With just a quick browser search, you can find thousands of surefire formulas for retirement success — everything from how much should be in your portfolio to how old you should be when you quit the working world.
Of course, the Internet doesn’t know you. (Even if it seems like it does sometimes.) Though the information it provides can often be helpful — especially when it encourages preparation and not panic, — all those theories and rules of thumb are just a starting point for retirement planning.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for when to retire or an online calculator that can get you a truly accurate answer to one of life’s most important decisions. Would you take a 10-minute quiz to decide when to marry, buy a house or start having kids?
I’ve spent years helping people plan their retirement. I’ve even written a book about it titled Retire N.O.W. (Not When Others Would): A Comprehensive Guide to Retiring on Your Schedule. One important thing I’ve learned is that knowing when you can (and want) to retire is every individual’s unique decision. It takes time and effort to get it right. It also means asking some personal questions, including:
- What do you still want to do with your life?
- How does your spouse feel about retirement?
- Where do you want to live when you retire?
- Do you hope to travel, pick up new hobbies, work part-time or take care of your grandkids?
- Do you have aging parents or a special needs child who might need your help as they age?
- How healthy are you? Do you have a family history that puts you at increased risk for health problems?
The list goes on and on. And the financial issues can be equally complex.
- What will your income needs be in retirement?
- How much will you require to take care of the basics and be comfortable versus realizing all your retirement dreams?
- How might your income needs change over time? Will you need more for your active 60s and 70s, or more as you age for health and long-term care issues?
- Where will your income come from when you’re no longer receiving a paycheck? Besides your Social Security benefits and your retirement investment savings, will you have a pension, rental properties or other income streams you can tap?
- What will your retirement income look like when combined with what your spouse will contribute? If you’re debt-free and plan to downsize, maybe you don’t need a $2 million portfolio or 10 times your annual salary in savings — no matter what the Internet says.
Of course, all this planning and number-crunching takes work, even when (and I highly recommend this) you have help from a financial professional. It’s why a lot of people don’t bother.
But putting together a written retirement plan — whether it’s a DIY job or prepared by a pro — is really your best hope of reaching your long-term goals. And it should cover several types of planning, including:
- An income plan that’s built to last through a long retirement. You can start by finding ways to maximize your reliable income streams to cover day-to-day costs. But don’t forget about funding the occasional splurge and, of course, unexpected or emergency costs.
- An investment plan that helps you reduce risk while still working toward your goals. If you’re nearing your hoped-for retirement age (maybe five to 10 years away), it’s a good idea to stress-test your current portfolio, assess your tolerance for risk moving forward, and transition to an asset allocation that can protect your hard-earned savings against volatility and inflation. If you haven’t already, this is when you might want to consult with a financial professional.
- A tax plan that keeps your tax burden as low as possible right now, but also in retirement. If you’ve been stashing all your money in a 401(k) or similar tax-deferred workplace plan for years, you may want to consider converting some of those funds to a Roth IRA or some other tax-free income strategy.
- A health care plan that works for your individual needs. If you’re retiring before you turn 65, you’ll want to find the best insurance plan possible to fill the gap after leaving work but before moving into Medicare. And if you’re nearing 65, it’s a good idea to get professional advice when choosing Medicare coverage.
- A long-term care plan that protects your health and your assets. Many people put off this aspect of retirement planning, but aging in America can be an expensive endeavor. The sooner you start reviewing your options (whether it’s traditional long-term care insurance or one of the newer alternatives out there), the better off you’ll be.
- A plan for the surviving spouse. If you’re married, every aspect of your retirement plan should answer the question: What happens when one of us dies?
- A legacy plan for your loved ones. If it’s important to you, your plan should include strategies to ensure that what’s left of your nest egg goes to your family and favorite causes without becoming a tax burden or probate nightmare.
If you’re still several years from retirement, some of these topics may be difficult to even think about, much less plan for. But even if you’re just starting to plan, keeping your endgame in mind is important.
What does a successful life and fulfilling retirement look like to you?
Kim Franke-Folstad contributed to this article.
Ensign Wealth Management is an independent financial services firm that utilizes a variety of investment and insurance products. Investment advisory services offered only by duly registered individuals through AE Wealth Management LLC (AEWM). AEWM and Ensign Wealth Management are not affiliated companies.
Neither the firm nor its agents or representatives may give tax or legal advice. Individuals should consult with a qualified professional for guidance before making any purchasing decisions. Our firm is not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. government or any governmental agency. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. Any references to protection benefits, safety, security, lifetime income generally refer to fixed insurance products, never securities or investment products. Insurance and annuity product guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. 1325912 – 05/22
Please remember that converting an employer plan account to a Roth IRA is a taxable event. Increased taxable income from the Roth IRA conversion may have several consequences including (but not limited to) a need for additional tax withholding or estimated tax payments, the loss of certain tax deductions and credits, and higher taxes on Social Security benefits and higher Medicare premiums. Be sure to consult with a qualified tax adviser before making any decisions regarding your IRA.
The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger was not compensated in any way.
Chad Ensign is an Investment Adviser Representative and founder of Ensign Wealth Management. As a Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP), he focuses on helping clients through well-thought-out income strategies. He founded his independent company to better serve clients by providing a wide range of products.
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