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®

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®

12/12/16

3 Ways to Boost Retirement Income

By Linda Backus, Oct 19, 2016, MotleyFool.com

A whopping 52% of working American households are “at risk” for not being able to live as comfortably as they did before retirement, according to the findings derived from the 2014 National Retirement Risk Index published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That’s a sobering statistic considering retirement is classically considered a time when people get to enjoy the perks of a lifetime of hard work.

Whether it’s finding the cash to take the trip of a lifetime or simply finding the money to make ends meet, there are a myriad of ways to quickly fatten your wallet, and in the process, enrich your quality of life.

How much can I make?

The first step for any retiree seeking more income should always be to know the rules when it comes to Social Security benefits. For those who are 62 or older and receiving benefits but haven’t reached full retirement age, the limit for new employment income is $15,270 per year without facing penalties, according to the Social Security Administration. Any amount above that will be deducted from your monthly checks based on a calculation that factors in your age and how much you are making. But when you reach “full retirement age” you can earn as much as you want and still receive your full benefit check each month.

Once you’ve determined how much you can safely make without impacting your benefits, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can do to boost income. Here are three simple ideas that can improve your financial status quickly without too much hassle.

Seasonal work is plentiful for seniors

Working a couple of months a year can increase income in the short term leading to long term financial benefits. Industry analysts were quick to point out as the holiday season approached that jobs are plentiful, and could translate into year-round employment.

Job posting giant Monster staffer Lily Martis made it a point to highlight the findings of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. which predicted companies across the country are poised to take on 700,000 seasonal employees to deal with the rush of holiday shoppers this year. But the jobs aren’t all in retail, said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas in a press release.

“The big change we are seeing, however, is that while seasonal retail jobs remain flat or shrink, there has been a marked increase in seasonal job gains in other sectors,” he said. “The sector with the biggest increase in holiday hiring in recent years has been transportation and warehousing, as more and more holiday shopping is done online.”

When checking out possibilities for seasonal work, don’t forget to consider the perks. Some positions at higher-end department stores include discounts on items you purchase or commissions for sales. As many as 20% of seasonal hires are retained for work throughout the year, according to Martis — which you may or may not want — and many seasonal workers come back during the next year’s holiday rush.

Retirees can teach

Retirees have a wealth of knowledge that can easily translate into more income. Teaching is a great way to share skills and stay engaged in learning while saving for a big vacation or finding new revenue to invest. Depending on your specialty and preferences, teaching can be an incredibly flexible job choice as well.

Consider tutoring or consulting in your old field. Most colleges and universities will allow tutors to post flyers on campus or information on online bulletin boards.

Another flexible way to make extra money on a part-time work basis is to work as a substitute teacher. School systems across the country are continuously looking for a stable of people who are willing to be on-call when a teacher is sick or takes a personal day.

The range pay varies by state and district. In the Northeast, substitute teachers can make anywhere from $75 to $150 per day depending on the district and the level of experience. Do your homework, however before considering this option. Some districts require that subs have a Bachelor’s degree to be considered, and you will likely be asked to undergo a background check including fingerprints. Subs can agree to work every day, a few days a week or even half-days. (Let’s face it, having the summers off isn’t a bad deal either.) The National Education Association has an excellent state-by-state summary that can help you get started.

And, it’s worth noting that teaching does not have to be in traditional subjects. There may be money to be made teaching bridge, chess, sewing, or countless other skills you may have developed during your life that you can share with others in retirement.

Sell things you don’t need

There’s no point in hanging on to items that have out-lived their usefulness, especially when you’re looking for a fast way to improve your financial outlook. One of the easiest ways to make some quick cash while cleaning out your basement or attic in the process, is to call on a reputable auction house to come cart the stuff away. While this option will only work once to boost your income, it’s basically like getting paid to have someone else clean your space. Owners will get a percentage of the purchase price. It’s often well worth the money to take a lower percentage if the auction house is willing to do all the work. The National Auctioneers Association provides a list of reputable auction houses in your area.

To Your Successful Retirement!

Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®