06/26/17

If you build it, they’ll stay; Boomers remodel their homes

By Joyce Rosenberg, April 5, 2017, AP.com

The small businesses that dominate the home remodeling industry are expecting robust growth in the next few years, thanks partly to baby boomers who want to remain in their homes.

Home remodelers say they’ve had a pickup in projects from boomers who are in or approaching retirement and are seeking to modify their houses. It’s a trend known as “aging in place,” an alternative to moving to smaller quarters or a warmer climate. Many of these homeowners are hoping to make their surroundings easier to manage and safer in case they have health problems.

They’re replacing bathtubs with walk-in showers, installing safety rails, widening doorways and building ramps — features known as “universal design” since they can be used by anyone, regardless of physical ability. Boomers are also redoing their kitchens and sprucing up other areas — since they’re staying put, they want to enjoy their surroundings.

Zach Tyson estimates that 30 to 40 percent of his revenue is now coming from boomer renovations, up from 15 to 20 percent five years ago. Most of the projects come from homeowners who are healthy and mobile now, but want to be prepared if illness or injury hits.

Besides making bathrooms safer, they’re enlarging rooms so wheelchairs or walkers can be used more easily, and also to give the rooms a more open feel. “It’s trending up, for sure,” says Tyson, co-owner of Tyson Construction in Destrehan, Louisiana.

The oldest of the 76.4 million boomers, the U.S. generation born after World War II, are turning 71 this year. As more of them retire and make decisions about where they want to live, there will be a great need for accessible housing, according to a report released in February by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“A large share of these households live in older homes in the Northeast and Midwest, where the housing stocks have few if any universal design features,” the study said.

The report predicts home improvement spending by homeowners 65 and older will account for nearly a third of the total amount of remodeling dollars by 2025, more than twice the portion that group spent in 1995-2005. Owners age 55 and over already account for just over half of all home improvement spending.”The boomer activity seems to be driving the market,” says Abbe Will, a research analyst at the Harvard center.

That’s a change from the past, when older homeowners generally handled maintenance, repairs and landscaping but tended not to renovate. And some of the boomer-driven remodeling is coming from younger homeowners who expect their parents might later come to live with them and want to be ready, Tyson says.

The requests Tiffany and Bryan Peters get from boomer customers include replacing traditional turning doorknobs with lever handles that can be pushed down. Homeowners want motion-sensor light switches and faucets, and non-slip flooring.

In bathrooms, they’re replacing fixtures with models that are designed for people with disabilities — showers than can accommodate wheelchairs, and toilets at the same height as wheelchairs, Tiffany Peters says.”We’ve definitely experienced an increase in requests for aging-in-place work,” says Peters, who with her husband owns a Handyman Connection franchise business in Winchester, Virginia. “We get several requests a month.”

Home remodeling companies began seeing an increase in boomer spending about 18 months ago and expect it to contribute to their growth in the next few years, says Fred Ulreich, CEO of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a trade group.

“We see this as something that is dramatically affecting the marketplace,” Ulreich says.

Boomers typically live in homes that are several decades old, prime targets for remodeling, Ulreich says. Unless they move to a brand-new home that’s designed for aging in place, their decision is likely to mean remodeling.

Sal Ferro says boomers are his biggest group of customers, but he’s not getting many requests for aging-in-place projects. It’s more renovations to make their homes more enjoyable.”They’re finally getting the projects done that they always wanted. They’re getting that kitchen or bathroom,” says Ferro, owner of Alure Home Improvements, based in East Meadow, New York.

Some remodeling companies are specifically marketing to boomers, sending salespeople to trade expos and events those customers are likely to attend.

Miracle Method, a franchise business that refinishes kitchens and bathrooms, has increased its outreach to boomers, says Erin Gilliam, the company’s marketing manager. Franchise owners say much of the 11 percent growth in the franchise’s overall business in the past year was driven by boomers, she says.

