You are five to 10 years away from retirement and worry that you are behind in planning. You probably are.
You are certainly not alone. A third of Americans between 55 and 65 have saved nothing for retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.
The good news is that if you act now, you can do some catching up. The worst thing to do is sit back and do nothing.
So what can you do? A few tips.
1 Figure out where you are in retirement preparation.
“The first thing is you need to know, am I ahead of the game or behind?” said Tim McGrath of Riverpoint Wealth Management in Chicago. “What do I need to save? You are in the 7th or 8th inning of a ballgame, and this is your last opportunity to cut expenses and save where you can, because this is it.”
2 Plan your budget for what your retirement looks like.
“In the first years of retirement, your spending will be pretty active,” said Michael Miroballi of BMO Harris Financial Advisors. “Think about how you want to spend. All the things you are saving for, you get those done early. Then you begin to slow down.
“Older people have health issues, and in later years, they become more prominent,” he said. “Think with who and where you want to spend retirement. Think about the qualitative things. Do I want to do volunteer work? Do I want to retire? I may retire from my job but not retire from work.
“Paint a retirement picture five to 10 years in advance,” he said. “That lets you know what you want to save for, and the contingencies you want to save for.”
3 Visit your HR department now.
“Many individuals never, ever go and have a conversation with their benefits department,” said Aaron Smith, of AW Smith Financial in Glen Allen, Va. “I’m talking mostly about individuals who work for a corporation. They don’t talk about what their benefits will provide for them when they retire. If they have a pension, how is that going to be implemented?”
I worked for a major corporation for many years. There were several instances when groups of people 50 and older were leaving at the same time. There was a mad rush to the human resources department, and not a lot of time.
I was amazed at what people didn’t know. Some, who had been there long enough to have a pension, had no idea they even had a pension. Others who knew they had a pension had no idea what to do with it: Take it as an annuity or a lump-sum distribution? What about survivor benefits?
Another big question. If you retire before 65, when Medicare kicks in, are there retiree health benefits? If not, where do you get insurance?
There’s a lot to get done (and answered) in the 30 days before you leave your company. Make sure you find out the answers now, when you are not under that kind of pressure.
4 Think about how you will spend your day.
More than once I’ve had people tell me the worst thing they did was retire because they got so bored. But they had it wrong. The worst thing they did was not plan their retirement.
“The focus is so much on crossing that finish line, they don’t think about what’s across the finish line,” said Ken Moraif, radio host and senior adviser at Money Matters. “It’s kind of like a marathoner who gets to the finish line and collapses. They just want to cross that line. Then they are faced with: What do I do now? They have time on their hands. It can lead to unhappiness.”
For a lot of people, their work defines who they are, even if they don’t realize it. Think about what you are going to do when that alarm clock goes off the first morning of your life in retirement. And believe me, you are likely to get bored even if you plan to play golf every day.
You should still plan out your day. Even if you don’t want to work part time, there are things to do. Volunteer. Spend more time with that hobby. Exercise. Just plan to do something.
5 Do you want to have a mortgage in retirement?
“We are brought up to believe that mortgages are a great thing and we should always have them because there is a tax deduction,” said Megan Gorman, managing partner of Chequers Financial Management in San Francisco. “As you approach retirement, sit down with your CPA and ask how much of an impact on my tax bill does the deduction have. You may be surprised by how little impact it actually has. As a result, you may want to pay it down. At the end of the day, debt is still debt.”
“The most important thing is to have a team in place — your financial professional, your tax professional and your legal professional,” said Mike Lynch, vice president at Hartford Funds. “Start building that team five to 10 years out. Before you take that first step, consult your team.”