Musings

Getting Serious About Money Before You Retire

Musings Piggy-bank-2889046_1920There is a significant financial risk associated with retirement, and in general, Boomers are not planning for it. Studies continue to show that too many Boomers have under-funded their retirement by not saving enough -- one of the major reasons they say they must continue to work well into their 70s and even beyond. While there may be good reasons we Boomers haven't saved enough for retirement, it will catch up with us when we stop working. Social Security benefits simply will not provide enough income to live on.

Renowned financial author Jean Chatzky makes it plain in an article for The Balance that a retiree's income must account for three large unknowns: Longevity, Inflation and Health Care Needs. They each have their good news/bad news components:

  • Longevity: The good news is we are living longer; the bad news is it costs more to live longer.
  • Inflation: The good news is the inflation rate is currently low; the bad news is it could easily spiral and we don't know when.
  • Health Care Needs: The good news is you may be healthy right now; the bad news is health care will cost more as you age, which is when you may need it the most.

In her article, Chatzky outlines a sound strategy for dealing with these three unknowns. Her recommendations include:

  • taking into consideration your unique consumption habits
  • understanding how your spending will change as you age
  • compensating for your changing spending habits by modifying your savings approach
  • making sure you account separately for health care expenses
  • creating a tax strategy, and
  • planning for both emergencies and long-term expenses.

Her article is well worth reading.

All of this may sound bewildering and possibly overwhelming. Let's face it: You may be intelligent, educated and aware -- but having enough money to retire is serious, and it could literally affect the rest of your life. That's why every Boomer would be well advised to come up with a plan (and, in my opinion, work with a Certified Financial Planner) to help figure out the best path to a secure retirement... before it's too late.

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Retire? Not Me!

Musings Senior-2642041_1920We may soon have to ban the word "retirement" from the Boomer lexicon. In order to write this blog, I scan numerous other blogs, newsletters, websites and articles that deal with aging and retirement. A common theme across virtually all of them is how Boomers are completely redefining retirement, almost on a daily basis.

I've begun to think of the concept of retirement as the "instead of" time of life. Instead of retirement, Boomers are reinventing themselves through any number of second act pursuits. Some potential retirees volunteer, some travel, some start new ventures of their own, and some want to or have to continue to work.

Retirement and Its Discontents, a recent book by university professor Michelle Pannor Silver, draws from in-depth interviews she conducted with people whose departure from their life's work meant losing a core and fundamental component of their personal identity. In the Introduction to her book, Silver addresses an interesting paradox: "Although retirement is primarily thought of as a time to enjoy life without the burdens or work, some people can feel burdened by a life without work. For these people, retirement can feel deeply constraining and limiting. Retirement's freedom can create challenges for people whose life's work was closely associated with their sense of self-worth."

I think Silver's salient observation about the retiree's "sense of self-worth" is a central theme in the retirement dilemma for many Boomers. Professionals in particular may feel a real loss when they leave their careers because it may have been their careers that defined much of their lives. How do they resurrect the feeling that this next stage of their lives has meaning and purpose? How do they achieve fulfillment from something else -- something that may not be as all-encompassing and exhilarating as their work lives?

Of course, there is no uniform answer for every aging Boomer. Each of us finds our own unique path to what's next. This is the part of retirement that is both vexing and liberating. What's most important is that we do not let the concept of "retirement" close ourselves off from life -- rather it should represent a welcome new phase of life for all of us.

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Age-Old Learning

Musings Glasses-272399_1920For many Boomers, learning is part of living. The aging process may cause aches and pains, sleepless nights and other irritations, but it is also a time when we can open up our minds to new things. Thankfully, opportunities to learn abound -- and increasingly, those opportunities are specifically targeting Boomers.