Gilliam’s husband, Gabriel, sees the trend in the franchise he owns in Salt Lake City. He estimates that revenue from boomers has risen between 10 and 20 percent, and the growth is prompting him to hire more workers. He has five staffers now, having added one per month the past three months, and expects to reach 10 in the next year.

“I’m hiring as quickly as I can,” he says.

 To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP® 

06/12/17

Prepare Now For These 3 Retirement Risks

By Jim Sandager, April 10, 2017, DesmoinesRegister.com

Navigating retirement is difficult. What makes retirement planning so challenging is that there are so many unknowns that you need to prepare for, including the length of retirement, your spending needs and the performance of your portfolio.

These myriad of unknowns produce specific risks that can jeopardize your financial future. Fortunately, the chances these risks sabotage your retirement can be lessened with a bit of proactive planning. Today, I want to focus on three risks that can jeopardize your ability to sustainably spend in retirement, and what you can do today to prepare for them.

Sequence Risk

If your retirement happens to last 20+ years, there’s a good chance you’ll experience a market downturn at some point. Sequence risk is the risk that there’s a market downturn early in retirement rather than later in retirement. Imagine you’re retiring with $500,000 in savings and need to withdraw $100,000 living expenses after the first year and $0 after the second year. If the markets have a great first year and return 50%, you’d have $650,000 after your spending needs. If the markets drop 33% the second year, you’d wind up with $435,500.

Now let’s flip those results and assume a 33% drop after the first year and then a 50% gain the second year. In this scenario, you’d have $352,500 remaining. In other words, because you were unlucky to retire in a bear market, you have about $80,000 less than the person retiring in a bull market. That’s why you need to have an adequate amount of money in less volatile investments to weather a rocky market.

Longevity Risk

No one knows how long retirement will last. Because of this uncertainty, it’s better to take a more conservative approach and plan for a retirement that could last into your mid-90s (or maybe even longer!). As we continue to live longer and longer, it’s important to continue to have a portion of your portfolio allocated in stocks. Historically, equities have been great at outpacing inflation, and it’s these long-term gains that will be critical in preserving your savings and spending power throughout retirement.

Risk of Unexpected Expenses

Unexpected expenses may not be unique to retirement, but how they impact you is. When you retire, your income is relatively fixed. Every time you need to increase the amount you’re withdrawing in order to pay for a large unanticipated expense further endangers your long-term financial security. When thinking about your retirement spending plan, make sure you have an outlet to tap into so that it doesn’t wreak too much havoc on your overall financial plan.

There are key retirement risks outside of the realm of spending that you need to be ready for (I’ll touch on those in my next column). That said, preparing for these spending risks is a fundamental tenet of financial planning. Having a plan to better ensure sustainable spending is a key to accomplishing the goals you have for your retirement.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP® 

05/1/17

The 7 Elements of a Successful Retirement

By Nick Ventura, April 12, 2017, Marketwatch.com

Start with well-defined goals, and revisit them at least annually. The closer you get to retirement, the more often you should sit down and think about your overall retirement strategy. In Ernie Zelinski’s “How to Retire Wild, Happy and Free,” the author makes the argument that setting your retirement goals expands far beyond managing your finances. Retirement planning should encompass all areas of your lifestyle, from where you live and where you travel to how you spend your day and what truly are your income requirements. Cookie cutter percentages and rules of thumb serve merely as benchmarks. Successful retirement planning requires flexibility and the willingness to look at all aspects of your life.

Many people get great satisfaction from work. So, if you are retired, and you like to work, pick something you like to do and gain emotional satisfaction from that activity. This includes working for charitable causes, hobbies, family involvement, etc. These “jobs” may or may not come with financial remuneration. But that’s not the point; many people derive emotional satisfaction and self-worth from working.

Another aspect of retirement is lifetime learning. Staying relevant in today’s technology economy requires a willingness to learn and adapt. Consider this: most medical professionals would agree that 20% to 30% of medical knowledge becomes outdated after just three years. Keeping current on technology and medicine will certainly enhance your retirement success.

