When it comes to planning for retirement or prepping for their next vacation, most Americans choose the later.
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“Planning for retirement is overwhelming and not as fun, so of course they are going to plan something that is more immediate and put off planning for the future,” says Larry Rosenthal, financial advisor for ING Financial Partners, referencing the company’s recent informal poll showing Americans spent more time this summer talking about and planning their vacation than their retirement.
But you can’t blame consumers for the priorities. Most financial experts admit retirement planning is one of the toughest financial challenges we face in life, but it’s necessary.
“It’s like opening up a cockpit door to a 747 and sitting down in the pilot’s chair and trying to land the plan,” says Patrick Meyer, director of wealth management for Unified Trust Wealth Management in Lexington, Ky. “There are a lot of things coming at you that have to be taken into account: budget, lifestyle, taxes, but also mental and emotional issues.”
The best way to approach and save for retirement will vary depending on individuals' financial and life situations, but experts say there are basic building blocks that should be included in everyone’s retirement plan. Here are nine of them:
Start Early. The majority of Americans wait until they are in their 40s or 50s to start seriously planning for life after work, according to Al Osbourne, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial, “and that’s just way too late.” Investing small amounts of money in a retirement savings account like a 401(k) or IRA can grow into a sizeable nest egg when it comes time to retire.
Every worker should also take advantage of any employer-sponsored savings plans. “Contributing 10% of your income over a 30 to 40 year career can get you into that 85% income replacement range that you need in retirement,” says Joleen Workman, assistant vice president at Principal Financial Group.
Create a Retirement Budget. Calculating a total savings goal can help people stay on track with their plans, but first, that requires having a current budget.
“Work backwards,” suggests Brian Neal, wealth partner at Hefty Wealth Partners in Auburn, Ind. “Define your yearly income that takes into account all taxes, and then list all your spending and expenses and subtract that to determine how much is left. From that number, calculate what can be designated to retirement savings.” He adds that listing all expenses often identifies unnecessary spending that can be put to use elsewhere.
Now it’s time to budget for retirement spending, and most experts suggest individuals aim to accrue 85% of their current income a year to maintain their standard of living.
“You need to estimate your basic needs for things like insurance, housing, food, taxes, health-care and clothing, and then you need to take into account what your retirement lifestyle is going to cost,” says Meyer.
Plan a Retirement Lifestyle. People’s desired retirement lifestyle directly relates to how much money they will need to save.
“People should outline their retirement plans and how they will spend their time: will they travel, will they move, will they take up any hobbies, and they need to come up with an estimated price point on how much all of their plans will cost,” recommends Meyer.
Budget for Health-Care Costs. The big question mark hanging over everyone’s retirement plans are health-care costs since there’s no way to determine an exact number.
“It takes, on average, $250,000 to fund medical bills in retirement, that obviously varies by geographical region, but that is a good baseline to plan for.” Individuals with pre-existing conditions should plan for much higher costs, she adds.
Evaluate Risk Tolerance. Investors’ risk acceptance will change during the “accumulation stage of life” and the “distribution phase of life,” says Meyer.
“Your investment type and risk tolerance should change as you shift into different phases of life. You can afford to be more aggressive and risky when you are young. In general, most people will want to maximize income and minimize risk by moving to less volatile types of investments when they near or enter retirement.”
Get the Right Insurance. Everyone should go through an insurance audit as they reach different life stages, suggests Rosenthal. “They should review their home, auto, personal, liability, health-care and umbrella insurance to make sure they are paying for coverage they need and use.”
Osbourne recommends his clients purchase long-term care in their 40s. “That means they can get the coverage at a lower cost. The cost of a nursing home or in-house care is astronomical, and getting a plan early can protect from the certainty of uncertainly.”
Build Other Wealth. While retirement is important, Osbourne stresses the importance of creating an emergency fund outside of retirement that covers at one year’s worth of expenses. “This savings should be liquid to cover any unexpected costs to avoid credit card debt, which is what a lot of people do and it jeopardizes their retirement.”
Assess Taxes. Neal stresses that every investor knows how their retirement accounts are going to be taxed in retirement. “That can have a big impact on how you liquidate your investments when it comes time to retire. You want to prioritize the order of the accounts you draw on to minimize the tax impact.”
Create an Estate Plan. It’s not fun to talk about, but everyone should have a financial plan for when they aren’t around anymore, says Neal. “There are three general ideas that should be part of an estate plan: what you are going to pay in taxes and how they will be covered, how assets will be transferred to heirs, including the location of all legal documents and bank accounts, and names of all beneficiaries.”