One great example of Boomer-oriented learning is the growing number of OLLIs across the country. About twenty years old, OLLIs -- Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes -- are educational programs for seniors that are associated with select colleges and universities. At present, there are 124 OLLIs nationally with at least one OLLI in each of the 50 states plus D.C. You can find a list of the institutes here: http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli_list

Also encouraging is the growing number of undergraduate and graduate schools that offer free or reduced tuition to seniors. In addition, more colleges than ever are offering regular or continuing education courses that address some of the work and life challenges Boomers face as they age. Even programs designed to help Boomers pursue encore careers are starting to appear, as reported in NextAvenue.org. Two such programs mentioned in the article are Notre Dame's Inspired Leadership Initiative and the University of Minnesota's Advanced Career Initiative.

The importance of educating seniors (as in older Americans, not high school seniors) should not be under-estimated, given increasing lifespans and the likelihood that Boomers will be working far beyond the traditional retirement age. According to an AARP report cited in the NextAvenue article, “With people living longer, more adults are turning to continued education for both personal enrichment and to learn new skills. Providing programs tailored to their interests and needs is a promising opportunity for both the public and private sectors, while updating the skillsets of the 50-plus cohort will give them added credibility in a competitive workplace.”

The age-old need for learning takes on new urgency when it becomes "old age learning."

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Why Every Boomer Needs a Retirement Timeline

Musings Business-3081427_1920Think about this statistic for a moment: About 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day.

In times gone by, 65 was the magic retirement age -- and it is still the magic Medicare age (that is, everyone who turns 65 is eligible to apply for the government health insurance plan called Medicare). These days, however, age 65 is just one marker on the retirement timeline. As Certified Financial Planner Dana Anspach writes for The Balance, "Certain retirement events are triggered at specific ages... As you age, the rules for specific ages change."

Since retirement is a very personal decision, it makes a lot of sense for every Boomer to develop his or her own unique retirement timeline. However, you should be aware of the triggers to which Anspach refers. It is never too early to plan for retirement (or "rewirement," as I like to think of it), but age 55 is the time to "get serious about planning," Anspach writes.

Think of 59-1/2 as the first big trigger in terms of tax implications. That's the age at which you can begin to withdraw from an IRA or 401(k) without an early withdrawal tax penalty. There are a few exceptions, but since tax law is a moving target, you should consult your accountant or the IRS before making any decisions.

Age 62 is the next big trigger. According to the Social Security Administration, if you were born between 1943 and 1954, you are entitled to Social Security benefits as of age 62. Your benefit amount varies depending on your work history; however, if you decide to draw Social Security benefits at this age, you will receive only 75 percent of the monthly benefit to which you are entitled.

Age 65 is important because, as mentioned previously, you can be covered by Medicare at this age. Medicare can be overwhelming -- it has several "parts," and it is not entirely free. Apply several months before your 65th birthday. Get complete information at https://www.medicare.gov/ . Medicare is unrelated to Social Security benefits; in other words, you can be covered by Medicare at age 65 whether or not you have applied for Social Security benefits. At this age, if you were born between 1943 and 1954, you would receive about 93 percent of your monthly Social Security benefit.

Age 66 is the "full retirement age" if you were born between 1943 and 1954. (Full retirement age varies for individuals born after 1954; visit the Social Security Administration website -- https://www.ssa.gov/ -- to learn more.) This is the age at which you can collect 100 percent of your monthly Social Security benefit.

Age 70 is a milestone for many Boomers, and it also is an important trigger. Under current Social Security Administration regulations, this is the magic age at which everyone, regardless of when you were born, gets the maximum "delayed retirement credit" if you have not yet taken Social Security benefits. As an example, if you were born in 1943 or later and you wait until age 70 to collect your Social Security monthly payment, the twelve-month increase to your monthly benefit is 8 percent. That's significant, especially if you live a lot longer! After age 70 there is no increase in your monthly benefit other than COLA, or Cost Of Living Adjustments, if these are enacted by law.

