Keene - Countdown to retirement

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Are you counting down the days to retirement? Is it just around the corner? A few months, at most a few years? Here's a checklist from the Financial Planning Association to help you make a successful transition into the next stage of your life:

Think about what you want to do in retirement

Many people enter retirement without a clue what they want to do. Do they want to work part-time? Pursue a hobby? Volunteer? Travel frequently? Their choices not only have implications for the quality of their retirement, the choices have a profound impact on the cost of retirement and whether retirees have sufficient money to fund the lifestyle. The earlier you can start thinking seriously about how you want to live in retirement, the better.

Determine what retirement will cost

The rule of thumb is that you need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to live on during retirement. The problem with this rule of thumb is that it may not closely match your needs. You may envision a very frugal lifestyle, or a high-expense one. Err on the high side. Studies indicate that people tend to underestimate what they actually spend during retirement.

Assess your sources for retirement income

Even if you're still five years away from retirement, make an estimate of what income you can rely on during retirement. How much will you receive from Social Security? From a company pension? What do you have in your 401(k) or other retirement savings? When you actually retire, will there be enough money to fully fund your retirement? Or do you need to sock-away more now, perhaps work part-time for a while after retirement or even delay retirement?

Prepare your portfolio

Start reviewing your portfolio five years before your planned retirement to be sure you're heading into retirement with the right mix of assets. You don't want to be overloaded with company stock, yet you don't want to abandon stocks entirely as you near retirement because you'll still need some growth to stay ahead of inflation.

Plan asset rollovers

You may want or need to roll assets out of your company retirement plan upon retirement, or shift other retirement assets. Plan your tax and allocation moves before you retire. Managing retirement resources can be critical to the survivability of those assets over your retirement lifetime.

Watch your spending

Couples approaching the last five years before retirement tend to experience what's been called "lifestyle creep." With their income often at maximum and many of their traditional expenses such as children and a mortgage gone, they tend to spend the surplus. Consequently, they have a higher pre-retirement lifestyle to try to maintain during retirement, when income is typically lower. Instead of spending surplus funds during the last of your working years, sock away most, if not all, of it for retirement. And evaluate your debt. Carry as little consumer debt as possible into retirement because you'll likely have less income to pay it off.

Practice retirement

In addition to checking out new living locations, try out other aspects of your envisioned lifestyle before actually retiring: hobbies, travel, time with your spouse (spend a week's vacation just at home together with no plans). Live on your retirement budget for a couple of months!

Check your health insurance

Retiring before Medicare kicks in at age 65 may leave you without health care coverage. Have in place coverage when you retire. This may be a continuation of your employer's group plan under COBRA (you pay all of the costs) or perhaps a short-term major medical policy. Also consider a Medigap policy when you reach Medicare age.

Consider long-term care insurance

Most couples nearing retirement should strongly consider buying a long-term care insurance policy (better yet, buy it in your 50s). The federal government provides only limited free long-term care under Medicare and you must be impoverished to qualify for nursing home care under Medicaid. A private policy will typically provide far better options.

Wm. Gerry Keene III, CFP, RFC, is a Certified Financial Planner practitioner with Keene Financial Group in Cape Girardeau. He is a registered representative offering securities through FFP Securities Inc., member NASD/SIPC, and a registered Investment Advisory agent offering services through FFP Advisory Services Inc. (1-800-827-1929, 33KEENE {335-3363}, or www.keeneideas.com)

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