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Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement?

You can use a variety of strategies to pay off debt, many of which can cut not only the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt but also the total interest paid. But like many people, you may be torn between paying off debt and the need to save for retirement.

Both are important; both can help give you a more secure future. If you’re not sure you can afford to tackle both at the same time, which should you choose?

There’s no one answer that’s right for everyone, but here are some of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Rate of investment return versus interest rate on debt

Probably the most common way to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return by investing than the after-tax interest rate you pay on the debt.

For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. By getting rid of those interest payments, you’re effectively getting an 18% return on your money.


That means your money would generally need to earn an after-tax return greater than 18% to make investing a smarter choice than paying off debt. That’s a pretty tough challenge even for professional investors.


And bear in mind that investment returns are anything but guaranteed. In general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk.

If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but you won’t have had the benefit of any gains. By contrast, the return that comes from eliminating high-interest-rate debt is a sure thing.

An employer’s match may change the equation

If your employer matches a portion of your workplace retirement account contributions, that can make the debt versus savings decision more difficult.

Let’s say your company matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary. That means that you’re earning a 50% return on that portion of your retirement account contributions.

If surpassing an 18% return from paying off debt is a challenge, getting a 50% return on your money simply through investing is even tougher. The old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies here.


Assuming you conform to your plan’s requirements and your company meets its plan obligations, you know in advance what your return from the match will be; very few investments can offer the same degree of certainty.


That’s why many financial experts argue that saving at least enough to get any employer match for your contributions may make more sense than focusing on debt.

And don’t forget the tax benefits of contributions to a workplace savings plan. By contributing pretax dollars to your plan account, you’re deferring anywhere from 10% to 39.6% in taxes, depending on your federal tax rate. You’re able to put money that would ordinarily go toward taxes to work immediately.

Your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing

The decision about whether to save for retirement or pay off debt can sometimes be affected by the type of debt you have.

For example, if you itemize deductions, the interest you pay on a mortgage is generally deductible on your federal tax return. Let’s say you’re paying 6% on your mortgage and 18% on your credit card debt, and your employer matches 50% of your retirement account contributions.

You might consider directing some of your available resources to paying off the credit card debt and some toward your retirement account in order to get the full company match, and continuing to pay the tax-deductible mortgage interest.

There’s another good reason to explore ways to address both goals. Time is your best ally when saving for retirement.


If you say to yourself, “I’ll wait to start saving until my debts are completely paid off,” you run the risk that you’ll never get to that point, because your good intentions about paying off your debt may falter at some point. Putting off saving also reduces the number of years you have left to save for retirement.


It might also be easier to address both goals if you can cut your interest payments by refinancing that debt. For example, you might be able to consolidate multiple credit card payments by rolling them over to a new credit card or a debt consolidation loan that has a lower interest rate.

Bear in mind that even if you decide to focus on retirement savings, you should make sure that you’re able to make at least the monthly minimum payments owed on your debt.

Failure to make those minimum payments can result in penalties and increased interest rates; those will only make your debt situation worse.

Other considerations

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save for retirement, make sure you take into account the following factors:

  • Having retirement plan contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck eliminates the temptation to spend that money on things that might make your debt dilemma even worse.If you decide to prioritize paying down debt, make sure you put in place a mechanism that automatically directs money toward the debt–for example, having money deducted automatically from your checking account–so you won’t be tempted to skip or reduce payments.
  • Do you have an emergency fund or other resources that you can tap in case you lose your job or have a medical emergency? Remember that if your workplace savings plan allows loans, contributing to the plan not only means you’re helping to provide for a more secure retirement but also building savings that could potentially be used as a last resort in an emergency.Some employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow hardship withdrawals in certain situations–for example, payments necessary to prevent an eviction from or foreclosure of your principal residence–if you have no other resources to tap. (However, remember that the amount of any hardship withdrawal becomes taxable income, and if you aren’t at least age 59½, you also may owe a 10% premature distribution tax on that money.)
  • If you do need to borrow from your plan, make sure you compare the cost of using that money with other financing options, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. Although interest rates on plan loans may be favorable, the amount you can borrow is limited, and you generally must repay the loan within five years.In addition, some plans require you to repay the loan immediately if you leave your job. Your retirement earnings will also suffer as a result of removing funds from a tax-deferred investment.
  • If you focus on retirement savings rather than paying down debt, make sure you’re invested so that your return has a chance of exceeding the interest you owe on that debt.While your investments should be appropriate for your risk tolerance, if you invest too conservatively, the rate of return may not be high enough to offset the interest rate you’ll continue to pay

Regardless of your choice, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to take action and get started now.

The sooner you decide on a plan for both your debt and your need for retirement savings, the sooner you’ll start to make progress toward achieving both goals.

 

 

Important Disclosure

 

All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

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Myths and Facts about Social Security

Myth: Social Security will provide most of the income you need in retirement.

Fact: It’s likely that Social Security will provide a smaller portion of retirement income than you expect.

There’s no doubt about it–Social Security is an important source of retirement income for most Americans. According to the Social Security Administration, more than nine out of ten individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.

But it may be unwise to rely too heavily on Social Security, because to keep the system solvent, some changes will have to be made to it. The younger and wealthier you are, the more likely these changes will affect you.


But whether retirement is years away or just around the corner, keep in mind that Social Security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retirees. As President Dwight D.


Eisenhower said, “The system is not intended as a substitute for private savings, pension plans, and insurance protection. It is, rather, intended as the foundation upon which these other forms of protection can be soundly built.”

