04/17/17

Worried you’ll run out of money in retirement? Then don’t make these rookie mistakes

By Katie Young & Sharon Epperson, April 13, 2017, CNBC.com

Being newly retired is definitely a reason to celebrate — and spend — some of the hard-earned money you’ve saved over the years.

Yet with Americans living longer, experts say you need to plan for a retirement that could last 30 years or more. Add in ever-rising medical costs, mostly stagnant Social Security checks and all of a sudden that pile of cash doesn’t look so big.

The issue of outliving your money is a real threat. To avoid having that happen don’t make these classic new-retiree mistakes.

Spending too much too soon

Making the transition from earning money to spending money when you first stop working is tricky. Especially if you’re healthy and eager to enjoy all that new free time.

“We get this all the time, where recently retired clients will do a trip to Europe or Asia, then spend four weeks in the Caribbean, saying, ‘When we get older we’ll slow down,’” said Chris Schaefer, who leads MV Financial’s Retirement Plan Practice Group, Bethesda, Maryland. “They’re eating so much of principal in early retirement that they don’t have enough to last.”

Schaefer suggests that working with a financial planner to create a withdrawal strategy for your retirement accounts is key. He says a good starting point is taking out no more than 4 percent of your total nest egg a year.

Overspending on the house

Wanting to be debt free is an admirable goal and one that works for many retirees. However, if you haven’t paid off the mortgage yet, rushing to do so may not be your best move.

As long as you have the cash flow to comfortably make the payments, Schaefer says don’t sacrifice your retirement savings by using a big chunk to pay it down. Instead keep it invested where it should continue to grow.

Plus having a mortgage offers tax benefits you can still claim as a retiree.

Overspending on the kids

Once you retire it’s time to let the 35-year-olds take care of themselves.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve seen this more and more with millennials not able to get out on their own,” Schaefer said.

So, if you’re paying rent for your adult children, or their cellphone bill, car payments or other recurring costs, it’s time to sit down with them and tell them it’s over.

Making smart decisions early on will help stretch your money further so you can retire well.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP® 

04/10/17

Start a Strategic Plan for ‘Working Retirement’

By Jerry Osteryoung, Feb. 2, 2017, “Helping Small Businesses”

Retiring is not a subject people normally discuss over dinner. It is particularly difficult for entrepreneurs and executives, many of whom do not accept the notion that their organizations can exist without them. This is because, in their minds, the fact that their organizations can do without them means their contributions must not have been significant. If they stay in the business and do not retire, however, they feel their value cannot be questioned.

I have heard many entrepreneurs say they are reluctant to retire and let their children take over because their kids just do not have the requisite experience. Of course, what they really fear is that if they leave, they will no longer be important.

In my experience, it is a small group of folks who are able to retire from their businesses, walk away without looking back or having any regrets and enjoy a prosperous retirement. Unfortunately, they are less than 5 percent of the cases I have seen. People who struggle with the retirement process fall into two groups.

First, there are those who retire with no planning or thought and expect to have a magnificent retirement. Then there are those who are fearful of retirement and do everything they can to not only avoid talking about it, but also avoid starting it. A “working retirement” is the solution for both these groups.

When we are working, we are producing something of value, but working in your company is not the only way to contribute. It has taken me a long time to figure this out, but I really believe if you approach retirement like any other challenge you face running your business, you can deal with just about anything.

When I say “working retirement” I mean you work at retirement the same way you worked at your job or vocation. You must develop a plan of the things you want to do when you retire, and there are a few things I believe are key to retiring well. Firstly, I recommend doing something to help others in retirement. Contributing something of value to someone else really makes you feel good. I can personally attest to how fulfilling that is.

I have been teaching a course about starting a business at Gadsden Correctional Facility for about six years now. These women are so appreciative of the knowledge I am sharing with them that it makes me feel great to do it. A second critical element your working retirement should include is doing something for your body to ensure you stay healthy. From walking to climbing mountains, there are so many ways to do this.

Team activities – ensuring you have plenty of social interaction – are also important in a working retirement. When you retire, you lose those working relationships that were such a big part of your daily life. It is vital your retirement plan includes interactions with people. For me, getting out with friends and walking in nature are so uplifting for many different reasons.