Age 70-1/2 is a trigger but a new law called "SECURE" enacted at the end of last year changed its importance. This age used to mark the end of when you could contribute to traditional IRAs and the beginning of when you had to start taking an "RMD" (Required Minimum Distribution) from an IRA or 401(k) retirement plan to avoid tax penalties. With this new law, you can now continue to make contributions to traditional IRAs even past age 70-1/2 (you could already do so with Roth IRAs and the law doesn't change that). In addition, under the new law, you do NOT have to take an RMD until age 72, as long as turn 70-1/2 in 2020 or later.

Age 72 is a new trigger date, as indicated above. This is the date all those who reach 70-1/2 in 2020 or later must begin taking RMDs from retirement plans to avoid tax penalties. You should consult an accountant and financial planner to fully understand the RMD calculations and tax implications.

These are the primary trigger ages for a general retirement timeline, but you should add any other ages that are important to you personally. I hope you found this helpful -- and not too confusing!

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How Not to Become a Statistic

Musings Warning-sign-30915_1280As Boomers age, they become less employable (not their fault) and more financially vulnerable (sometimes their fault). The concerning thing is the statistical evidence that these two factors converge to create a crisis for a good number of retiring Boomers.

Here are some sobering statistics that raise red flags, as reported by NextAvenue.org:

  • 36 percent of workers and current retirees have $1,000 or less in savings.
  • 47 percent of current retirees were forced into early retirement. 55 percent of them had to leave work because of health problems or disabilities. Only 20 percent were forced into retirement due to changes at their companies.
  • The number of workers older than 55 will grow to 25 percent of the workforce by 2022. However, many of the lower paying service sector jobs, such as grocery clerks, waiters/waitresses and substitute teachers, will be held by the post-retirement age worker instead of younger workers.
  • An incredible 80 percent of American workers cannot afford to retire at all.

A legitimate question is: How do you avoid becoming a statistic?

There are several things to monitor as you age, including your health, your financial situation, your living situation, and your life responsibilities (such as potentially caring for your elderly parents or financially assisting your adult children). Caring for yourself comes first -- and that means checking your own health statistics periodically (weight, blood pressure, etc.), and being vigilant about diet and exercise. On the financial side, you should be living within your means and working with a financial advisor to ensure you are following the best strategy when it comes to investing, saving and drawing upon retirement assets. The last thing you want to do is outlive your money.

Statistics regarding retirement in America are indeed concerning. You need to pursue a smart course of action so you do not  become a statistic.

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OK Boomers, What Do You Think of "OK Boomer"?

Musings Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 11.56.09 AMAmong the popular movement-based phrases are "Black Lives Matter" and "#MeToo." Another one of late representing a different kind of "movement" is the phrase, "OK Boomer." As The New York Times reports:

“Ok boomer” has become Generation Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids. Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people — and the issues that matter to them.

OK, I get at least one of the motivations behind "OK Boomer." In the context of climate change, war, government corruption, inequality or any number of other burning issues, it seems legitimate for younger generations to scold Boomers for, well, mucking up the world we live in. It is difficult for the Boomer generation to deny its responsibility for some if not many of the world's ills. Furthermore, the notion of a younger generation ridiculing or disrespecting an older generation is something which has a certain familiarity, doesn't it? Isn't that the way we felt about our own parents as we were growing up, steeped in rebellion and protest? Now, it seems, we're getting some of the same treatment we dished out to elders during our youth.

On the other hand, when used in a pejorative sense to simply trash Boomers because they are older, "OK Boomer" may seem like a phrase that is dismissive, rude and age-bashing. It is particularly hurtful when a wildly popular sweatshirt adds something else to this phrase, as depicted in the article in The New York Times: "OK BOOMER Have a Terrible Day." So, it appears some who use the phrase in this way may deeply distrust and even dislike Boomers. Sadly, it is also indicative of the tribal warfare that has become normalized in our dealings with one another. This is a time in our history when groups of people are poised to reject others, simply because they're different, are of different generations or have different beliefs.

I'm not any more a fan of "OK Boomer" than I am of "Go back where you came from." What are your thoughts about "OK Boomer"?