Budgeting is more than setting a top-line spending number based on a pre-arranged percentage. Often times, we work from the bottom up, exploring what a client actually spends, instead of what they think they spend. It is not uncommon for individuals to drastically underestimate their spending on non-essential items. How much is your cell phone bill? Cable bill? Groceries? Starbucks?! We encourage clients to look at these as recurring payments. Not $140 a month, but $1,680 a year. Big difference, right? Getting as granular as possible is liberating when planning your retirement income.

While many planners suggest that a client will need two-thirds of their working salary to live comfortably in retirement, our experience shows that they may need anywhere from 50% to 150%. That’s a big range. Only by taking the time to define your goals, and the expenses that accompany them, can we put an accurate “spend” and “income” figure on a retirement portfolio. Even the best crafted budget has to be flexible. Emergencies happen. Grandkids happen. Sadly, health concerns happen. For both positive and negative circumstances, budgets can, and will, expand and contract. Build contingencies into your budget and income plan for a successful retirement.

Let’s consider income. Retirement income can come from many sources. Social security, pensions, retirement accounts, annuities, dividends, even earned income. As financial planners, we often hear stories from clients who “forgot” that they had earned an pension from an employer that they had left decades ago.

Take the time to go through your employment history and discover what benefits you may have forgotten. The impact could be meaningful from a cash-flow perspective. Inheritances can also create retirement income. Again, we often see clients receive an inheritance and immediately spend it. We’d rather go with the gift that keeps on giving – by investing the inheritance along the same lines of a retirement asset and creating a lifetime income stream.

Invest for your whole life. Just as your budget is not going to be static during your retirement years, the idea that your investment portfolio should never change is obsolete as well. We live in a world of massive disruption and change. Years ago, retirees would abide by the rule taking 100%, subtracting their age, giving them the “appropriate” allocation to the equity market (blue chips only!). Today’s world does not permit such simplicity of thought.

This philosophy created an asset allocation for retirees that was heavily dependent upon the fixed income markets. Risk in today’s fixed income markets is considerably less predictable. When creating income in a portfolio, investors should examine many different sources of income. Is it time for fixed or variable rate income sources? Are dividend producing stocks inexpensive or overvalued? Is real estate a proper asset to produce income? In finding these answers, a successful retirement income stream can become multifaceted and flexible.

Some investors have opted for “all-in-one” strategies, where a glide path mutual fund encompasses their entire retirement portfolio composition. These funds become gradually more conservative the closer an investor gets to retirement. Some funds manage “to” the retirement date, while others manage “through” the retirement date. If you own one of these vehicles, do you know what the fund is designed to accomplish? These funds use historical data to project out into the future the ideal asset allocation. We don’t know what the future holds, and advocate investments that have the ability to be flexible.

Successful retirement comes down flexibility. Flexibility of goals. Flexibility of income streams. Flexibility of spending. Flexibility of retirement investments. Flexibility of the overall plan. As you design your retirement plan, take the time to build in flexibility. It will help build peace of mind, and lead to a more successful retirement.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

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® 

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®

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®

01/17/17

How to Save for Retirement in Your 40s

By Rodney Brooks, Jan 8, 2017, THE STREET.COM

Many people wait until later in life to start saving for retirement. It gets complicated with kids and aging parents, but Gen X can find a winning strategy.

Beginning your retirement savings in your 20s and 30s is a great strategy, recommended by many financial planners. But many people wait until their 40s – after they have settled into family life with marriage, automobiles, kids and first homes. That’s just the reality. But it’s still not too late to begin savings habits that will pay off handsomely once you reach retirement age.

“As you get into your 40s, chances are you are making a little more money, starting to hit stride in your career, and maybe you have kids,” says Tom Mingone, founder and managing partner of Capital Management Group. “You may have discretionary income.”

The most effective method to save is out of your paycheck, through your 401(k), he says. “The best way to save is a direct deduction out of your check,” Mingone says. “Extra money is like extra closet space. There is no such thing. You use what you have. Pay yourself first. Have money coming out on the 1st or 15th (of the month). You will get used to living on less.”