Finally, it is vital in a working retirement that you find a way to continue doing some work in your area of expertise. Not everyone will be able to do this, but if you can, it will give you a sense of worth – and some money too. Most importantly, it will show you that you still have value.

When you boil it down, I think planning for retirement is just like running your organization in that you need to have goals and objectives and strategies for accomplishing them. Essentially, you need a strategic plan for retirement. Now go out and start considering your “working retirement” plan. You can do this!

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

03/20/17

How Not To Retire

By The New Zealand Herald, Feb. 3, 2017

Election years are always interesting because the topic of retirement age comes to the fore. We all have a vested interest in who receives what and when. When I think about the retirement age, I often recall a conversation with a client who employed a “re-potting strategy” throughout his life. While he would be at retirement age now, I doubt he has considered retiring.

His strategy has been to “re-pot” every 7-8 years. He retires one aspect of his life and embarks enthusiastically on a different path. For him, re-potting involved making a significant change in his life to refresh and gain a new perspective. His re-potting journey before I met him had extended to a new country, a new career, new friends and associates, a new wife and a new house. He had plenty of ideas to pursue in the years ahead to ensure sufficient re-potting opportunities to keep him interested and interesting.

He was about as far away from the traditional idea of retirement as I could imagine. But, as we are all living longer, retirement for many will simply be a change of some aspects of life but not others. The traditional approach to retirement is relatively straightforward. You save and invest as much as you can for as long as you can, starting as early as possible to accumulate enough retirement savings so you don’t need to work anymore.

For those who can’t save enough, the Government pension provides a retirement safety net. For everyone else, the more and faster they save, the earlier they can retire and the more leisure time can be enjoyed. At retirement, work ends and leisure begins…or so the theory goes.

However, a growing body of research finds the traditional retirement journey is less and less common. Fewer people actually want a retirement of all leisure and no work. Retirement is regarded as boring for many!

Apparently only half of today’s retirees (in the US) state they never intend to work again and only 30 per cent of pre-retirees intend to give up work indefinitely in retirement. Instead, whether it’s part-time work or starting a business, an encore career or some other path, retirement is less about not working at all and more about finding a different kind of engagement. Re-potting, you might call it.

Retirement for some might be semi-retirement, with a period of working part-time and potentially continuing to earn. For others, it might be a series of “temporary retirements” or sabbaticals in between periods of work. The significance of these changes is that it might not take nearly as much to retire as commonly assumed.

Some retirement lifestyles might simply need some savings to provide a buffer for the transitions between work. Some people might be able to retire earlier with a small pot of retirement savings, since that pot will be replenished at odd intervals with earnings from part-time or periodic employment.

If we’re not all going to retire according to the modelling – and I’ve never bought the concept that suddenly golf courses and cruise boats are going to be teeming with retirees – then the argument about the retirement age becomes easier.

A retirement age band, offering flexibility to those who wish to retire earlier and later, could be palatable for many. But it is election year, so who knows how the debate will unfold?

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP® 

03/14/17

5 Ways to Mark the Occasion of Your Retirement

By Emily Brandon, Feb. 6, 2017, US News & World Report

Accumulating enough money to retire is an achievement that deserves to be celebrated. You can finally take a long-awaited trip around the world, or invite your colleagues and family members to join you for a retirement party. Or maybe you want to retreat from the working world in a little cabin by a lake where no one will bother you. Here’s how to commemorate your retirement…

Plan a party. Break out the champagne and invite all your colleagues, clients and customers to join you for a party. The party theme might center around your retirement plans, such as a luau for a retiree about to take off for Hawaii or a nautical-themed party for someone who is planning to set sail on her boat. Sometimes the type of work the retiree performed also plays a role in the party, with references to things you bought or sold on the job. “This is not a time for an airing of the grievances,” cautions Jeffrey Seglin, director of the Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program and author of “The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice.” “Celebrating how much you have liked working with the people could be the focus.” Introverts might prefer a smaller gathering with the colleagues they worked closely with or a dinner with family and friends.

Take a trip. You’re no longer limited by your vacation days. You can take off on a world tour, drive across the country in a recreational vehicle and linger in a given place as long as it holds your interest. Retirees can also use travel deals for flying midweek or on short notice. “You can actually take advantage of those last-minute airfares online that you could not do while you were working because you had to go to a meeting,” Seglin says. “You could leave on a Tuesday to go to Iceland.” Traveling at off-peak times might also mean smaller crowds and more personal attention. Many hotels, buses, trains, tourist attractions, museums and entertainment venues provide senior or AARP discounts.

