11/9/2012 7:45 PM ET|
Retirement planning if you're broke
Many lower- and middle-income Americans are headed for poverty in old age. Here are 5 ways to pull your retirement out of the ditch.
If you are one of the nearly half of Americans who can't afford to retire, here's good news. Even if you're approaching retirement with little or no savings, retirement experts say there's much you still can do to construct a satisfying, if modest, retirement.
But you'll need to act soon and avoid the paralysis that can come from fear and resistance to change. Your reward: a more-comfortable life in years to come.
Americans of all ages are facing a dire retirement savings shortfall, says retirement-security expert Teresa Ghilarducci at the New School of Social Research in New York. She predicts that slightly more than half of middle-income and lower-income Americans will be living at or near the poverty line in old age.
Ghilarducci and colleagues extensively analyzed all the research on retirement readiness and savings in 2010. They concluded that nearly half of Americans ages 44 to 55 were at risk for poverty by age 65.
"There are 39 million of us in that age group," she says. "We have a 49% chance of being poor at 65, which means the risk goes way up when we are 70, 75 or 80." The last time the U.S. saw old-age poverty this severe was before the Great Depression, she says.
In other words, it's not a moment too soon to start thinking realistically. "You're not going to have the traveling-around-the-country-in-a-$100,000-RV-and-golfing kind of retirement, but that doesn't mean you can't still have a good retirement, even if it doesn't look like what you originally envisioned," says MSN Money personal finance columnist Liz Weston.
Here are the five keys to pulling it off:
1. Keep your hands off your Social Security
Claiming Social Security early is a bad idea, and yet it's a popular one. Nearly half of retirees take Social Security benefits when they turn 62. They're probably leaving money on the table that could make a difference to them in 10 or 20 years.
What's the rush? Some people are disabled and have no options. Some are jobless. Others are tired of working. Many are scared because policy discussions about reforming Social Security make them believe -- incorrectly -- that, if they don't grab benefits now, they'll lose out.
That's a mistake, says Steve Vernon, an actuary and expert on retirement preparation who wrote "Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck."
The most drastic proposals for cutting Social Security wouldn't touch anyone now in their 60s, he says. The most aggressive plans would affect people who are now 58 or older. The most liberal plans begin with those who are now 53 or 54.
The choice on when to claim benefits can cost people tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. "It can mean the difference between a near surely successful plan and a failing plan in many, many cases," says Robert W. Stanley, a certified financial planner in Libertyville, Ill. He teaches classes on strategies for claiming Social Security.
Waiting helps you postpone spending the savings you do have. Also, the longer you wait, the bigger your monthly Social Security check eventually will be. Your cost-of-living increases will be bigger, too.
Working even a couple of extra years can make a big difference, Vernon says. If you're 58 or older, you'll receive 25% less every month by taking Social Security at 62 instead of 66. Younger people will lose even more.
On the other hand, you'll earn up to 76% more each month by waiting to claim Social Security at age 70, according to research by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. You can check the effect effect of your claiming age on your own benefits with the early-or-late calculator from the Social Security Administration.
"This is basically your paycheck for the rest of your life," says Weston.
Even if you've been laid off, you'll come out ahead by waiting and working even part time. You need only to earn as much as Social Security would have paid.
"I would take any job. I'd work at Starbucks. I'd work at Home Depot or do some kind of part-time work. . . . Later, when you retire and get a higher benefit, you'll be really grateful you did," Vernon says.
2. Park your home equity
If you've got home equity, treat it as an old-age emergency fund, Vernon says. Delay tapping it as long as possible. You'll need it in your 80s or 90s for surprises like home repairs, escalating heating fuel costs, medical bills or hiring in-home help.
People in their 60s are taking out reverse mortgages too early and choosing expensive, higher-risk products, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warned recently. Watch out for shady sales pitches and high fees that can result in you losing your home.
More retirement articles and advice:
- Retirement number: Is 8 enough?
