Getting Started – Planning for Success!
The best retirement outcomes are had by either winning the lottery or from deliberate planning and action. If you plan on winning the lottery, then skip down to lifestyle options, but if you are like the rest of us, planning is your best option. We will provide information, links and tools to help you better understand how to plan for a great retirement.
As I mentioned, planning for retirement is like sailing, it requires three basic elements – where is your destination, where are you starting from and how to navigate to your goal. We will help you address all three.
Let’s start with the destination. Close your eyes and visualize being retired. What do you see? Where do you want to live? Do you want to travel or spend time with your kids? For now, imagine where you will be and keep that picture in your mind.
Our goal is to help you gain the key information you need, as well as providing links to the resources that will help you retire in the way you imagine.
Like many people, when we started, we didn’t have a clear picture of our financial starting point. Understanding where you are now is key to know where you need to focus. There are many investment strategies and options and it is best to review which makes the most sense for your unique position. Keeping in mind the sailing theme – just as winds change, your retirement planning and investment strategy should reflect market changes. That is to say, your investment program should be routinely reviewed and updated, as needed, to keep you on course.
Here is an outline that can help you get a clearer picture of the elements you will need as you navigate towards a happy retirement.
Planning for Retirement, Some Basic Items
To get started, make it formal – get a spiral notebook, open a Google or Microsoft Word doc, or whatever you prefer to use to track your journey and list your open items. Research indicates those people that write down their goals are much more likely to achieve them.
Financial planning is key to retirement planning and requires careful consideration. Some basic items to consider as you plan for retirement follows…
Evaluate Your Current Financial Situation
Take the time to review your current financial situation. This important step helps you to consider how aggressive or conservative you need to be in your investment strategy. If you are in your 30’s or 40’s, this is an excellent time to get started as investments grow over time, and this means even small investments can have great potential. If you are in your 50’s or 60’s, getting a clear picture of your current financial situation affords you the needed focus to understand what needs to be done now to prepare for retirement.
Consider Your Retirement Goals
Think about what you want to accomplish in retirement. Do you plan on traveling or pursuing hobbies? Do you wish to move to a better climate or be closer to family? Make a list of your goals and determine how much money you will need to achieve them. Estimate inflation and how that will affect the cost of retirement living.
This list does not have to be extensive and will be based on approximations and are meant as a means to gauge your future needs. <link to retirement calculator>
Create a Budget
Create a budget that includes your retirement savings, other income sources and all expenses. Make sure to factor in inflation and cost of living increases. A budget is a powerful tool as it gives you the understanding you need to make concise decisions to improve your ability to reach your retirement goals. Unlike a simple account of current status, a budget provides you with a system with which you can monitor your progress and gauge the success of your financial actions.
Here’s a simple budgeting template you can use to prepare for retirement. This is a monthly budget, so you would multiply the numbers by 12 to get a yearly figure.
- Salary/Wages: $
- Social Security: $
- Pensions: $
- Investments: $
- Other: $
Total Income: $
- Mortgage/Rent: $
- Utilities (electricity, water, internet, etc.): $
- Groceries: $
- Healthcare (insurance, out-of-pocket expenses, medications): $
- Transportation (car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance): $
- Personal (clothing, entertainment, dining out, etc.): $
- Insurance (life, home, auto): $
- Taxes: $
- Other: $
Total Expenses: $
- Emergency Fund: $
- Retirement Savings (401(k), IRA contributions): $
- Other Investments: $
Total Savings/Investments: $
Net Income (Income – Expenses – Savings/Investments): $
This budgeting template can help you analyze your current financial situation, plan for future expenses, and set realistic savings goals. If you’re spending more than your income or not saving enough, you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. It’s recommended to review and update your budget regularly, especially after major life events or changes in income or expenses.
This is a very important topic. If you have retirement accounts, review your accounts to ensure that you are making the most of your investments. Consider the fees, the performance of the investments, and the risk levels. If you currently do not have a retirement account, the government has multiple programs that will fit almost any need. This includes IRAs, Roth IRAs, Simple IRAs, 401(k)s, and others. Each has its own tax benefits, features and restrictions – learn more here.
Analyze Your Social Security Benefits
Analyze your Social Security benefits to determine if you will receive enough to cover your costs in retirement. Consider applying for any additional benefits that you may be eligible for. To contact Social Security, call 800-772-1213, or a good place to get started is https://www.ssa.gov/agency/contact/.
Plan for healthcare: Healthcare expenses can be a significant cost in retirement. Consider purchasing long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance is designed to help cover the costs of extended medical and personal care for individuals who are unable to perform basic daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, and eating, due to a chronic illness, disability, or the effects of aging. The purpose of long-term health insurance is to help individuals manage the financial burden associated with long-term care, which can be substantial and can quickly drain savings and assets. With long-term health insurance, policyholders can receive the care they need without having to worry about paying for it out of pocket, or relying on family members or the government to help cover the costs. When reviewing potential insurance coverage, be sure to ask about any restrictions for reimbursements. Some plans only pay if you are in a “facility” and may not pay if you are being cared for at home. Also, check to understand if the plan will only pay for licensed CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) care, or if it will reimburse family members that are providing the service.
It is important to know, the earlier you purchase a long-term care insurance, potentially your cost will be lower.
Medicare: Medicare is a federal health insurance program in the United States for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (a type of permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant).
It’s important to note that Medicare typically doesn’t cover the full cost of care. Beneficiaries are usually responsible for premiums, deductibles, and copayments. Additionally, Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care, dental care, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or routine foot care.