Relax. You can turn off your alarm clock. There’s no reason to hurry in the morning. Pour yourself a second cup of coffee and read the paper. Now that you don’t have a job with deadlines, you don’t need to rush to get everything done. Having no set schedule can take some adjustment, but also gives you the freedom to do what you want to do. Go ahead and enjoy a two-hour lunch with a friend. You no longer have a pressing meeting to rush back to work for. “A lot of people do want to plan a trip right when they retire, but then they relax and kick back for a little bit,” says Keith Deane, a certified financial planner for Deane Retirement Strategies in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Some people will relax for two or three months or two or three years.”

Reflect. You probably accomplished a lot during your career. “If you had a career where you were constantly building it and thinking about your next opportunity, stopping work may be a big deal,” says Barbara Pachter, a career coach specializing in business etiquette and author of “The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.” “If you were a senior vice president someplace and all of a sudden you are retired, you have no positional power.” Retirement can be a time to reflect on what you have done in your life. You could collect and caption pictures in a photo album, or write down your thoughts in a memoir. Perhaps you would like to pass on your skills to a young person through a tutoring or mentoring program. You might want to share your own childhood memories with your grandchildren. Think about how you would like to be remembered and start telling your story.

Plan your next chapter. Many retirees need to relax after several decades of work, but a time will come when sitting around the house starts to get a little boring and you are ready for your next project. This might mean accepting a volunteer position with a local charity or taking a college class in a subject that interests you. “You could take a course at a local community college with people who are younger and see the world in a different way,” Seglin says. “Most people retiring now can do an online course. If MIT is offering something and you live in Kansas, you don’t need to travel to Cambridge to take the course.” Maybe you will want to take on a part-time job to bring in some extra income and to have a place to go to be among people every day. “You could take care of the grandchildren. Working parents are very grateful for that,” Pachter says. “The flip side of that is your daughter might expect you to be available every time she calls.” Some retirees spend their days engaged in hobbies, such as working in the garden or playing regular rounds of golf. Taking on a new project will bring a sense of purpose to your retirement years.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

03/6/17

Why Retirement Savings are at an All-Time High

By Paul Davidson, Feb 2, 2017, USA Today

Americans are again socking away money for retirement at record levels. Fidelity Investment’s average 401(k) balance hit an all-time high of $92,500 at the end of last year, up 4,300 from a year ago and above the previous high of $92,100 in early 2015. Fidelity, one of the nation’s largest investment firms, cited both increasing contributions and rising stock prices.

The average contribution rate reached 8.4% in the fourth quarter, highest since the second quarter of 2008. And more than one in four of Fidelity’s 401(K) customers stepped up their savings rate last year, the most ever. “This shows people are taking the right steps towards reaching their retirement savings goals,” says Kevin Barry, Fidelity’s president of workplace investing.

People with retirement plans outside of work are also ratcheting up their contributions. The average balance in Fidelity’s Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) was $93,700 at the end of 2016, up $3,600 from a year earlier. Nearly 500,000 IRA accounts were added last year, bringing the total on the firm’s platform to a record 8.5 million.

National data reflect similar trends. Total 401(k) plan assets in the U.S. hit a record $4.8 trillion in the third quarter and total IRA assets reached a record $7.8 trillion, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Many Americans scaled back their contributions to retirement accounts during and after the 2008 financial crisis and recession. With the 4.7% unemployment rate near prerecession and stocks at all-time highs, workers are again putting away large sums for their golden years.

An Ipsos/USA Today survey in mid-January found that 65% of 45- to 65-year-olds are very or somewhat likely to put at least $100 toward retirement over the next six months.

Americans are also less likely to borrow from their 401(k)s to pay living expenses. The share of Fidelity account holders with an outstanding 401(k) loan fell to 21% in the fourth quarter, lowest since late 2009.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP® 

02/27/17

Why You Should Challenge Yourself in Retirement

By Abby Hayes, Feb. 8, 2017, US News & World Report

We tend to have a mental image of retirement as relaxing. You might spend your days fishing in a quiet lake at dawn, taking a casual stroll down the boulevard or maybe traveling a bit. But avoiding everything that is too strenuous or straining could actually be bad for your mental health.