No matter what the future holds for Social Security, focus on saving as much for retirement as possible. You can do so by contributing to tax-deferred vehicles such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and other employer-sponsored plans, and by investing in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

When combined with your future Social Security benefits, your retirement savings and pension benefits can help ensure that you’ll have enough income to see you through retirement.

Myth: Social Security is only a retirement program.

Fact: Social Security also offers disability and survivor’s benefits.

With all the focus on retirement benefits, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Social Security also offers protection against long-term disability. And when you receive retirement or disability benefits, your family members may be eligible to receive benefits, too.

Another valuable source of support for your family is Social Security survivor’s insurance. If you were to die, certain members of your family, including your
spouse, children, and dependent parents, may be eligible for monthly survivor’s benefits that can help replace lost income.

For specific information about the benefits you and your family members may receive, visit the SSA’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call 800-772-1213 if you have questions.

Major Sources of Retirement Income

Source: Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2016, Social Security Administration

Myth: If you earn money after you retire, you’ll lose your Social Security benefit.

Fact: Money you earn after you retire will only affect your Social Security benefit if you’re under full retirement age.

Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit. But if you’re under full retirement age, any income that you earn may affect the amount of benefit you receive:

  • If you’re under full retirement age, $1 in benefits Page 1 of 2, see disclaimer on final page will be withheld for every $2 you earn above a certain annual limit. For 2017, that limit is $16,920.
  • In the year you reach full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $3 you earn above a certain annual limit until the month you reach full retirement age. If you reach full retirement age in 2017, that limit is $44,880.

Even if your monthly benefit is reduced in the short term due to your earnings, you’ll receive a higher monthly benefit later. That’s because the SSA recalculates your benefit when you reach full retirement age, and omits the months in which your benefit was reduced.

Myth: Social Security benefits are not taxable.

Fact: You may have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if you have other income.

If the only income you had during the year was Social Security income, then your benefit generally isn’t taxable. But if you earned income during the year (either from a job or from self-employment) or had substantial investment income, then you might have to pay federal income tax on a portion of your benefit.

Up to 85% of your benefit may be taxable, depending on your tax filing status (e.g., single, married filing jointly) and the total amount of income you have.

For more information on this subject, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

What Is Your Full Retirement Age?

If you were born in: Your full retirement age is:
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

Note: If you were born on January 1 of any year, refer to the previous year to determine your full retirement age.

 

Important Disclosure
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Counting on Your Husband’s Retirement Income? Three Things Women Should Know

Women face special challenges when planning for retirement. Women are more likely than men to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan. And women are more likely to interrupt their careers (or stay out of the workforce altogether) to raise children or take care of other family members.

As a result, women generally work fewer years and save less, leaving many to rely on their husbands’ savings and benefits to carry them both through retirement.1

But this reliance creates risk–risk of divorce, risk that retirement funds won’t be adequate to last two lifetimes (a risk that falls disproportionately on women, who outlive men on average by almost five years),2 and risk of bad retirement payout decisions.

Here are three things you should know if you’re relying on your husband’s savings to carry you through retirement.

Qualified joint and survivor annuities

If your husband is covered by a traditional pension plan at work, one of the most important retirement decisions the two of you may make is whether to receive his pension benefit as a “qualified joint and survivor annuity” (QJSA).

While the term sounds complicated, the concept is simple: should you elect a benefit that pays a higher amount while you’re both alive and ends when your husband dies (a single life annuity), or a benefit that pays a smaller amount during your joint lives but continues (in whole or in part) to you if your husband dies first (a QJSA)?


In order to fully understand your choices, it may help to first go over how a traditional pension plan works. Typically, you’re entitled to a “normal benefit,” payable for your lifetime and equal to a percent of your final pay, if you work for a certain number of years and retire at a certain date.


A plan might say that you’ll get 50% of your final pay for life if you work 30 years and retire at age 65. If you work fewer years, your benefit will be less. If you retire earlier than age 65, your benefit will also be less, because it’s paid for a longer period of time.

For example, assume Joe is covered by a pension plan at work, and his plan contains the exact formula described above. Joe retires at age 65. He’s worked 30 years, and his final pay was $100,000.

He’s entitled to a normal benefit of $50,000 per year, payable over his lifetime and ending at his death (a single life annuity).

But in order to protect spouses, federal law generally provides that if Joe is married, the plan can’t pay this benefit to Joe as a single life annuity unless his spouse, Mary, agrees.

Instead, the benefit must be paid over Joe and Mary’s joint lives, with at least 50% of that benefit continuing to Mary for her remaining lifetime if she survives Joe.

(That’s why it’s called a “joint and survivor annuity;” and it’s “qualified” because it meets the requirements of federal law — “QJSA” for short.)

Now, here’s where it gets a little complicated. Because the QJSA benefit is potentially paid for a longer period of time–over two lifetimes instead of one — Joe’s “normal benefit” will typically be reduced.

Actuaries determine the exact amount of the reduction based on your life expectancies, but let’s assume that Joe’s benefit, if paid as a QJSA with 50% continuing to Mary after Joe’s death, is reduced to $45,000.

This amount will be paid until Joe dies. And if Mary survives Joe, then $22,500 per year is paid to her until she dies. But if Mary dies first, the pension ends at Joe’s death, and nothing further is paid.

The plan will usually offer the option to have more than 50% continue to you after your spouse dies. For example, you may be able to elect a 75% or 100% QJSA. However, the larger the survivor annuity you select, the smaller the benefit you’ll receive during your joint lives.

