Pouring your retirement foundation

The news media conditions us to think about our retirement savings need as a fixed number. At a recent graduation party someone told me they had $1.5MM saved for retirement,” and then came the big question: “Do you think that’s enough?” As a financial planner, this question Numbershas always perplexed me. With only that snippet of information, how in the world am I to know how much this person needs in retirement? The key is to know your “number” in the context of your goal-centric plan — not in terms of your demographic, neighbor or brother. So, let’s look at some factors that will affect your “number.”

1)     Your cost of living. This is first for a reason. If you don’t have this figured out, take the time to work on it. There are numerous online tools to help you with it. The tool I often recommend to clients is Mint.com. The point here is simple: If you are going to spend $200,000/year in retirement, your nest egg needs to be much bigger than if you are going to spend $100,000/year.

2)     Social Security. Just having this income stream will a lesser burden on your nest egg.  The question is: How much less? The maximum figure you can expect to receive in today’s dollars is around $30,000 per year. Get a personalized estimate here. You can begin taking this benefit as early as age 62, or as late as 70, depending on your unique set of circumstances.

3)     Other private and public pensions. Just like Social Security, these income sources will reduce the withdrawal burden or allow you to achieve a successful retirement period on a smaller nest egg. Pensions typically afford more flexibility than Social Security. One example is the single or joint life benefit option (read more on this from my colleague, Jeremy Burger, here). Another option is to take a lump sum. Your decisions on these options will have important implications for your retirement plan.

4)     Distribution rate and portfolio allocation. 4%  of your portfolio is generally considered to be a sustainable withdrawal rate. But what is your portfolio made of? A 60% equity, 40% bond allocation? How about 100% equity? Beyond that, how should you allocate the respective equity and bond components? These are important questions that you need to answer. Your advisor can help. One thing is for sure: With increasing longevity, you are going to need some long-term growth in the portfolio. And, since you will be distributing, you must shield your portfolio from the short-term volatility of the equity markets. The key is to find the perfect balance.

Having worked with hundreds of clients over the past several years, I can tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Few people have the tools or know-how to coordinate all of this effectively, and one simple fact stated in the middle of a party is clearly not enough information to solve it all. If you’re not sure what your “number” is, be sure to ask an advisor for help.

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Five reasons to track expenses before retiring

For individuals nearing retirement, one of the first things to consider is: How much money will I be able to withdraw from my portfolio on an annual basis? This is a very important issue and ideally should be determined before entering into retirement.

Whether you use spreadsheets, receipts in shoe boxes or a computer program to track your expenses, it is important to know how much you spend to support your lifestyle. Before considering how much equity you will need in your portfolio during retirement, you should track your expenses for a few years to give you a firm idea of your outflows.

There are a number of software solutions available to help, including Quicken, Microsoft Money and Mint.com. While I don’t recommend any particular software, I do think you should find and use one that suits your needs. Here’s why:

  1. You can easily view expenses broken down by category. Until you actually measure the monthly expenses in an accurate and systematic way, you may only have a vague idea of how much is being spent in each category.
  2. With financial software, it is much easier to prepare your tax return. This is especially true if you itemize. All of the good personal finance software options have preloaded categories that are set up to capture deductible items. Once entered, you can produce individual category reports.
  3. With the aid of software, you always have access to a current balance on your credit card and personal checking accounts. This data can also be downloaded into the software, making catching errors or fraud very easy.
  4. The personal financial software can make it easier to pay bills on time and keep track of your automatic payments. Since it is possible to automate some of your monthly bills to be charged to a credit card or auto-debit from your checking account, the software helps you track all the different payment transactions in one central location.
  5. It allows for a smoother transition in the event you become incapacitated. Your spouse, partner or other family member will have a much easier time assuming bill paying responsibilities if you are using expense software.

Personal expense tracking software will help give you accurate, reliable information about how much money you are likely to need in retirement. This will help you determine if your monthly expenses can be supported by your current portfolio and if any changes need to be made – either to your expenses or your portfolio. Remember, if you can track it, you can manage it.

The best way to begin retirement planning is to start early. The sooner you know if your annual requirements are out of sync with what a balanced portfolio can produce, the more options you will have to correct the situation.

 

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How to invest so your money lasts in retirement

Editor’s Note: Below is an article published first on MarketWatch.com that was written by Larry Katz, CFA – Director of Research at Merriman.

A major concern of many people is whether their savings will last for their entire retirement. If the savings do last, it’s a success, but if the savings don’t last it could be considered a failure.

Key factors which influence whether savings will last for your entire retirement include the size of your portfolio at retirement (bigger is better), the amount of periodic withdrawals (the lower the withdrawals the greater the chance of not running out of money) and longevity (the longer you live, the more you need at the start of retirement).

Another consideration is the diversification among various asset classes within the portfolio. The greater the diversification and exposure to beneficial asset classes, the lower the portfolio risk, and the greater the chance of financial success in retirement. (more…)

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It’s RMD time here at Merriman

To make the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) process easier, we recommend having the distribution set up to go out automatically each year so you don’t have to think about it. It’s easy to do, and most custodians provide a number of options. You can specify the day of the year it should be withdrawn and have it sent to you by check, direct deposit, or have it transferred to another taxable account at your custodian.

If you’re a Merriman client and you want to set up automatic distributions to take care of your RMD, please give us a call and we’ll help you set it up.  To learn more about RMDs click here.

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Investing around mutual fund distributions

I have liquid assets that I want to invest in Vanguard Funds using your diversification strategy. Many of the funds pay out dividends at the end of December. My money is sitting in the bank right now. Is it better to wait until January to invest after the dividends are paid, or is now far enough ahead that the dividends won’t create a penalty?


If your time frame is from now to the end of the year, there is no way to know now whether you should invest at all. If markets go down between now and December 31, you are better off with money in the bank. If markets go up, you are better off investing.

(more…)

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What annuity option should I choose?

I am approaching the age of retirement after a career in teaching, and I have a couple of options for taking my pension. One option is to take a single life annuity benefit of $1,040 per month. The other option would give me a lump sum of $35,320 plus a reduced monthly benefit of $793. Which one would be better for me?


The best answer will depend on your unique set of circumstances. A general rule of thumb is to base this choice on your life expectancy. If you live for many years, you’ll collect more by taking the larger annuity. If you live for relatively few years, you’ll collect more with the lump sum.

There are two main risks involved in this choice. One is that you might live a very long time. The other is inflation. Unless your annuity payment is protected by a cost-of-living adjustment, inflation will erode your monthly income over time. (more…)

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