Mental effort might actually help keep your brain healthier and improve your memory. But it requires some serious mental effort beyond a weekly crossword puzzle. The mental strain you exert to solve a complicated mathematical problem or learn a new language could help keep your brain sharp.

Physical exertion might help too. Research from the University of British Columbia suggests that regular aerobic exercise might increase the size of the area of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Regular moderate exercise could increase your brain volume in as little as six months or a year.

However, with both mental and physical exercise, you need to push yourself. Learning more about history from a documentary may be interesting, but it doesn’t provide much of a challenge. And taking a slow walk around the block can be great for stopping to smell the roses, but it might not change your brain the way slightly more strenuous exercise could.

If you’re ready to stay in peak mental condition during retirement, step away from the remote and try these ideas instead:

1. Learn something brand new. Learning new things forces your brain to make new connections. You could learn something completely new, such as an instrument if you’ve never been musical before. Or you could translate an old skill into a new one. For instance, you could take up playing the guitar if you’ve played piano in the past. Trying to speak a new language is another way to challenge yourself. Learning a new skill, especially a difficult one, is a good way to keep your brain engaged and growing.

2. Play difficult games. Some “brain games” marketed to keep your brain young are challenging and interesting, but some aren’t strenuous enough. If something is too easy, it’s probably not growing your brain. But you can definitely find board games and online games that take real mental effort, and playing those can help keep your mind active.

3. Meet new people. Meeting new people is another way to force your brain to make new connections, both literally and figuratively. It’s even better if you can form new friendships and learn new skills at the same time. You could take a class at a local college and make new friends in the process.

4. Brush up on old skills. If it has been a while since you’ve spoken French or done a calculus problem, take the time to brush up on those skills. Relearning these things can be almost as challenging as learning them for the first time.

5. Travel. Being somewhere new makes your brain work harder. You can’t follow your old ruts and rhythms. You’ll have to consult the map, and maybe even speak a different language to get your basic needs met. Even if you stay close to home, but go to a new city, navigating a new area can be a challenge.

6. Take up a new sport. Learning a new sport serves several purposes at the same time. Not only will you work up a sweat physically, but learning the rules and regulations of a new sport gives your brain work to do. And if it’s a team or competitive sport, you might also meet some new people.

7. Set exercise goals. Instead of being content with a walk around the block, set some difficult exercise goals. Run a 5K or join your grandkids in an adventure trek. Meeting tough physical goals takes mental grit, and the physical exercise is great for your overall health.

Don’t let your retirement be boring. Doing difficult things during retirement helps your brain stay more agile, so you can better enjoy your golden years.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

02/21/17

Phased Retirement: The Next Big Trend

By Maryalene LaPonsie, Feb. 10, 2017, US News & World Report

For decades, the standard has been for retirees to say goodbye to their jobs and ride off into the sunset. However, some people today are taking a different route to retirement. Rather than clocking out one day and never going back, these seniors are instead phasing into their retirement by moving to a part-time schedule, becoming consultants or even starting small businesses.

“I see the beginning of a trend for people to work past the normal retirement age that is as much related to financial needs as to not feeling ready to fully retire,” says Rob Werner, president and CEO of Ardent Credit Union in Pennsylvania.

Finance professionals say it can be a smart move to slowly enter into retirement. “When you really truly retire, it’s hard to go back,” says Kenny Elkins, a wealth manager at Equity Concepts in Henrico, Virginia. Phasing into retirement can help workers ensure they are ready for this major life change.

Personal fulfillment and financial gains. Some seniors choose partial retirement out of financial necessity. Greg Ghodsi, managing director of investments at 360 Wealth Management Group of Raymond James in Tampa, Florida, says it’s something he sees even with his high-earning clients. His firm often points out to clients that leaving the workforce early might require some lifestyle changes. “That’s usually when you get a frown,” Ghodsi says. Rather than insist workers stay in their current position, he helps them determine what they like and what they loathe about their job. Then, they explore other options for creating income. Many times, consulting work is a good fit because it allows people to continue doing what they love while cutting out many of the more tedious aspects of a job, such as a set schedule and long office meetings.

