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The Secret to Growing Your Retirement Account

Stay the course. That’s the secret.

The pain we experience when we see the account balance drop is much greater than the joy we feel when we see the account balance increase by the same amount. Imagine you have a retirement account with $500,000 in it and it declines by 20% to the end the month at $400,000. That can be scary – you’ll most likely question your allocation and investments. Unfortunately and in too many cases that is exactly what investors do: The sell out of their losers and buy something inappropriate for themselves.

There are still many investors that are still sitting in cash after selling out of the stock market during the worst moments of the recession of 2008.

Fidelity has some data that backs up this statistic

How To Retire in 4 Years

The story about a couple’s desire to retire in 4 year is compelling.

They have applied many of the important financial planning concepts:

1) The plan to live a very modest lifestyle in retirement – They plan to need 30,000 a year in retirement.
2) They have cut and reduced many of their expenses. They realized how freeing it is to not have a large mortgage.
3) They plan to work part time. Retirement is being redefined. Working part-time, doing a fun job, is becoming common.
4) They have a plan. While I have not checked their math, it’s appears they have thought through many of the common issues retirees face.
5) They are diversified. Between side jobs, investments, and real estate they will have multiple sources of income available for them.

15 Mistakes People Make In Retirement

Mistakes in retirement can be costly and unfortunately very common. Money magazine’s recent article captures 15 examples.

While I have seen every one of these 15 mistakes actually happen, the most common issue I’ve seen this year is Number 7 on the list: Not knowing how much to withdraw.

This has become more pronounced as a result of the flat market. Investors who saw an 8-10% rate of return on their account could take out about 8-10% each year and end up with an account balance close to what it was at the start of the year. But with the markets flat to down slightly, investors who continue to take out 8-10% each year are seeing their account down by that amount.

The general rule of thumb is to take 4% per year. Take out more on a regular basis and you run the risk of depleting the account.

The Reverse Mortgage in Your Retirement Income Strategy

Recently, I had a few conversations with clients about their retirement portfolios. In these cases, there was some disappointment with the returns that the markets have provided, or not provided, in the last couple of years. For them, and I suspect other clients as well, there’s an added complication: taking big distributions every month, or every year, can reduce the IRA balance significantly and quickly. They fear they’re running out of money.

These discussions have led to my taking a refresher course on the concept of a reverse mortgage, loans that let you borrow against the value of your home, but don’t require repayment while you’re still living in it. This type of loan has been around for a while, but it may become more popular for several reasons. Here is what I learned.

Five Things You Should Know About Reverse Mortgages:

  1. Federal laws and regulations implemented in 2013 and 2015 were the game-changers. Added safeguards make these government-backed loans safer for both the borrower (especially seniors) and the banker, and also cheaper than they used to be (but still more expensive than a traditional home-equity line of credit). Most reverse mortgages today are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs), a type of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured reverse mortgage. Home Equity Conversion Mortgages allow seniors, age 62 or older, to convert the equity in their home to cash up front, or a line of credit.
  2. Your age is a factor. The older you are, and the more equity you have in your home, the more you can borrow. The loan can amount from 50% to 70% of your home’s value. (You can estimate your borrowing limit at reversemortage.org)
  3. You’ll have a safety net. You can take the loan as a lump sum, monthly payments, or a line of credit. But the borrowing has no set time limit. And the lender can’t freeze, cancel, or reduce your credit line; in fact, it’ll grow over time whether you use it or not! The newer rules have the government on the hook in case the reverse mortgage ever grows to exceed the home’s value. Plus, if one spouse dies, or has to go to a nursing home, the non-borrowing spouse can’t be kicked out.
  4. There can be multiple benefits. If you’re 62 or older, you can establish a line of credit with an HECM, whether you need the money now or not. You might need it later. That credit line will grow annually, perhaps substantially over the years. When you do tap your credit line, you pay no income taxes. This added borrowing might relieve some financial pressure. Perhaps you’d postpone receiving your Social Security benefits, or reduce withdrawals from your IRA, or pay the taxes from a Roth conversion, or undertake some age-in-place renovations to your home. A lump sum withdrawal might be used to pay off an existing mortgage, perhaps entirely, or more quickly, and thus reduce the expense of monthly mortgage payments.
  5. You can still get into trouble. If you don’t pay your property taxes and your homeowner insurance, you can still lose your house. If you want to move out of the home, the HECM must be paid off (it holds a lien on your house). So if you can’t live with these restrictions, downsizing is probably a better idea.

Your retirement portfolio should not be the only resource you use for your income. I’ve always been a proponent of the 3-legged stool for income stability. For many people, the HECM can become one of those legs.