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Ageism Around the World

Musings Hands-216982_1280The World Health Organization (WHO) calls ageism "the most socially acceptable prejudice in the world," according to a recent article on NextAvenue.orgAgeism, says WHO, goes largely unchallenged, and because it is "implicit and subconscious," people may be prejudice against older people without even knowing it.

What do we, as aging Boomers, do to combat what could well be viewed as a worldwide epidemic? A study referenced in the NextAvenue.org article suggests that there are certain "interventions" that help to reduce ageism. Two interventions that are found to be most effective are (1) education about aging and (2) inter-generational programs.

Education

From my perspective, there is a crying need for educating American society about aging. Many Boomers probably remember a childhood in which we were counseled to "respect our elders." Today, this notion seems to have been forgotten. Elders, older Americans, seniors, or whatever you want to call them are derided in a variety of ways: They are ignored or, even worse, patronized by younger consumers. They are ridiculed on television programs, in movies and in product advertising. They are openly discriminated against in the workplace.

The irony of age discrimination is that aging is inevitable. Everyone who may now be prejudiced against older people will one day be older themselves. Ageism is so pervasive, however, that it is indeed "implicit and subconscious." In fact, if we're being honest with ourselves, even Boomers can be prejudiced against our elders. For example, I admit to being occasionally impatient and intolerant of "older people" who take a little longer to check out at the drug store, or who drive a lot slower on the road. That's probably an unhealthy symptom of our high-speed society.

We should be teaching about aging in America's elementary and secondary schools as well as in our colleges. We should be seeing and hearing public service announcements about the fact that wisdom comes from experience and age. We should find ways to celebrate our aging society instead of ridiculing it.

Inter-generational Programs

There are a growing number of creative, innovative programs designed to bring younger and older generations together. They seem to be largely centered around educational institutions. For example, my local OLLI (Osher Life Learning Institute), located on a college campus, has inter-generational seminars and get-togethers with its older members and college students. An organization that is strong in its focus on inter-generational programs is Encore.org.

Other logical ways to facilitate inter-generational programs are through tutoring, mentoring, and volunteering. Age should not be a barrier to participate in volunteer programs; one benefit of volunteering is that young and old alike can share common interests and a common goal through volunteering for a particular cause or organization. 

You can also make the case that one of the best places to encourage inter-generational respect is the workplace. Younger and older employees working together should be the norm, not the exception, and senior management (despite their age) should foster cooperation across demographic lines. Older workers should be valued, not vilified. They have a deep knowledge base and can be especially vital as mentors to younger workers -- if an organization respects them for their experience.

An encouraging result of the above-referenced study is that even small-scale interventions can be effective: "...the interventions were not highly expensive, large-scale, multi-year projects. They were relatively small and easy to implement."

Perhaps ageism around the world cannot be eliminated, but education and inter-generational programs are two ways to work toward significantly reducing it.

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There's Nothing "Normal" About Your Retirement Age

Musings Directory-1334441_1920According to the Social Security Administration, the"Normal Retirement Age" has a great deal of meaning:

Retirement before "Normal Retirement Age" (NRA) reduces benefits, and retirement after NRA increases benefits. NRA, also referred to as "Full Retirement Age," varies from age 65 to age 67 by year of birth.

This is a table of the Normal Retirement Ages from the year of birth 1937 through 1960 and later: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/nra.html As you can see, since birth year 1943, the NRA is considered to be at least 66 years of age. If you were born in 1960 or later, your NRA is 67.

Please visit https://www.ssa.gov for complete information about the monthly benefit you would receive at Normal Retirement Age, how waiting until age 70 will increase your monthly benefit, and details about continuing to work while collecting Social Security benefits. You can set up a personal Social Security account online and get the details customized for you. These specifics are not what this blog post is about.