- How to avoid a depressing retirement
- How job-hopping can hurt retirement
3. Consider bankruptcy
If you're using retirement savings to pay debts, stop right now. "The credit card companies are going to be able to survive. But it's kind of an open question whether you will," says Weston.
Weston's rule of thumb: Get help if your debts equal half of your income. She suggests finding a credit counselor through the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling and a bankruptcy attorney from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
Many older people have a particularly strong a sense of honor. They may spend retirement savings or drain home equity to keep paying unmanageable debts. Many of them don't realize that their 401k accounts and individual retirement accounts are protected from creditors in bankruptcy, says bankruptcy attorney Billy Brewer, Jr., the president of the NACBA.
Brewer also tells his Raleigh, N.C., clients to throw in the towel if they're using credit cards to pay bills.
"I would say seniors are the primary demographic that wait too long," he says. By filing for bankruptcy sooner and protecting retirement savings, they'll have more savings to protect them from poverty in old age.
Bankruptcy laws are complex. You'll need an attorney. There are two types of bankruptcy, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Brewer charges, for example, $1,500 to $2,000, on average, for Chapter 7 and $3,000 for Chapter 13. An initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney often is free or discounted.
In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your debts are erased and you're allowed to keep "exempt" property, including a car, retirement accounts and household furnishings.
Home equity is exempt, too, which is why it's a mistake to use it to pay debts. However, the amount of home equity that you're allowed to keep varies widely. In North Carolina, for example, the limit is $35,000, in Massachusetts, it's $500,000, and Florida has no limit.
With Chapter 13, which may be the choice if you have more home equity than your state protects, you agree to a repayment plan spanning a maximum of five years. Afterward, the remaining debt is forgiven.
To rescue your retirement, take a hard look at income and living expenses. You'll have more choices if you act early. Choices are usually more limited when your back is against the wall.
Start with housing, probably your biggest expense. Consider new possibilities -- selling your home and renting, for instance. Or buying a smaller, cheaper home. Or inviting a renter to share your home and help generate some income.
Vernon says his daughter, when she was a student, rented a room in an older couple's home. They enjoyed each other's company and looked out for one another.
PulteGroup, a homebuilders company, surveyed 1,000 homeowners and found that a third were expecting parents or adult children to move in at some point. If inviting family to live with you is not the solution, maybe you can move in with them. Or share a home with friends.
Happiness at this stage of life means aligning dreams and expectations with reality, says Mary A. Brooks, owner of Brooks Financial Planning in Colorado Springs, Colo.
That's not to say it's easy. "It may mean moving from a high-cost-of-living area of the country, selling cherished assets, and exploring the reality of Medicaid and subsidized senior housing," Brooks says.
5. Get stellar advice
Most financial planners focus on investment planning -- accumulating a big nest egg and then safeguarding and deploying it. If you're retiring broke or nearly so, investment advice isn't very useful to you.
Your best bet, if you have a tiny nest egg, is to avoid advisers who charge commissions and fees for assets under management. Look for those who charge a flat hourly or per-project rate at the Garrett Planning Network and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. What's more, you should find one with experience helping others who're retiring on a budget.
"A lot of planners are focused on the accumulation phase and may not have much experience with actual retirement issues. So I'd ask them who their typical client is and whether they've worked much with retirees or near-retirees," Weston says.
Vernon looks for one of three credentials: certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst or a certified public account who has earned a personal financial specialist designation. The industry is full of various credentials, some of which are worthless. Ask friends who have issues and finances similar to yours for referrals to advisers they have used.
Interview candidates, asking specifics about their experience with issues like yours and ask for references, again, from clients with issues similar to yours. Thoroughly understand the fees.
As Celia Brugge, a Memphis, Tenn., certified financial planner, tells some of her clients, "It's not that you will never be able to retire at all. However, it may look different than you anticipated."
