During a recent online chat, a reader wanted advice on cutting back from retirement saving to have more flexibility.
Some background: He is 35 (no age given for the wife). He and his wife have a mortgage and some student loans, which may be forgiven soon. They max out their workplace retirement accounts.
Their dilemma: “We have enough money saved in our retirement accounts that if the investments continue to perform as their class has historically (7 percent for stocks) we already have enough saved for retirement 30 years out,” the husband wrote. “I’m contemplating lowering our retirement contributions to receive the match and instead put the money toward non-retirement equity accounts so we have some additional flexibility financially. Definitely not planning on stopping contributing and spending [instead], only trying to optimize our flexibility. What do you advise?
I would like to address the student loans first. Until I was absolutely sure the loans would be forgiven, I would not pull back on the retirement contributions just yet to invest, particularly if he is counting on the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. Keep investing for retirement. If you can find extra money in your budget, put the funds aside for the possibility that you may have to pay the student loans.
Under PSLF, the remaining balance of a borrower’s debt is forgiven after 120 qualifying monthly payments. However, many borrowers have discovered they had not been on track for the loan forgiveness for various reasons such as not being in the right repayment program. The program has a lot of issues.
Now about that market return. That too is not a sure thing. What if the funds fall short of the expected 7 percent return? Keep in mind past performance is no guarantee of future results. And do not forget: Fees impact returns.
And about feeling you will have “enough.” A lot of things can smash right through that optimism, with health-care costs being a big drain in retirement.
A study by West Health and Gallup released in April found that seniors withdrew an estimated $22 billion from their long-term savings for health-care-related expenses over the previous 12 months. Ninety-two percent of seniors, defined as those 65 or older feel health-care costs will not improve or get worse, Gallup said.
“The ‘golden years American seniors anticipate enjoying may require actual gold, or the dollar equivalent, to pay for rising health care costs,” according to a Gallup blog.
There is also long-term care costs to consider.
So, what would I do? I would continue maxing out the retirement accounts. However, I do agree that it’s a good idea to have funds that are not restricted by some tax rules.
If you can, try to find places in your budget to cut so you can contribute to an after-tax investment account. If you need the money in five years or less, I would not invest it. There is not enough time to weather market volatility. But if you would like to invest to say, save for a car down the road, or make major home improvements, investing outside of a retirement fund is a good idea.
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “retirement saving.”
Retirement Rants and Raves
I am interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?
If you have not retired yet, what concerns you financially?
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Pam Evans of Norwalk, Calif., wrote: “I retired at 72 after working 54 years. My boss and I had a disagreement after my working there for 13 years, so I walked off the job on a Thursday afternoon. I was able to do that because I had paid off my house two years earlier using my Social Security payments. I’ve been retired for two and half years, and I am loving it. I read two, three, four books a week, belong to a book club, walk my dog twice a day, and watch classic or foreign movies on TV. My Social Security and a small IRA pay the bills. I find I don’t want to report to anyone else ever again."
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