Important – Medicare covers about 80% of your Medicare-covered bills, you will be responsible for the 20% balance of your medical bills, so we strongly recommend purchasing a Medicare Supplemental plan. These were once called “medi-gap” plans and they cover the gap between what Medicare pays for and what you would have to pay for.
The standard “Medicare” plan has three of the items listed below – Medicare Part A, Part B and Part D. Usually, parts A&B are combined and thought of as the one item and purchased together. You must purchase Part D, the drug plan, separately. All Part D provider plans for your area are available to be reviewed on Medicare.gov.
You may have seen advertising for “Medicare Advantage”, a program that combines Part A, B and D into one plan, sometimes referred to as Medicare Part C. Medicare Advantage plans may even be provided at no cost. However, you need to ask any Medicare Advantage plan provider some questions, for instance – which of your doctors are participating in their plan and how long it takes to schedule the average appointment.
Medicare is broken down into four parts:
- Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance): Covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care.
- Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance): Covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.
- Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans): A type of Medicare health plan offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide all your Part A and Part B benefits. Most Medicare Advantage Plans also offer prescription drug coverage.
- Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage): A prescription drug option run by private insurance companies approved by and under contract with Medicare to help cover the cost of prescription drugs. It may lower your prescription drug costs and help protect against higher costs in the future.
Medicare Advantage: Unlike the standard Medicare program, Advantage includes most prescription drugs. Advantage could also cost less than standard Medicare.
- Coverage: In addition to covering the services of Original Medicare (except hospice care), most Medicare Advantage Plans offer extra benefits like vision, hearing, dental, and more. Some plans also provide coverage for wellness programs or for health and wellness items.
- Networks: Medicare Advantage Plans often have network restrictions. These could be in the form of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) or Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs). You may need to use doctors, facilities, and providers within the plan’s network for non-emergency or non-urgent care.
- Costs: While Medicare Advantage Plans may have lower premiums than Original Medicare, they often include out-of-pocket costs like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. You also need to continue paying your Part B premium. Costs and coverage can vary by plan.
- Eligibility: To join a Medicare Advantage Plan, you must already have Medicare Part A and Part B. You must live in the plan’s service area, and you cannot have End-Stage Renal Disease (though there are some exceptions).
Medicare Advantage provides a one-stop benefit for most medical needs but these are highly managed plans and may be more restrictive on choice of doctor, hospital or medication. On the upside, some Medicare Advantage providers offer 24 hour clinics. Again, we suggest you ask hard questions to any potential provider you are considering.
Medicare Part D: One last item is the Medicare Part D program. Medicare requires everyone to purchase Part D coverage for medications. Most areas have multiple insurance carriers that offer Medicare Part D insurance and when planning for retirement, it is an expense that will need to be considered. Medicare Part D providers differ from state to state. In some locations, there are many Part D providers and other locations have only a few. For many that may have had medicine covered under an employer-sponsored health plan, Medicare Part D will be very different. Unlike what you may be used to, the Part D plan will be quite a surprise. One main difference is all Part D providers do not offer support for every brand name drug. You find one Part D provider that offers one of your brand-named medications, but no others. The providers will offer more generic medications. To find which providers are best for your needs, you will have to make a list of your current medication and go to the Medicare website. The research tool they have is excellent and helps you narrow down which providers give you the best coverage. Do not be surprised at the wide range of costs between the various providers. To learn more go to Medicare.gov.
Create an Estate Plan
Create an estate plan to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. This includes creating legal documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. Creating an estate plan can also help you focus on how you achieve your goals. Passing-away without the proper “paperwork” in place can substantially cost your estate in unneeded taxes. In the case of estate planning, you benefit by seeking the help of a professional as tax and legal statutes can change that could have a significant impact on your estate.
Get Professional Financial Help
We truly believe that being fully informed will help achieve the greatest success towards one’s retirement goals, but if you are having difficulty navigating the retirement planning process, consider getting professional help. A financial advisor or retirement specialist can help you make the most of your retirement savings.
It is important when you seek a financial professional, to know that they are qualified to provide the services you need and expect. We strongly recommend that when you are searching for the professional that you feel comfortable with, that you make sure that the person if certified to offer financial services. Be sure that the financial person has one of the top four certifications for financial and investment professionals.
The four of the most common financial certifications:
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP): This certification is globally recognized and showcases the holder’s proficiency in all areas of financial planning, including retirement, estate planning, taxes, and investing. To earn the CFP designation, candidates must complete a CFP Board-approved education program, pass the CFP exam, possess relevant work experience, and adhere to the CFP Board’s ethical standards. Go to https://www.cfp.net/
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): One of the most respected investment credentials in the world, the CFA is designed for portfolio managers, financial advisors, and analysts. It requires passing three levels of exams, each testing a range of financial topics like corporate finance, economics, portfolio management, and ethical standards. Go to https://www.cfainstitute.org/
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA): Globally recognized, the CPA certification is often considered the gold standard in accounting. CPAs specialize in GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), tax preparation, financial analysis, and auditing. They must pass the Uniform CPA Examination and meet specific state licensing requirements. Go to https://www.aicpa-cima.com/home
- Personal Financial Specialist (PFS): This certification is given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to CPAs who specialize in personal financial planning. The designation requires a combination of education, experience, and passing an exam. The PFS designation shows that the holder has a high level of expertise in tax planning, estate planning, retirement planning, investing, risk management, and insurance. Go to https://www.finra.org/investors/professional-designations/pfs
Each of these certifications requires a significant commitment of time and effort and demonstrates a level of competence in their field. We recommend that you validate that any financial investment professional you may be working with has one of these, or equivalent, certifications.