More retirement articles and advice:
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
It is time people begin paying their fair share in taxes. A teacher friend of mine recently retired after 30 years of service, receiving a pension of over $40,000. Any financial planner would tell you that if you had a ‘pile of money’ and wanted to retire and not run out of money, you should only draw down 4 % from your limited funds. So, like my teacher friend, if I wanted to retire with a pension of $40,000, I would have to amass over one million dollars over 30 years. To do this, one would have to invest over $12,800 each year, for 30 years, and receive 6% interest each year. In the teacher’s case, his school district, i.e., THE TAXPAYERS (me) paid not just $12,800 per year, but over $34,000 per year for pension and health care insurance. When I pay my taxes , I am paying his and other public-sector workers’ pension and health insurance premiums. After I pay State and Federal and local taxes, I have no money left to even put into an IRA. To make matters worse, that $34,000 benefiting the teacher each year was going to him T A X F R E E, each year, for 30 years. That is money in his pocket, money he did not have to come up with to fund his pension or health insurance. Last year, when Governor Scott Walker balanced our State’s budget, the teachers protesting at Wisconsin’s capitol chanted, “Tax the rich! Tax the rich!” Any one receiving $34,000 per year T A X F R E E….THEY ARE THE RICH!
So, why doesn’t each and every citizen receive tax free money to fund their IRA’s and health insurance premiums….are we not all equal and citizens in good standing? I am glad you are standing up and saying people must pay their fair share of taxes. Any money given to an employee, for the employee’s benefit, by his employer, should be taxable income. It is so nice to have you fighting for us Middle-Class citizens! The tax laws should be changed to include any money given by an employeer to an employee for the benefit of that employee as taxable money. This would bring in more revenue without raising the tax rate. This would apply to every Federal, State and any union worker. Let’s stop the tax free payouts and call them what they are…taxable income.
Retirement in this day and age is an unattainable dream. My plan is to work until I die, not by choice, but by necessity. Hey, somebody has to support all the non-hackers out there.
I can see a day when the government will selectively force certain people to work not for their own joy and benefit but solely for the benefit of others because your ability to work will become an entitlement for them. You will become a slave no so much for the government but for your fellow citizens, legal or not. And when you die, there won't be any fanfare or celebration to say thank you, no, you will most likely be buried in a common grave with others just like you because you couldn't afford a normal burial, you will be forgotten because the people that you gave your life for will be too busy worrying who will take your place so they can keep collecting.
If you are BROKE, it would only be MAGIC that allows you to RETIRE!
Retirement is the point where a person stops employment completely.
I didn't really start saving for retirement untill I was 30. It was always hard to spare the extra money with 3 kids and trying to live the American dream. I am 51 now I will have in addition to S.S. for my wife and I about $33000 a year in pensions due to me. If it werent for the 401K we would just live OK instead of good. Looing back, even though we should have a decent retirement without alot of money worries I wish I would have started saving for it when I was 20 instead of 30. It would be the difference between living good and living great!
Start saving as early as you can young people!
How could anyone be stupid enough to not see that someone who is FORCED to hand over 35-50% of their rewards for hard labor to complete strangers, who are NOT STARVING OR FREEZING OR DYING OF THIRST OR LACK OF EDUCATION OR HOSPITAL ACCESS, is ENSLAVED is truly RETARDED!
I know any number of hard working people who lost jobs late in life, who had uncovered health care cost or who just go killed in the crash. I know a guy who spent every dime he had caring for his sick wife. No, he didn't live within his means but can any of us blame him?
OK people, stop the whining about other people's retirement and start planning for yourself. I'll reach normal retirement in 3 years and can hardly wait. But I've been planning on it for 30 years. Only a small pension of about $5600 /yr because companies changed to 401K's. But I've been putting in the max for the last 10 years and additional savings in tax free bonds. With SS, pension and the 4% I will be OK with little drop off in life style. The trick is I've lived at a income level;I expect at retirement and banked the rest.
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