In their 40s is when people have a job history and higher income, says Laurie Blackburn, first vice president, Investments at the Speck – Caudron Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Alexandria, Va. ”It is time to start maxing out your IRA and 401(k) contributions, if they haven’t,” she says. “If you start younger, you can increase that amount every year.

A lot of 401(k)s have a built-in escalator – 3% (contribution rate) goes to 4%. Every year, your contribution increases 1 percent, till you are maxed out.” By the time you are in your 40s, you should be maxed out, she recommends. Next up, you should look at your asset allocation and risk tolerance, she says.

Bob Stammers, director of investor engagement for the CFA Institute, says that even though their 40s are top earning years for many, it is also the time when people have many claims on their income, especially things like their kids’ college tuition. For that reason he says he would like to see the retirement system go from annual dollar limits to lifetime limits.

“At different times of people’s lives they have significant income they can contribute to retirement plans,” he says. “For most people, it’s in their 40s. People need to think about maintaining their lifestyles and put away any windfall or increase in salary.” Of course, many people in their 40s start to consume more, because they’re earning more. “Those that don’t get disciplined about savings habits and tracking expenses don’t have money they can put toward retirement,” Stammers adds.

Mingone says no matter which stage you are in life, you also need to think about taxes.”You always want to be aware of your tax bite,” he says. “We think of saving for retirement in three bucket – taxes now, taxes later and taxes never,” he says. “Taxes now are mutual funds. You pay taxes now on gains. Taxes later are things like 401(k) and IRAs. You get a deduction, but you don’t pay taxes now. You pay taxes later. Taxes never are things like Roth 401(k), Roth IRA and life insurance. If you structure it property, all you income will be tax free.” He says it’s also important to be actively manage your investments at the end of the year: Harvest your losses and minimize earnings. “You don’t want to be taxed heavily,” he adds.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

01/10/17

18 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Retire

By Dave Hughes, January 5, 2017, US News & World Report

After you retire, your daily life will change in more ways than you probably imagine. Developing a clear picture of how you want to live your life after you retire will help you make better plans and adapt more easily to the changes retirement brings. You need to decide what your retirement will be like and come up with specific things to look forward to. If you’re married or partnered, there are many conversations to have together. You shouldn’t assume that your spouse wants the same things you do. Give careful thought to these questions as you approach retirement:

1. What does being retired mean to you? Obviously, retirement typically means not going to work. Beyond that, you may look at the next chapter of your life as a new adventure, or you may see it as a chance to relax. While it’s fine to decompress for a few weeks or months after you retire, sooner or later you’ll want to get on with your new life.

2. What do you want to add to your life and eliminate from your life? Aside from no longer working, you may want to decrease or eliminate your involvement in professional associations, boards or other obligations. You may wish to cancel housekeeping or landscaping services and take on those tasks yourself or vice versa. You are now free to engage in only those things that truly bring value and enjoyment to your life.

3. What are your travel plans? This is a multi-faceted question that includes how much time you hope to spend traveling, where you want to go and how you want to get there. Your travel plans may range from exploring the world to simply visiting friends and relatives. You may decide to become a snowbird.

4. What will you be passionate about? Once you no longer have to focus on your career or raising children, your interests and priorities may change dramatically. Think about what will excite you and give you things to look forward to. If you haven’t been focused on anything other than your career and your family, you will need to find something new.

5. Is it important to be close to your family? If you live away from your family, think about how often you will want to visit them and how often you hope they will visit you. Keep in mind that although you will have a lot more time on your hands, other family members may still be busy with their careers. If you have grandchildren, consider how much you’re willing to serve as a babysitter.

6. Do you want to remain in the community where you live now or move somewhere else? Many people dream of moving to a warmer climate or a favorite vacation spot near a lake or in the mountains. But it’s important to consider whether your new location has the businesses, services and recreational and cultural amenities you will want for your day-to-day life. You’ll also be moving away from many of the people who are most important to you.