So, for example, if 100% continues after Joe’s death, then the payment to Joe might now be reduced to $40,000 (but $40,000 will continue to be paid after Joe’s death to Mary if she survives him)

You can rest assured that the QJSA option will be at least as valuable as any other optional form of benefit available to you — this is required by federal law.


In some cases, it will be even more valuable than the other options, as employers often “subsidize” the QJSA. “Subsidizing” occurs when the plan doesn’t reduce the benefit payable during your joint lives (or reduces it less than actuarially allowed).


For example, a plan might provide that Joe’s $50,000 normal benefit won’t be reduced at all if he and Mary elect the 50% QJSA option, and that she’ll receive the full $25,000 following Joe’s death.

It’s important for you to know whether your spouse’s plan subsidizes the QJSA so that you can make an informed decision about which option to select.

Other factors to consider are the health of you and your spouse, who’s likely to live longer, and how much other income you expect to have available if you survive your spouse.

You’ll receive an explanation of the QJSA from the plan prior to your spouse’s retirement, which should include a discussion of the relative values of each available payment option.

Carefully read all materials the plan sends you. A QJSA may help assure that you don’t outlive your retirement income — don’t waive your rights unless you fully understand the consequences.

And don’t be afraid to seek qualified professional advice, as this could be one of the most important retirement decisions you’ll make.

Qualified domestic relations orders

While we all hope our marriages will last forever, unfortunately that’s not always the case. And since men generally have larger retirement plan balances,1 the issue of how these benefits will be handled in the event of a divorce is especially critical for women who may have little or no retirement savings of their own.

Under federal law, employer retirement plan benefits generally can’t be assigned to someone else. However, one important exception to this rule is for “qualified domestic relations orders,” commonly known as QDROs.

If you and your spouse divorce, you can seek a state court order awarding you all or part of your spouse’s retirement plan benefit. Your spouse’s plan is required to follow the terms of any order that meets the federal QDRO requirements.

For example, you could be awarded all or part of your spouse’s 401(k) plan benefit as of a certain date, or all or part of your spouse’s pension plan benefit.

There are several ways to divide benefits, so it’s very important to hire an attorney who has experience negotiating and drafting QDROs — especially for defined benefit plans where the QDRO may need to address such items as survivor benefits, benefits earned after the divorce, plan subsidies, COLAs, and other complex issues.

(For example, a QDRO may provide that you will be treated as the surviving spouse for QJSA purposes, even if your spouse subsequently remarries.) The key takeaway here is that these rules exist for your benefit. Be sure your divorce attorney is aware of them.

You can have your own IRA

While it’s obviously important for women to try to contribute towards their own retirement, if you’re a nonworking spouse, your options are limited. But there is one tool you should know about. The “spousal IRA” rules may let you fund an individual retirement account even if you aren’t working and have no earnings.

A spousal IRA is your own account, in your own name–one that could become an important source of retirement income with regular contributions over time.

How does it work? Normally, to contribute to an IRA, you must have compensation at least equal to your contribution.

But if you’re married, file a joint federal income tax return, and earn less than your spouse (or nothing at all), the amount you can contribute to your own IRA isn’t based on your individual income, it’s based instead on the combined compensation of you and your spouse.

For example, Mary (age 50) and Joe (age 45) are married and file a joint federal income tax return for 2017. Joe earned $100,000 in 2017 and Mary, at home taking care of ill parents, earned nothing for the year. Joe contributes $5,500 to his IRA for 2017.

Even though Mary has no compensation, she can contribute up to $6,500 to an IRA for 2017 (that includes a $1,000 “catch-up” contribution), because Joe and Mary’s combined compensation is at least equal to their total contributions ($12,000).

The spousal IRA rules only determine how much you can contribute to your IRA; it doesn’t matter where the money you use to fund your IRA actually comes from — you’re not required to track the source of your contributions. And you don’t need your spouse’s consent to establish or fund your spousal IRA.

(The spousal IRA rules don’t change any of the other rules that generally apply to IRAs. You can contribute to a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, or both. But you can’t make regular contributions to a traditional IRA after you turn 70½.

And your ability to make annual contributions to a Roth IRA may be limited depending on the amount of your combined income.)

 

Important Disclosure

Women are more likely than men to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan. And women are more likely to interrupt their careers (or stay out of the workforce altogether) to raise children or take care of other family members. As a result, women generally work fewer years and save less, leaving many to rely on their husbands’ savings and benefits to carry them both through retirement.1
Sources
1U.S. Department of Labor, “Women and Retirement Savings,” www.dol.gov (accessed November 2016)
2NCHS Data Brief, Number 229, December 2015

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Four Things Women Need to Know about Social Security

Ever since a legal secretary named Ida May Fuller received the first retirement benefit check in 1940, women have been counting on Social Security to provide much-needed retirement income.

Social Security provides other important benefits too, including disability and survivor’s benefits, that can help women of all ages and their family members.

1. How does Social Security protect you and your family?

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you’re paying for three types of benefits: retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits.

Retirement benefits

Retirement benefits are the cornerstone of the Social Security program. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), because women are less often covered by retirement plans and live longer on average than men, they are typically more dependent on Social Security retirement benefits.*

Even if other sources of retirement income are exhausted, Social Security retirement benefits can’t be outlived. Many women qualify for benefits based on their own work record, but if you’re married, you may also qualify based on your spouse’s work record.

Disability benefits

During your working years, you may suffer a serious illness or injury that prevents you from earning a living, potentially putting you and your family at financial risk. But if you qualify for Social Security on your earnings record, you may be able to get monthly disability benefits.