For years, people were told they’d need $1 million in the bank to retire comfortably. Is that number changing?

By working on a part-time basis or as a consultant, workers can minimize withdrawals from retirement accounts so those balances continue to grow. What’s more, they may be able to delay the start of Social Security, which has additional financial benefits. For every year people wait past their full retirement age, their monthly check gets an 8 percent boost.

However, money isn’t the only reason some people decide to ease into retirement. “There’s an emotional side to it,” says Andrew Rafal, founder of Bayntree Wealth Advisors in Scottsdale, Arizona. “For 30 years, it’s been their main purpose.” For those used to a full work schedule, the idea of immediately having an empty calendar can feel disconcerting.

Benefits for employers and workers. Working out an extended retirement plan can be a win-win for all involved. “In our experience, clients who [don't phase-in their retirement] get bored after a few years,” Ghodsi says. Continuing to work even part-time can provide seniors with a sense of purpose as well as financial security.

On the employer side, allowing an older worker to continue on in a part-time or consultant basis also has dual benefits. “They still get to retain the experience and intellectual capital of a veteran worker, but they’re reducing their costs,” Elkins says. Once workers move out of their full-time positions, employers can save money by discontinuing benefits. And the positives for employers don’t end there. Companies can hire a new employee at a rate that is typically less than what was being paid to a long-time worker. The partially retired senior can then train the new worker to get that person up to speed quickly and potentially reduce training costs and time.

Tips for retirees. Regardless of whether they plan to phase into their retirement out of necessity or out of preference, seniors should have a clear understanding of what their financial needs will be like after retirement. “The best advice is to maintain your focus on the income you wish to have to retire and not the age you wish to retire,” Werner says.

Rafal says pre-retirees need to have an open and frank discussion with their boss about if and how to phase out of the workforce. “Talk to your employer about a two- to five-year exit strategy,” he says. Make sure there is a clear understanding of when benefits will end and what happens to profit-sharing or similar aspects of a compensation package. Those who plan to leave work completely and become a consultant or start a business can work with a financial planner to address how best to manage retirement funds and pay for health care after leaving their employee position.

Phasing into retirement seems to be the right choice for many seniors. However, if you try it and discover it’s not for you, you can always quit at any time.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

02/14/17

Older Veterans Often Miss Out on Long-Term-Care Benefits of Up to $2,210 Each Month

By Kevin Richards, January 2017, Kiplinger.com

Many older war-era veterans and surviving spouses over the age of 65 across America are missing out on a major element in securing their retirements: the Aid and Attendance benefit for long-term care.

The Aid and Attendance benefit is available to veterans and their spouses to help offset recurring medical costs and some of the costs for home care and assisted living care. This is a benefit for senior veterans who served during wartime—World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War—for at least 90 days of active duty and who are 65 or older, as well as their surviving spouses. It doesn’t matter if the veteran served stateside or internationally, saw combat or didn’t, was wounded or wasn’t. If the veteran’s doctor—not a VA doctor—affirms the veteran or spouse needs assistance, then he or she may be eligible for Aid and Attendance, regardless of Social Security, Medicare, pensions or other benefits.

These benefits can be quite substantial, even if they are a variable number. Under Aid and Attendance, a veteran living alone can receive as much as $21,456 annually, or $1,788 a month. A married veteran can receive as much as $26,550 annually, or $2,210 a month. A surviving spouse is eligible for as much as $13,788 annually, or $1,149 a month. These benefits are paid directly to the veteran or surviving spouse and are tax-free. Payments are retroactive to the date of application.

Many veterans and surviving spouses are not aware of the Aid and Attendance benefits they have earned, or they are confused about them. Too many veterans are told they can’t have a certain level of income or assets to apply for Aid and Attendance. That’s simply incorrect. As long as the veterans and surviving spouses meet the criteria, they are eligible for those benefits for the rest of their lives.

Some of this confusion and lack of knowledge is perfectly understandable, since the application process can be complex. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot give veterans legal or financial advice on how to get qualified for the Aid and Attendance benefits. Even worse, if a veteran asks about the benefits, the VA will simply tell them to apply. The VA will not tell veterans the requirements or how a veteran can qualify based on the rules. Only around 20% of veterans who apply on their own for Aid and Attendance benefits ever receive them.

