Preparing for retirement? Start with these three key areas
Ahhhh, retirement: It's what you've worked, saved, and planned for all these years. Now that it's approaching, have you thought through all the steps you need to take to transition into retirement? Here are three major planning areas to consider:
- Turning savings into income. To start your next chapter in life with comfort and confidence, you'll need to create a plan to turn the money you've saved into a steady stream of income.
- Timing your Social Security benefits. You're eligible at 62, but when should you start collecting Social Security? While there is no one-size-fits all answer, waiting could potentially increase your retirement income.
- Planning for health care costs. This is a biggie - and often underestimated. Our 2018 health care costs study¹ estimates that a couple retiring in 2018 at age 65 can expect to spend at least $280,000 to supplement Medicare and cover their out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement. Consider how much health care will cost you, how much Medicare will cover, and how you will bridge the gap.
Estimate expenses to know how much you'll need
Retirement is a very personal experience, built on your own specific needs and aspirations. Building a retirement plan that works for you starts with one exercise: understanding your future needs and expenses to see how much income you'll need.
To put you on the right path, start by estimating your needs in these three key areas:
- Essential expenses - Just as in your working years, you'll need income to pay for "must-haves" like food, utilities, health care and insurance, and housing.
- Emergency needs - There are rainy days even in retirement. Set aside some cash so that if an accident, emergency, or other unexpected event arises you won't have to cover the costs with credit cards alone.
- Discretionary spending - How will you spend retirement? Enjoying a favorite hobby? Traveling? Spoiling the grandkids? Since these "nice-to-have" expenses are variable, consider covering them by making as-needed withdrawals from your investment portfolio, which may include stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. In the meantime, until expenses arise, simply leave your investments to potentially grow, giving yourself a greater opportunity to build assets you'll need for 30 years or more in retirement.
Once you identify your needs, determine a personal plan for generating income (see next tab, "Generating Enough Income").
Turn your savings into income
You've spent years saving. Come retirement, it's finally time to put that money to good use. To do so wisely, you'll want to tackle two critical tasks: turning your savings into a reliable stream of income and developing a plan to help make your money last. Here are two steps to get started in generating your retirement cash flow:
- Create a steady stream of income. To do so, find a strategy that turns your savings into guaranteed cash flow to cover your essential expenses.* One option is an annuity, which can start immediately or on a future date but you may also get income from a variety of other sources, including Social Security benefits, pension distributions, part-time employment, or the sale of assets.
- Make your money last. Focus on determining your appropriate withdrawal rate, or how much you withdraw each year from savings to cover your needs. Be mindful of the accounts you withdraw from as well. To help minimize taxes, consider withdrawing first from tax-free accounts (bank accounts and the cash portion of your brokerage accounts); the longer you leave funds untouched in your IRA or 401(k), the more chances to earn tax-deferred growth.
To make every dollar count, also be sure to factor in other important considerations, such as inflation and the cost of health care (including Medicare).
Preserve and Share What You've Grown
You've opened a world of possibilities for your retirement by saving and investing for years. Today, with your goals in sight, your efforts have also opened another opportunity: the ability to ensure the loved ones and organizations near to your heart are taken care of today and in the future. Here are three steps to take to help ensure you leave the legacy you desire:
- Determine what you'll give and to whom. To properly fulfill your personal wishes, start by listing the people, organizations, or life events you want to support - be it friends, family, charities, a college education - to ensure nothing's overlooked.
- Name your beneficiaries. Beneficiary is the legal term for someone who will inherit assets from you upon your passing. Name beneficiaries for your accounts online (if available in your plan) or by phone.
- Gift assets today. Gifting allows you - and others - to benefit from your generosity immediately. By gifting assets to family or charity, you will not only help those you care about, you may also enjoy immediate income and estate tax benefits.
Ultimately, giving to others is a very personal decision. By planning your legacy ahead of time, you may gain greater control of how your assets are passed on to those you love