What I really want to discuss here is the notion that there is nothing "normal" about a Boomer's retirement age. I know Boomers who are in their late 50s or early 60s who consider themselves "retired" because they have left the traditional workforce. However, when you dig a bit deeper, many of these retired Boomers are not fully retired at all. They still work, they just do so in a different and sometimes very creative way. Some of them work part-time, some do freelance gigs, some consult. Few of these retirees are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. I also know Boomers who continue to work full-time well past their "normal" retirement age and hope to do so for many more years -- as long as their employers see it that way too.

According to the Social Security Administration, "More than one in three 65 year olds today will live to age 90, and more than one in seven will live to age 95." Read that again and fully digest the implications. If you are 65, you have a better than 30 percent chance of living another 25 years. That makes it even more absurd to think of the "normal retirement age" as 66!

As I've discussed in previous blog posts, Boomers have dramatically redefined retirement to the point that the word itself is obsolete. It is hard to imagine more than a handful of Boomers who view "retirement" in the traditional sense. Our parents thought of retirement at age 65 as a time when you fulfilled your life's work and then stopped working, period. The assumption was that you had a fairly limited time left after the age of 65. Whatever years remained were presumably spent enjoying the fruits of your labor -- maybe collecting a pension as well as Social Security.

Many Boomers are blowing right past age 65 and not even giving it a second thought. Yes, we may have a bit less energy and feel kind of stiff getting out of bed in the morning... but that isn't enough to slow most of us down.

"Normal" retirement age??? I don't think so!

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Where There's a Will...

Musings Testament-229778_1920What did Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, and Prince have in common? The easy answer is they were all musical superstars. But they had something a lot more troubling in common: They all died without a will. Now there is every good reason for these celebrities to think they were going to live a lot longer, so they may have put off writing a will. Still, it is almost inconceivable that people with the kind of assets they must have accumulated to not have at least a will, if not a trust, to protect their estate and their heirs.

No one likes to think about their own mortality, but the legal implications of dying without a will are enormous. According to LegalZoom.com, "Although laws pertaining to dying without a will (intestate in legal terms) vary by state, distribution of property and assets generally follows a similar pattern. In other words, every state has a 'default' plan for the distribution of property in the event that you die without a will. The laws follow a predefined formula and might not be what you want or expect."

In addition to a will, a trust might provide important protections both while you are alive and after you die. ElderLawAnswers.com clearly explains the difference between a will and a trust:

"A will is a document that directs who will receive your property at your death and it appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards. A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a 'trustee,' holds legal title to property for another person, called a 'beneficiary.' A trust usually has two types of beneficiaries -- one set that receives income from the trust during their lives and another set that receives whatever is left over after the first set of beneficiaries dies.

"A will covers any property that is only in your name when you die. It does not cover property held in joint tenancy or in a trust. A trust, on the other hand, covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. In order for property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.

Another difference between a will and a trust is that a will passes through probate. That means a court oversees the administration of the will and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted. A trust passes outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money. Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private."

As a Boomer, you should make it your business to know about wills and trusts. These essential legal instruments offer you protection and peace of mind. Speak with a legal adviser before it's too late.

 


Don't Worry, Be Happy... and You'll Live Longer

Musings Woman-1031000_1920Do you consider yourself an optimist? If you answered "Yes," you are likely to live longer.

According to Harvard University, "Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), and National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve 'exceptional longevity,' that is, living to age 85 or older."

“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” explained corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM. “This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”

The study followed almost 70,000 women for 10 years and over 1,400 men for 30 years. According to Harvard, "When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups."

Chances are you know or have heard about people in their 80s and 90s who maintain remarkably positive attitudes despite the challenges of daily living. On the other hand, you may be acquainted with older folks who complain frequently and whom you probably view as bitter and pessimistic.

This extensive study confirms what many aging Boomers probably know intuitively: Our sense of optimism, contentment or happiness has a lot to do with our physical health. Looking at this study optimistically suggests a strong correlation between a positive outlook and a longer life. Pretty cool!

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