However, if a veteran follows the rules, they are able to receive the benefits. That’s why it’s important to get the facts about Aid and Attendance benefits from credible, unbiased sources with the ability to provide the correct information. The VA cannot and will not do that.

There are billions of dollars already set aside in Aid and Attendance benefits that veterans and surviving spouses have earned. Veterans and their families should not feel guilty about having earned these benefits through their noble efforts and service.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

01/30/17

These Are The Top 10 States For Retirement

By Alana Stramowski, January 3, 2017, Homehealthcarenews.com

The majority of older Americans wish to age in place, but aside from living near family and friends, they also are looking at other factors to choose where they want to live as they age.

The best states for retirement were found based on life expectancy, tax friendliness ranking, violent crime rate per 100,000, the cost of living index and health care costs, according to a recent study from MoneySavingPro.com.

Taking the No. 1 spot on the list is Idaho. The state has a life expectancy of 79.5 years, a tax friendliness ranking of 28, violent crimes per 100,000 is 212.2, a health care cost per capita of $5,658 and a cost of living index rating of 88.2.

Following Idaho is Utah in second place. Utah has a life expectancy of 80.2, a tax friendliness ranking of 27, violent crimes is 215.6 of 100,000, a cost of living index rating 92.4 and a health care cost per capita of $5,031, which is the lowest on the top 10 list.

The states with the best tax friendliness rankings are Alaska in first place and Colorado in second place, the study found.

There are also a few warmer-weather climates on the top 10 list, which many seniors strive for. Those states include Hawaii, Arizona, Kentucky and Georgia.

These are the top 10 best states for retirement:

1. Idaho

2. Utah

3. North Dakota

4. Hawaii

5. Arizona

6. Colorado

7. Kentucky

8. Georgia

9. Iowa

10. Kansas

On the flip side, the 10 worst states for retirement were revealed, according to the study. The worst is West Virginia. The state has a life expectancy of 75.4, a tax friendliness ranking of 46, 302 violent crimes per 100,000, a health care cost per capita of $7,667 and a cost of living index rating of 103.7.

The worst 10 states for retirement are:

50. West Virginia

49. Tennessee

48. South Carolina

47. Alaska

46. Nevada

45. New Jersey

44. Massachusetts

43. Texas

42. New York

41. Wisconsin

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

01/23/17

The 10 Best Places in the World to Retire in 2017

By Richard Eisenberg, January 2, 2017, NextAvenue.com

There’s a new best country in the world to retire, according to the experts at International Living (IL), an authority on global retirement and relocation opportunities. In its Annual Global Retirement Index, Mexico — one of the most popular countries among U.S. expats — has edged out last year’s No. 1, Panama.

But truth be told, Mexico (which was ranked No. 3 in 2016), Panama and Ecuador are within a hair of each other in the new International Living rankings. “There’s just a tenth of a percentage point difference in their total rankings,” said Dan Prescher, an International Living senior editor who lives with is wife Suzan Haskins in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

Retiring Abroad Is Growing in Popularity

If you’re intrigued because you’re considering joining the expat community, you’re in good company.

According to a recent AP story by Maria Zamudio, the number of Americans retiring outside the U.S. grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2015. Currently, about 400,000 American retirees live abroad. And, Zamudio noted, that number is “expected to increase over the next 10 years as more baby boomers retire.”

The big news in the past year regarding retiring around the world was the strength of the dollar. It has made living in some countries incredibly cost effective.

— Dan Prescher, International Living

Where the International Living Top 10 Countries Are

Six of IL’s Top 10 places in this year’s ranking are nearby, in Latin America — either in North America (No. 1 Mexico), Central America (No. 2 Panama, No. 4 Costa Rica and No. 8 Nicaragua) or South America (No. 3 Ecuador and No. 5 Colombia). Just three are in Europe (No. 7 Spain, No. 9 Portugal and a new addition to the winners’ list, No. 10 Malta); just one is in Asia (No. 6 Malaysia). Thailand, No. 7 in last year’s rankings, fell out of the Top 10. (See the slideshow below for specifics about each of the 10 countries atop International Living’s 2017 list.)