You must have worked long enough in recent years, have a disability that is expected to last at least a year or result in death, and meet other requirements. If you’re receiving disability benefits, certain family members (such as your dependent children) may also be able to collect benefits based on your work record.

Because eligibility requirements are strict, Social Security is not a substitute for other types of disability insurance, but it can provide basic income protection.

Survivor’s benefits

You probably know the value of having life insurance to financially protect your family, but did you know that Social Security offers valuable income protection as well?

If you’re qualified for Social Security at your death, your surviving spouse (or ex-spouse), your unmarried dependent children, or your dependent parents may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings record.

You also have survivor protection if you’re married and your covered spouse dies and you’re at least age 60 (or at least age 50 if you’re disabled), or at any age if you’re caring for your covered child who is younger than age 16 or disabled.

2. How do you qualify for benefits?

When you work in a job where you pay Social Security taxes or self-employment taxes, you earn credits (up to four per year, depending on your earnings) that enable you to qualify for Social Security benefits.

In 2017, you earn one credit for each $1,300 of wages or self-employment income. The number of credits you need to qualify depends on your age and the benefit type.

  • For retirement benefits, you generally need to have earned at least 40 credits (10 years of work). However, you may also qualify for spousal benefits based on your spouse’s work history if you haven’t worked long enough to qualify on your own, or if the spousal benefit is greater than the benefit you’ve earned on your own work record.
  • For disability benefits (if you’re disabled at age 31 or older), you must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years just before you became disabled (different rules apply if you’re younger).
  • For survivor’s benefits for your family members, you need up to 40 credits (10 years of work), but under a special rule, if you’ve worked for only one and one-half years in the three years just before your death, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for them.

Whether you work full-time, part-time, or are a stay-at-home spouse, parent, or caregiver, it’s important to be aware of these rules and to understand how time spent in and out of the workforce might affect your entitlement to Social Security.

3. What will your retirement benefit be?

Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on the number of years you’ve worked and the amount you’ve earned. Your benefit is calculated using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earnings years.

If you earned little or nothing in several of those years, it may be to your advantage to work as long as possible, because you may have the opportunity to replace a year of lower earnings with a year of higher earnings, potentially resulting in a higher retirement benefit.


Your benefit will also be affected by your age at the time you begin receiving benefits. If you were born in 1943 or later, full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born. Your full retirement age is the age at which you can apply for an unreduced retirement benefit.


However, you can choose to receive benefits as early as age 62, if you’re willing to receive a reduced benefit. At age 62, your benefit will be 25% to 30% less than at full retirement age (this reduction is permanent).

On the other hand, you can get a higher payout by delaying retirement past your full retirement age, up to age 70. If you were born in 1943 or later, your benefit will increase by 8% for each year you delay retirement.

For example, the following chart shows how much an estimated monthly benefit at a full retirement age (FRA) of 66 would be worth if you started benefits 4 years early at age 62 (your monthly benefit is reduced by 25%), and how much it would be worth if you waited until age 70–4 years past full retirement age (your monthly benefit is increased by 32%).

Benefit at FRA Benefit at age 62 Benefit at age 70
$1,000 $750 $1,320
$1,200 $900 $1,584
$1,400 $1,050 $1,888
$1,600 $1,200 $2,112
$1,800 $1,350 $2,376

What if you’re married and qualify for spousal retirement benefits based on your spouse’s earnings record? In this case, your benefit at full retirement age will generally be equal to 50% of his benefit at full retirement age (subject to adjustments for early and late retirement). If you’re eligible for benefits on both your record and your spouse’s, you’ll generally receive the higher benefit amount.

One easy way to estimate your benefit based on your earnings record is to use the Retirement Estimator available on the SSA website. You can also visit the SSA website to sign up for a my Social Security account so that you can view your personalized Social Security Statement.

This statement gives you access to detailed information about your earnings history and estimates for disability, survivor’s, and retirement benefits.

4. When should you begin receiving retirement benefits?

Should you begin receiving benefits early and receive smaller payments over a longer period of time, or wait until your full retirement age or later and receive larger benefits over a shorter period of time? There’s no “right” answer..

It’s an individual decision that must be based on many factors, including other sources of retirement income, your marital status, whether you plan to continue working, your life expectancy, and your tax picture.


As a woman, you should pay close attention to how much retirement income Social Security will provide, because you may need to make your retirement dollars stretch over a long period of time.


If there’s a large gap between your projected expenses and your anticipated income, waiting a few years to retire and start collecting a larger Social Security benefit may improve your financial outlook. What’s more, the longer you stay in the workforce, the greater the amount of money you will earn and have available to put into your overall retirement savings.

Another plus is that Social Security’s annual cost-of-living increases are calculated using your initial year’s benefits as a base–the higher the base, the greater your annual increase, something that can help you maintain your standard of living throughout many years of retirement.

This is just an overview of Social Security. There’s a lot to learn about this program, and each person’s situation is unique. Contact a Social Security representative if you have questions.

Do you want to learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits?

We can help. Set up a call by clicking here or calling (310) 824-1000.

 

 

Important Disclosure

*Social Security Administration Publication–What Every Woman Should Know, Updated August 2016

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Converting Retirement Savings to Retirement Income

You’ve been saving diligently for years, and now it’s time to think about how to convert the money in your traditional 401(k)s (or similar workplace savings plans) into retirement income. But hold on, not so fast. You may need to take a few steps first.

