Too many people put retirement planning on the back burner until after the last minute. Financial planners warn against seeking retirement guidance after turning in the paperwork; it takes advance planning and a countdown to retire right.
Despite visions of kicking back in a recliner and reading that novel or unlimited time to play golf, it’s easy to underestimate how difficult retirement can be. After all, you are disrupting years-long work routines and friends networks.
Still, many put retirement planning on the backburner. “It’s amazing how many people do come in so late in the game,” says Jennifer Belmont Jennings, attorney at MGD Law wealth and estate planning in St. Louis, Missouri. “But the sooner you start, the better.”
Some advice for retirement planning, and when you should start:
Ten years from retirement
Belmont Jennings says at this point you should have an estate planning attorney, a tax professional and a financial planner. “That is the team that is going to guide you along the way and make sure you’re doing what you need to do, help you understand all of the tax consequences and the family consequences to all of the decisions that you’re making.”
“You really need to make sure you are on the right track,” she says. “Do you have a gap in your savings? Do you need to start putting away more and spending less? “It’s a really good check-in time to make sure all of that is lined up. This is a much better time to start trying to make tweaks then one or two or five years out.”
Eric Bond, founder and president of Bond Wealth Management in Long Beach, California, says this is when you should and increase contributions to your retirement funds.
“Your kids have already graduated college and you’re getting close to paying down the loan on your house,” he says. “You’re probably making more money than then you were 10 years before that. So, can you start contributing more to your retirement account?”
Also, he says, if you are over 50 you should take advantage of the catch-up provisions. Annual contribution caps for 2023 are $22,500 for your 401(k) and $6,500 for an IRA. But if you are 50 or older you can contribute an additional $7,500 and to your 401(k) and $1,000 to IRA.
It’s also time to check on your Social Security benefits, he says. “You see how much you’ll get if you go to www.ssa.gov. If you’re married, check your spouse, as well.”
“It’s a really good check in time to make sure all of that is lined up to so I think you know 10 years out. That is a much better time to start trying to make tweaks then one or two or five years out,” says Belmont Jennings.
5 years from retirement
Start to think about if your financial needs in retirement, Bond says. “Are you going to have to start taking money out of your IRAs in five years? And you start kind of planning for that because sometimes people will say to me, I’m retiring next year, should I get really conservative? No. You should stay invested.”
You need think about gifting, says Belmont Jennings. “We all want to help our children pay for things. How does that fit into your plan? Do you want to do things for your grandchildren? Do you want to pay for college? What are the tax efficient ways to do that? those are all things that that you need to think about?”
2 years from retirement
This is when you should start being more conservative with your investments, Bond says. Begin thinking about your withdrawal process. How much will you need to withdraw annually? Look at your pension and do an analysis to determine if you should take it as a pension or roll it over into an IRA. “There are pros and cons to both.”
You should also have your health insurance figured out. If you retire before 65, you will have five years before you’re eligible for Medicare, so you should have other options.
“When you’re going to be doing Medicare, you want to work with a specialist,” Belmont Jennings says. “This is not just like Googling on the internet and sign up. Work with somebody who specializes in Medicare and supplemental plans and who understands enrollment and penalties if you don’t enroll in time. That is very, very important.”
It’s also time to test out your retirement budget, she says. “See how it feels. It’s better to do it sooner. The whole moral of the story is please don’t wait until you’re one year out. But we know that there are people that are going to do it. Look into part time (work) options if you’re going to have trouble making up the shortfall. You don’t have to fully retire. You can do things and earn some supplemental income.”
In the best of all worlds, you should begin retirement planning when you start your first job, Belmont Jennings says. “The tweaks are smaller the further out you start planning. “The closer you get to retirement day, the tweaks are a lot bigger and could really impact the way you live. You might have to put a lot more away than you were planning on.”
Rodney A. Brooks is the former deputy managing editor/Money at USA TODAY. His retirement columns appear in U.S. News & World Report and Senior Planet.com. He has written for National Geographic, The Washington Post and USA TODAY. The author of “Fixing the Racial Wealth Gap,” Brooks has testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. His website is www.rodneyabrooks.com.
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