7. How do you feel about downsizing? In addition to considering the pros and cons of moving to a smaller house, think about how many possessions you are willing to get rid of and what you definitely want to keep. You and your spouse may have very different opinions on this issue.

8. How structured or spontaneous do you want your life to be? While you might eagerly anticipate freedom from your tightly-structured work day and look forward to waking up each morning without an alarm clock, you will probably find that living a totally unstructured life isn’t as enjoyable as it sounds. Some structure helps ensure that you will do the things you want to do and keep your life on track.

9. Do you plan to start a business after you retire? This doesn’t have to be a business in the traditional sense. There are many activities you could pursue that produce income, such as selling crafts or artwork, consulting services or becoming a paid writer, musician or public speaker.

10. What activities do you plan to engage in? Hopefully, you are looking forward to retirement as a time when you can do many of the things you didn’t have time for while you were working. You’ll want to coordinate with your spouse to find the right combination of solo activities, things you will do with your spouse and group activities.

11. What do you want your social life to look like? After you leave work, socialization doesn’t happen as easily as it did before. You will have to take a more proactive role in keeping in touch with your friends. It’s a good idea to choose some activities that will expose you to new people. Staying socially engaged is extremely important after you retire in order to avoid loneliness.

12. Which people in your life are most important to you? Think about how you will stay engaged with friends after you retire, especially those who continue to work. If your circle of friends consists mostly of work colleagues, you may be surprised by how quickly those relationships fade. Similarly, if you move after you retire, you will have less contact with your current friends.

13. What new things do you want to learn? Many seniors stay mentally engaged by continuing to learn throughout retirement. The best part is that you can focus on whatever you are interested in and not worry about exams and grades.

14. What’s on your bucket list? Having a list of things you want to do and places you want to visit is great, but in order to actually accomplish them you will need to set some dates and make some concrete plans.

15. What will provide a sense of purpose for you after you retire? If you relied heavily on your career accomplishments for purpose and fulfillment, you may experience a feeling of emptiness after you retire until you find a new source of satisfaction.

16. Do you want to be of service to others in some way, such as volunteering or mentoring? If you envision retirement as being entirely about relaxation, leisure and fun, you may discover that you still value the reward and the sense of purpose that comes from helping others. Mentoring or teaching is an excellent way to share your knowledge with others.

17. Do you want to spend all or most of your money on yourself or leave an inheritance to your beneficiaries? There’s no wrong answer to this question, but it’s important to be on the same page as your spouse. You may be surprised to learn that your heirs hope that you’ll spend your money on yourself.

18. How do you want to be remembered? After you leave your working career, you will probably realize that your professional accomplishments such as awards, promotions and an impressive job title don’t matter as much. You may find that the impact you have on other people and what you contribute to the world matters a lot more.

Thoughtfully answering these questions will help you to envision a future filled with exciting possibilities and give you a clearer picture of what you want for the rest of your life.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®

12/19/16

No Savings, No Backup Plan, No Fairy Godmother: How to Handle a Financial Disaster

By Susannah Snider, Oct. 18, 2016, US News & World Report

A financial disaster is hard enough to navigate. But it gets even harsher when you have no emergency fund or backup plan to help you work your way out of it. So, what’s an unlucky person to do after, say, a broken-down car or job loss leaves you short on cash and high on stress?

Fortunately, the financially unfortunate have access to a range of resources for patching up a financial disaster, experts say.

But keep in mind that all of these choices have their downsides. “Ideally you wouldn’t choose any of these options,” says Stephanie C. McElheny, a certified financial planner and assistant director of financial planning at Hefren-Tillotson in Pittsburgh. “None of them are good options – it’s just lesser evils.”

Here’s how to handle a money mishap when you have no backup plan – and no fairy godmother to boot.

Sell your stuff. A quick way to find extra cash without tapping credit is to hawk your belongings. “There are lots of options to get rid of your stuff,” writes Niv Persaud, a certified financial planner and managing director of Transition Planning & Guidance, a boutique financial advising firm in Atlanta, in an email.