Evaluate your needs

If you haven’t done so, estimate how much income you’ll need to meet your desired lifestyle in retirement.

Conventional wisdom says to plan on needing 70% to 100% of your annual pre-retirement income to meet your needs in retirement; however, your specific amount will depend on your unique circumstances.

First identify your non-negotiable fixed needs — such as housing, food, and medical care — to get clarity on how much it will cost to make basic ends meet. Then identify your variable wants — including travel, leisure, and entertainment.

Segregating your expenses into needs and wants will help you develop an income strategy to fund both.

Assess all sources of predictable income

Next, determine how much you might expect from sources of predictable income, such as Social Security and traditional pension plans.

➢ SOCIAL SECURITY

At your full retirement age (which varies from 66 to 67, depending on your year of birth), you’ll be entitled to receive your full benefit.

Although you can begin receiving reduced benefits as early as age 62, the longer you wait to begin (up to age 70), the more you’ll receive each month.

You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the calculators on the SSA website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your Social Security Statement online.

➢ TRADITIONAL PENSIONS

If you stand to receive a traditional pension from your current or a previous employer, be sure to familiarize yourself with its features.

For example, will your benefit remain steady throughout retirement or increase with inflation?

Your pension will most likely be offered as either a single life or joint-and-survivor annuity. A single-life annuity provides benefits until the worker’s death, while a joint-and-survivor annuity generally provides reduced benefits until the survivor’s death.1

If it looks as though your Social Security and pension income will be enough to cover your fixed needs, you may be well positioned to use your other assets to fund those extra wants.

On the other hand, if your predictable sources are not sufficient to cover your fixed needs, you’ll need to think carefully about how to tap your retirement savings plan assets, as they will be a necessary component of your income.

Understand your savings plan options

A key in determining how to tap your retirement plan assets is to understand the options available to you.


According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), only about one-third of 401(k) plans offer withdrawal options, such as installment payments, systematic withdrawals, and managed payout funds.2


And only about a quarter offer annuities, which are insurance contracts that provide guaranteed income for a stated amount of time (typically over a set number of years or for the life expectancy of the participant or the participant and spouse).3

Plans may allow you to leave the money alone or require you to take a lump-sum distribution. You may also choose to roll over the assets to an IRA, which might offer a variety of income and investment opportunities, including the purchase of annuity contracts.

If you choose to work part-time in retirement, you may be allowed to roll your assets into the new employer’s plan. Determining the right way to tap your assets can be challenging and should take into account a number of factors.

These include your tax situation, whether you have other assets you’ll use for income, and your desire to leave assets to heirs.

A financial professional can help you understand your options. Click here to get more information from our affiliate company PLJ Advisors.

If you need an unbiased second opinion on your retirement income plan, we can help. Call (310) 824-1000 or click here to request a call back.

 

Important Disclosure

1 Current law requires married couples to choose a joint-and-survivor annuity unless the spouse waives those rights.
2 “401(k) Plans: DOL Could Take Steps to Improve Retirement Income Options for Plan Participants,” GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, August 2016
3Generally, annuity contracts have fees and expenses, limitations, exclusions, holding periods, termination provisions, and terms for keeping the annuity in force. Most annuities have surrender charges that are assessed if the contract owner surrenders the annuity. Qualified annuities are typically purchased with pre-tax money, so withdrawals are fully taxable as ordinary income, and withdrawals prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% penalty tax. Any guarantees are contingent on the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing insurance company. It is important to understand that purchasing an annuity in an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan provides no additional tax benefits other than those available through the tax-deferred retirement plan.

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A Woman’s Guide to Health Care in Retirement

At any age, health care is a priority. But when you retire, you should probably focus more on health care than ever before. That’s why it’s particularly important for women to factor in the cost of health care, including long-term care, as part of their retirement plan.

How much you’ll spend on health care during retirement generally depends on a number of variables including when you retire, how long you live, your relative health, and the cost of medical care in your area. Another important factor to consider is the availability of Medicare. Generally, you’ll be eligible for Medicare when you reach age 65. But what if you retire at a younger age?

You’ll need some way to pay for your health care until Medicare kicks in. Your employer may offer health insurance coverage to its retiring employees, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If your employer doesn’t extend health benefits, you may be able to get insurance coverage through your spouse’s plan. If that’s not an option, you may need to buy a private health insurance policy (which could be costly) or extend your employer-sponsored coverage through COBRA.

Medicare

As mentioned, most Americans automatically become entitled to Medicare when they turn 65.


In fact, if you’re already receiving Social Security benefits when you’re 65, you won’t even have to apply—you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare. However, you will have to decide whether you need only Part A coverage (which is premium-free for most retirees) or if you want to also purchase Part B coverage.


Medicare Part A, B, C

Part A, commonly referred to as the hospital insurance portion of Medicare, can help pay for your inpatient hospital care, plus home health care and hospice care.

Part B helps cover other medical care such as physician services, laboratory tests, and physical therapy.

➢ You may also choose to enroll in a managed care plan or private fee-for-service plan under Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) if you want to pay fewer out-of-pocket health-care costs.

And if you don’t already have adequate prescription drug coverage or belong to a Medicare Advantage Plan, you should consider joining a Medicare prescription drug plan offered in your area by a private company or insurer that has been approved by Medicare.


Unfortunately, Medicare won’t cover all of your health-related expenses. For some types of care, you’ll have to satisfy a deductible and make co-payments. That’s why many retirees purchase a Medigap policy.


