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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.

The One-Page Financial Plan: A Book Review

I recently read Carl Richard’s “The One-Page Financial Plan” and was impressed with Richard’s approach to working through some complex financial issues.  In particular, he focused almost exclusively on the emotional issues that investors face.  What does money mean to the investor?  What are the investor’s goals?  It’s these issues that overwhelm many investors to the point where they give up or procrastinate for years.

For folks that need a plan and don’t know where to start, this is a useful resource.  It’s simple and easy to follow and the principles are very similar to what I employ with my clients. This is a great guide to help investors think about money in terms of goals and how to get on the same page with a spouse on what the future looks like.  It is the most difficult part of financial planning.

It lacks specificity and implementation ideas.  Since every investor has a unique situation.  This makes the title of the book a little misleading since you don’t end up with a true financial plan on one page.  The book doesn’t go into detail about growth rate assumptions or serial payments or how to calculate time value of money.  Rather it focuses on concepts at a high level.

If the goal is to starting thinking and talking about the future, this is a great place to start.

Important Changes to Social Security

Big changes to Social Security usually take years to plan, develop and roll out. But not this time. Congress has suddenly shut down two popular claiming strategies that have been growing in popularity over the last few years. File & suspend and restricted application claiming strategies will disappear in the next 6 months.

I’m not surprised that these strategies have been cancelled. They exploited a loophole in Social Security and in some cases allowed retirees to collect more than the social security system could handle. What’s most surprising is how quickly these changes will occur. See the chart below to see how it affects you.

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Interested in learning more?