Incidentally, communities in Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Nicaragua and Portugal are also in the just-released Top 10 Best Places to Live Overseas in 2017 from Live and Invest Overseas.

Most of International Living Top 10 countries this year “have been heavyweight contenders in our Index for some time,” said Eoin Bassett, IL’s editorial director, who is based in No. 21 Ireland. This year, IL turned its sights on 24 countries, adding Bolivia to its list (No. 18, by the way).

Where the Buys Are

“The big news for U.S. citizens in the past year regarding retiring around the world was the strength of the dollar. It has made living in some countries, especially Latin America, incredibly cost effective,” said Prescher. “The exchange rate was outrageous in our favor. The Mexican peso today is 20 to 1 against the U.S. dollar, which has made Mexico an incredible deal.”

Expats in Mexico told IL that they live well there on as little as $1,200 a month. “My rent is $575 a month for a two-bedroom apartment with a great modern bathroom and nice kitchen,” San Francisco native turned Puerto Vallarta resident Jack Bramy told International Living.

How International Living Ranks Countries for Retirement

To compile its 2017 ranking, International Living’s editors, correspondents, contributors and contacts around the world crunched data and personal insights for 10 categories (from Cost of Living to Visas & Residence to Fitting In to Climate).

Cost of living is a major retirement concern for Americans, according to a recent Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey of U.S. workers. Respondents told Transamerica that an affordable cost of living was their most important criteria for where to live in retirement.

So what else made these 10 countries so great this year?

Mexico was best among International Living’s Top 10 for Entertainment & Amenities, but also had impressive scores in every other category.

I asked Prescher why Mexico scored so well for entertainment and amenities. Turns out, he and his wife were visiting the picturesque town of Ajijic, in western Mexico, at the time. “Oh man, there’s nothing like good quality Mexican food and music,” he said. “We’re just 50 minutes from Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and a world-class city like Miami. If you can’t find it or do it in Guadalajara, it’s not worth finding or doing.”

What Made the Winners Win

Runner-up Panama received IL’s best scores for Benefits & Discounts and Visas & Residence. “Panama changed its visa situation a little and it’s now incredibly easy to get a residency visa,” said Prescher.

The country is also well known for its Pensionado program of discounts for retirees there who receive at least $1,000 a month in income. The deals, which Prescher says are “some of the best in Central America and South America,” include 50 percent off entertainment; 30 percent off bus, boat and train fares; 25 percent off airline tickets and 20 percent off doctor’s bills. Prescher also calls health care in Panama City “world-class.”

Ecuador had top scores for Buying and Renting (tied with Nicaragua) and for Climate. “Ecuador has always been one of the most affordable places for real estate in Central America and the strong dollar did nothing but improve that,” said Prescher. And don’t get the ex-Nebraskan started on the unbeatable weather in his now-home country; living near the Equator, he pays nothing for heating or air conditioning.

Costa Rica led the Top 10 for Healthy Lifestyle (tied with Nicaragua); Malaysia for both Fitting In (“it’s a nexus for world cultures,” said Prescher) and Health Care (it’s a popular medical tourism destination); Spain for Infrastructure (great mass transit and Internet) and Nicaragua for Buying & Renting, Cost of Living and Healthy Lifestyle.

Bassett calls Nicaragua “the lowest-cost retirement destination in Central America,” adding that “every year it offers more and more by way of amenities and opportunities.”

Along with Spain and Malta, Bassett noted, Portugal “is an even more appealing destination heading into 2017 with the strength of the dollar against the Euro.”

Advice for Retiring Abroad

Even the International Living folks don’t think you should move to a foreign country for retirement just because it scores well in their (or anyone else’s) ranking, though. Before relocating, said Prescher, “profile yourself ruthlessly about what you really want in a place. Find out what you can and can’t live without.” Then, be certain any locale you’re considering is a match.

And before making a permanent move to a particular place, Prescher added, “try it out for as long as you can. See what it’s like to be there not just on vacation, but long enough to set up Internet access and to open a bank account.”

I’d add one giant caveat about the International Living rankings: The political and economic climate in the U.S. in 2017 could change considerably, which could, in turn, affect the lure of some countries as retirement havens.

As Prescher said presciently: “The presidential situation has changed completely, so everyone will be watching. What we will do with our relationship with Mexico and European countries is anybody’s guess.”

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®