Medigap

Unless you can afford to pay out of pocket for the things that Medicare doesn’t cover, including the annual co-payments and deductibles that apply to certain types of services, you may want to buy some type of Medigap policy when you sign up for Medicare Part B.

➢ In most states, there are 10 standard Medigap policies available. Each of these policies offers certain basic core benefits, and all but the most basic policy (Plan A) offer various combinations of additional benefits designed to cover what Medicare does not.

Although not all Medigap plans are available in every state, you should be able to find a plan that best meets your needs and your budget.


When you first enroll in Medicare Part B at age 65 or older, you have a six-month Medigap open enrollment period. During that time, you have a right to buy the Medigap policy of your choice from a private insurance company, regardless of any health problems you may have. The company cannot refuse you a policy or charge you more than other open enrollment applicants.


Long-term care

Long-term care refers to the ongoing services and support needed by people who have chronic health conditions or disabilities. Long-term care can be expensive. An important part of planning is deciding how to pay for these services.

Buying long-term care (LTC) insurance is an option. While premiums may be costly, having LTC insurance may allow you to elect where you receive your care, the type of care you receive, and who provides care to you. Many LTC insurance policies pay for the cost of care provided in a nursing home, assisted-living facility, or at home, but the cost of coverage generally depends on your age and the policy benefits and options you purchase. And premiums can increase if the insurer raises its overall rates.

Even with LTC insurance, you still may have some expenses not covered by LTC insurance.

For example:

➢ Not all policies provide coverage for care in your home. While the cost of in-home care may be less than the cost of care provided in a nursing home, it can still be quite expensive.

➢ Most policies allow for the selection of an elimination period of between 10 days and 1 year, during which time you are responsible for payment of care.

➢ The LTC insurance benefit is often paid based on a daily or monthly maximum amount, which may not be enough to cover all of the costs of care.

➢ While lifetime coverage may be selected, it can increase the premium cost significantly, and some policies may not offer that option. Another option that can be valuable, but also increase the premium expense considerably, is cost-of-living or inflation protection, which annually increases the daily insurance benefit based on a certain percentage.

➢ Most common LTC insurance benefit periods last from 1 year to 5 years, after which time the insurance coverage generally ends regardless of whether care is still being provided.

To encourage more individuals to buy long-term care insurance, many states have enacted Partnership programs that authorize private insurers to sell state-approved long-term care Partnership policies. Partnership policy owners, who expend policy benefits on long-term care services, will qualify for Medicaid without having to first spend all or most of their remaining assets (assuming they meet income and other eligibility requirements).

Medicaid and government benefits

Government benefits provided primarily through a state’s Medicaid program may be used to pay for long-term care. To qualify for Medicaid, however, assets and income must fall below certain limits, which vary from state to state. Often, this requires spending down assets, which may mean using savings to pay for care before qualifying for Medicaid.

If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for long-term care services for service-related disabilities and for other health programs such as nursing home care and at-home care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you don’t have service-related disabilities, you may also be eligible for VA benefits if you are unable to pay for the cost of necessary care. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website (www.va.gov) for more information.

Other health-care factors to consider

It’s clear that health care is an important factor in retirement planning. Here are some tips to consider:

➢ Evaluate your present health and project your future medical needs. Considering your family’s health history may help you determine the type of care you might need in later years.

➢ Don’t presume Medicare and Medigap insurance will cover all your expenses. For example, Medicare (Parts A and B) does not cover the cost of routine eye exams, most eyeglasses or contact lenses, or routine hearing exams or hearing aids. Include potential out-of-pocket costs in your plan.

➢ Even if you have Medicare and Medigap insurance, there are premiums, deductibles, and co-payments to consider.

You may have already begun saving for your retirement, or you could be retired already, but if you fail to include the cost of health care as a retirement expense, you’re likely to find that health-care costs can sap retirement income in a hurry, potentially leaving you financially strapped.

Need help with your insurance and retirement planning? Click here for a no-obligation planning session. Our goal is to help make sure health care expenses do NOT deplete your hard-earned life savings! We’ve helped hundreds of women in the Los Angeles community against this growing problem.

 

VIDEO: Are Soaring Health Care Costs Hurting the U.S. Economy?

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Five Things to Watch Out for When Buying Long-Term Care Insurance

You’ve researched long-term care insurance (LTCI) and are seriously thinking of buying a policy. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons–don’t be swayed by unsubstantiated sales pitches. Here are some claims you’ll want to think twice about.

A long-term care policy is a great tax write-off

Though it’s true that premiums paid on a tax-qualified LTCI policy can reduce your tax burden, you must itemize deductions to be eligible. When you’re older, perhaps you’ll no longer itemize deductions. And even if you do, LTCI premiums fall under the write-off for medical and dental expenses, which is limited to expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. So, for example, if your adjusted gross income is $60,000, you are able to deduct only that portion of your unreimbursed medical and dental expenses (including LTCI premiums) that exceeds $6,000.

And there’s another caveat. Even if your LTCI premiums exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can’t include all of the premiums in your deduction for medical and dental expenses. Instead, your premiums are deductible according to a sliding scale that depends on your age. So what might look like a great tax write-off at first glance may not be so great after all.

Note: The threshold is 7.5 percent for those age 65 and older until 2017, at which time it increases to 10 percent.

You should buy a policy now so you can lock in the price forever

With most LTCI policies, your age at the time you purchase the policy is a factor in determining your premiums. However, this doesn’t mean that your premiums will stay the same as long as you own the policy. In fact, your premiums can increase if your insurance company establishes a rate increase for everyone in your class, and that increase is approved by the state insurance commissioner.

