting your retirement income plan in writing. This can give you peace of mind about your financial freedom in retirement. It can show you an estimated projection of multiple scenarios and help you decide how you’re going to approach your future.

We often have clients approach us who feel uncertain about what’s possible for them in retirement. After seeing their “what ifs” played out and how we take different parts of your finances into consideration, they leave feeling far less stressed and optimistic about their future.

So, those are the nine key things you should think about when planning your retirement. We hope that this checklist comes in useful and helps you on the road to retirement.

If you want to learn more about preparing for retirement, consider getting our complimentary online masterclass, 3 Keys to Secure Your Retirement. You’ll learn how to create your own Lifetime Retirement Income Plan and start your journey to a confident financial future.