Consider peddling your hand-me-downs on eBay, Craigslist and at secondhand stores. Heck, if you can survive without your car – and you’re in dire financial straits – consider letting it go.

Land a part-time job. If you’ve got time to spare, look into applying for a side gig. ”With the holidays around the corner, many retailers are looking for additional help,” Persaud writes. “Another option is [to] use your skills on sites, such as Fiverr, Elance, etc. You can also bite the bullet and babysit for friends [and] family or take care of their pets when they’re out of town.”

By cutting costs and using the debt snowball method, this duo slashed thousands in 25 months.

Slash spending. Carve out room in your budget by trimming expenses wherever possible. If housing is a major budget-buster, for example, consider getting a roommate, says Jamie Ebersole, a certified financial planner in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.

Do what you can to cut down on eating out and shopping. Re-negotiate or cancel unnecessary monthly bills, like your cable bill, to make your last dollar go further.

After you’re done digging your way out of this financial hole, consider continuing these good behaviors until you’ve built up at least six months of living expenses in an emergency fund.

“It’s best to just be proactive and have that emergency reserve, so this can be avoided, or at least mitigated [in the future],” McElheny says.

Work with your creditors. If your financial disaster revolves around debt, you may be able to negotiate a gentler repayment plan or reduced monthly bill – and carve out some extra room in your budget.

“Actually talk to your creditors,” Ebersole says. “Most creditors are willing to work with you if you’re upfront with them and aren’t trying to hide it.”

Tap your home equity. If you’re house-rich but cash-poor, borrowing against your home’s value can help you fund major, unexpected expenses, like medical bills, with a relatively affordable loan.

Consider a home equity line of credit, a type of revolving credit in which your home serves as collateral. A lender will set your credit amount based on the home’s appraised value, the balance owed on the mortgage and your ability to repay, including your credit history, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Or consider a home equity loan, which provides a fixed amount of money, which you repay over a set time period.

Credit card expert Beverly Harzog offers some unusual tips in her new book ’The Debt Escape Plan.’

Borrow against your insurance policy. You can access relatively affordable debt by tapping the cash value of your life insurance policy, experts say. In this case, the insurance company will essentially lend you money while holding your policy as collateral.

Keep in mind, however, that if you fail to repay your loan – and it balloons to exceed the policy’s cash value – your policy could lapse and trigger a major tax bill.

Tap your retirement savings. If you have a 401(k) plan, you can borrow up to 50 percent of its vested account balance, or up to $50,000, whichever is less. So, to borrow the full $50,000, you’ll need to have at least $100,000 in your plan. Loans borrowed against your 401(k) must typically be repaid within five years. And failure to repay on time can leave you saddled with penalties and fees.

Savers who have been squirreling away money in a Roth IRA for at least five years can withdraw their contributions penalty-free. “You can always take out the principal without paying any taxes on it,” Ebersole says.

Bottom line: Even if you can repay loans taken from your retirement accounts on time, you’ll miss out on the gains you would have realized had you left those funds to grow on the investment market.

Borrow from your 529. Contributors can withdraw any funds placed in a 529 plan, which is for educational expenses, Ebersole says. But withdrawing money for noneducational expenses isn’t ideal since it can trigger taxes and a 10 percent penalty on the account’s earnings.

As with borrowing from a retirement account, dipping into your college savings account will cost you the returns you would have seen had you let the funds grow on the market.

Ask family and friends. ”Family and friends are always a good place to go if you don’t have any other options,” Ebersole says.

Don’t forget that mixing loved ones and loans can make for a potentially toxic combination. “Borrowing money in any capacity from family has the potential to backfire and can really strain relationships,” McElheny says.

Declare bankruptcy. Another last resort is to declare bankruptcy. But keep in mind that going through bankruptcy will make it hard to access credit for years in the future, including loans for a child’s college education and other useful debt.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®