As a relatively new type of insurance, LTCI may be particularly susceptible to rate increases, because insurance companies lack a sufficient amount of underwriting data to predict the number and size of claims they can expect in the future. And unfortunately for you, if your insurance company does raise your premium, it may not be so simple to take your business elsewhere. Any premium on a new LTCI policy will still be based on your age, which will be higher, and your health, which may be worse. So no matter when you buy your policy, make sure you can afford the premiums both now and in the future.

It doesn’t matter how the policy defines “facility”

Currently, there are no national standards on what constitutes a long-term care facility. This means that an “assisted-living facility” or “adult day-care facility” may mean one thing in a particular policy or state and another thing in a different policy or state. This can pose a problem if you buy the policy in one state and then retire to another state–there may be no facilities in your new state that match the definitions in your policy. To protect yourself, make sure you understand exactly what types of facilities the LTCI policy covers before you buy it.

It’s not necessary to check the financial rating of the insurance company

A large number of unexpected long-term care claims could potentially devastate an insurance company that isn’t financially strong. So before you buy an LTCI policy, it’s always a good idea to check the company’s financial rating by using a rating service like Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, A. M. Best, or Fitch. You can also check with your state’s insurance department for more specific financial information on particular companies.

You should get rid of the policy you have now and buy a new one

Although in some cases a new LTCI policy might have an attractive added benefit that your old policy doesn’t, red flags should go up if an insurance agent encourages you to ditch your old policy for a new one without providing a clear explanation of the added benefits. For one thing, your premiums are based on your age and your health at the time you purchase the policy, so all other things being equal, your new policy will be more expensive. For another, you run the risk that a pre-existing condition won’t be covered under the new policy.

If you’re unhappy with your current policy, an alternative may be to upgrade it rather than replace it (though the agent earns a larger commission if you replace it). Unfortunately, there are unethical agents who make misleading comparisons of LTCI policies in an attempt to get you to switch policies for no reason other than their commission. If you’re considering switching policies, make sure you understand exactly what the new policy offers, whether this additional coverage is important to you, and what you’re giving up.

 

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Inflation Trends 101

When it comes to investing money in the stock market, there are no guarantees.

Even financial experts, who have devoted every waking hour to understanding the market, cannot promise a return on investment. If they could, they would never have to work another day in their lives. Instead, many experts look at many factors to try and anticipate what might happen, and then they invest accordingly.

Inflation is a Major Concern for Many Investors

This can be a tough reality for new investors who are trying to make a decent return on their retirement savings. Add elements like inflation to the mix and you may end up with people who don’t know what to do.

In fact, a recent report by the Society of Actuaries showed that 69 percent of pre-retirees polled cited inflation as a key concern – tied with long-term care.1

Stay Calm, Get the Facts

First thing’s first: don’t panic! People who panic are often vulnerable to bad advice and sometimes shady advisors who put their profit over yours.

➢ Here’s a smart rule to follow: learn as much as you can about your investments and the market, so when you talk to an advisor you understand how your money is being allocated.

It’s Anyone’s Guess!

If you’re keeping up with the financial news, you’re probably seeing a lot of speculation about whether or not inflation will rise. As with the stock market, there’s no guarantee when or if it will – there is just speculation based on many factors.

↳ For long-term investments, a diverse portfolio with stocks can be a good hedge against inflation. In the short-term, you may want to also consider bonds; this is because as inflation rises, you may be able to take advantage of climbing interest rates.

↳ Commodities, like gold, may also be an option for short-term investing. But, for long-term investments, their track record for performance has not been ideal. Gold has returned only 0.7 percentage point per year more than inflation over the past two hundred years2 – you can get a higher return than that with a simple savings account.

Talk to Your Advisor Regularly

The message here is that it’s important to understand the market and be sure your advisor is keeping up with current trends as well as your retirement goals. You should make sure your advisor reviews your portfolio if inflation does rise to be sure you adjust your investments to stay on target for your goals.

Remember, you can’t get a second opinion from the same advisor who gave you the first!

 

Inflation aside, it’s always a good idea to talk with your advisors at least twice yearly as you get closer to retiring. Never leave a meeting with unanswered questions or confusion – a good advisor will make sure you understand how your money is being invested, what fees you’re paying and the strategy he or she is employing in helping you plan your retirement income streams.

 

 

1https://www.soa.org/press-releases/2016/survey-examines-retirement-concerns/
2http://www.kiplinger.com/article/investing/T052-C019-S001-stocks-the-best-inflation-hedge.html

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One of The Worst Retirement Advice You Can Get (And The Secret to Spotting It)

Imagine saving your whole life for retirement. You sacrifice a better car, summer vacation and all the other bells and whistles your friends seem to be enjoying all in the name of a secure retirement.

You have accumulated a nice little nest egg – one big enough to afford you a comfortable, work-free lifestyle.

Now it’s time to retire. You might have to roll over your employer-sponsored 401k into an IRA. You have to figure out your budget and how much to withdraw each month. These are typical decisions retirees must make.

But then you get bad advice. Very bad advice.

The Mistake That Can Cost You Everything

Here’s where it all goes downhill: you talk to a financial advisor who tells you to put your money into XYZ investment. It’s great for the advisor, because XYZ has high commissions and high fees – so they are getting a nice little check from your money. The problem is that XYZ investment is a high risk stock – which means, if you’re retired, you have no time to recover from losses.

The 401k Rollover Crisis

This one bad investment decision is not unusual for so many Americans. They end up in the wrong advisor’s office and, with the stroke of a pen, lose their entire retirement savings – or a very big chunk of it. Now, you have to go back to work – without any chance of rebuilding what you worked so hard to create.

In fact, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle recently said that bad advice while rolling over 401ks is one of the top three retirement crises.1

 

The Fiduciary Rule

We talked about the Fiduciary Rule here, in one of our recent articles. This rule, adopted by the Department of Labor, requires financial advisors to put their clients’ financial well-being above their own. This means if there’s a better product for the client, but less commission for the advisor – the advisor will recommend that product.

➢ However, just because this rule is in place doesn’t mean you should get complacent.  

How to Spot Bad Financial Advice

  1. How Is Your Financial Advisor Earning Money?

Ask your advisor how he or she is getting paid. You want to be sure your advisor is offering you the best products for your goals – not the best product for their bank account.

  1. Is Your Financial Advisor Asking the Right Questions?

If your advisor doesn’t understand your retirement goals, then there is little chance he is going to create a solid financial strategy for you. A good advisor will ask questions.

➢ When do you want to retire?

➢ What will your income streams be? For example, do you have rental property or a pension?

Not only will your advisor ask questions, but he or she will also follow up with you regularly to adjust your investments as you near retirement.

An advisor who doesn’t understand your goals and just locks you into a payment plan, is not someone you may want to trust with your financial future.

  1. “I Can Outsmart the Market!”

If your advisor promises high returns or that they can beat the market, then you should run – not walk – out of their office. A respected advisor usually does not promise huge returns, without divulging the huge risks.

What to Look For In an Advisor 

Ask Around

A great first step in choosing an advisor is getting excellent recommendations from friends.

 

Do some research online and learn about their history – have they been in business long?

Do Some Digging

Next, you should run a background check. Find out if your advisor has ever been convicted of a crime or if he or she has been investigated by a regulatory body.

Here are two good resources:

➢ FINRA Broker Check – BrokerCheck tells you instantly whether a person or firm is registered, as required by law, to sell securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds and more), offer investment advice or both. It also gives you a snapshot of a broker’s employment history, licensing information and regulatory actions, arbitrations and complaints.

➢SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure – You can search for an individual investment adviser representative and view that individual’s professional background and conduct, including current registrations, employment history, and disclosures about certain disciplinary events involving the individual.

Get Real Answers

Finally, ask questions – and get clear answers. If a potential advisor is using complicated jargon to explain his investment strategies, then you should keep moving. A good advisor will lay everything on the table. You should be crystal clear on what fees and commissions you’re paying, what the investment strategy is, how exposed you are to the market and what you can expect in returns.

Once you decide on an advisor, be sure to check on your investments regularly. As you get closer to retiring, you should check more often.

 

1http://time.com/money/4513522/jack-bogle-bogleheads-retirement-crisis/

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Getting Divorced Checklist

General information Yes No N/A
1. Has relevant personal information been gathered?
• Each spouse’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number
• Names and birth dates of children
• Date and place of marriage and length of time in present state
• Information about prior marriages and children
• Date of separation and grounds for divorce
• Current occupation of spouses and name/address of employers
• Education and degrees of each spouse
• Name, address, and telephone number of attorney
2. Has financial situation been assessed?
• Each spouse’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number
• Names and birth dates of children
• Date and place of marriage and length of time in present state
• Information about prior marriages and children
• Date of separation and grounds for divorce
• Current occupation of spouses and name/address of employers
• Education and degrees of each spouse
• Name, address, and telephone number of attorney

PROPERTY SETTLEMENTS Yes No N/A
1. Does prenuptial agreement exist?
2. Do spouses reside in a community property state?
3. Have all assets been listed, valued, and classified as joint or
separate?
4. Have the tax bases of all assets been determined?
5. If assets will be transferred or sold, have tax consequences been
calculated and explained to client?
6. Have loans and other liabilities on the properties (or otherwise) been
listed and considered?
7. Is there a family business?

ALIMONY AND CHILD SUPPORT Yes No N/A
1. Have tax consequences of classifying support as alimony or child support been reviewed?
2. Has physical custody of children been determined?
3. Has legal custody of children been determined?
4. Have visitation parameters been established for the noncustodial parent?
5. Will alimony be paid?

MARITAL HOME Yes No N/A
1. Will home be transferred to either spouse as part of settlement?
2. If yes, has cost basis been reviewed for improvements?
3. Has amount of outstanding mortgage been calculated?
4. Will the principal residence be sold to a third party?
5. If yes, has the tax cost (if any) been computed?

RETIREMENT PLANNING Yes No N/A
1. Have retirement plans been listed and interests in retirement plans been reviewed?
2. Will the divorce decree provide a payout from the plan? If so, will a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) be used?
3. Should beneficiary designations be changed?
4. Will any IRS penalties apply?
5. Can retirement money be rolled over to IRA?

TAX PLANNING Yes No N/A
1. If already divorced, was divorce finalized by year-end?
2. If still married at year-end, agree to file jointly?
3. Have joint filing risks been discussed?
4. Has separate maintenance decree been obtained to permit filing as unmarried or head of household?
5. Have head of household conditions been met?
5. Has it been decided which spouse will get dependency exemption?

other Yes No N/A
1. Should will and trust be changed?
2. Should insurance policy beneficiaries be changed?
3. Should banks and other creditors be notified of divorce and signatures changed?
4. Will either spouse’s health insurance plan cover the children post-divorce? Cover spouse?
5. Has budget been revised to account for changes in income and liabilities?
5. Does credit need to be repaired or established?