HELP LINE: Explore available tools to help make retirement plans

I’M HOPING TO get your attention:

I get a lot of emails from a lot of people who have figured out that they’re aging.

Well, OK, maybe they’re just admitting that they’re aging, but I suspect we all know a little bit about how that goes.

The exchanges/conversations wander and vary through any number of what are, sometimes, some pretty esoteric topics as folks mull a reality of retirement — or not.

And while I enjoy and respect these conversations — they’re important — I sometimes (like today) feel the need to point out there might be something else to consider here.

Specifically consider that this is 2020 and this is America: money counts.

That seems apparent, right? It isn’t.

I don’t know how many folks I’ve watched vault into retirement — desperate to get out of their particular “rat race!” — only to trip (usually rather rapidly and unceremoniously) over a big “oops” called money.

Or, more specifically, not enough of it.

If you’re wealthy to the point that this is an inconceivable concern, never mind. Besides, you probably aren’t putting your Wall Street investment broker on hold to read this little column, anyway.

For the rest of us, think about it.

Statistically and actuarially, we are likely to outlive our parents and grandparents.

That’s probably good, but it also means we are more likely to outlive our money, which is not so good.

Now, if your profession, employment potential/status quo, temperament, endurance and goals are such that you have no intention of retiring, never mind. But if you’re thinking that retirement (whatever that means to you) might be an attractive prospect, you need to think about money.

Have you been saving anything for retirement, e.g. 401K or whatever?

Can you start? Can you increase?

Do you have investments of whatever nature? How are they doing? How are they likely to do?

Could you live on them?

Financial planning

If your income, assets and situation are such that you need to do some serious “financial planning,” then go find a serious financial planner, preferably a certified serious financial planner and here’s why you would want to do that, as opposed to just listening to me, a social worker: (1) I know very few wealthy social workers, and (2) I have yet to see one in any of the myriad mirrors that assault me on a daily basis.

Go forth and plan! Now.

What about Social Security?

Now, wait a minute, because I’m going to openly sidestep any political concerns, fears, opinions or prognostications regarding Social Security because I don’t know what is or isn’t going to happen. And neither do you.

All any of us non-wealthy folks can do is try to be as responsible as possible in the game that currently exists so for most of us Social Security is a factor.

For many of us, Social Security is a major factor.

Have you been getting estimates of your Social Security benefits along the way?

I’m guessing that you have, but if not, start now, because they will not only get you into your Social Security ballpark, but they also allow you to verify that Social Security has your correct earnings info and the window for correcting incorrect information is limited, so I repeat: start!

But let’s say you’ve been tracking this and now you want to begin to look at some scenarios for how you might live if you want to actually live.

You can go to social and begin to play.

You can do this if you have enough credits to qualify for Social Security benefits and you are not (a) currently receiving Social Security benefits on your own record; (b) 62 or older and receiving benefits on another person’s record (think “divorce”); or (c) eligible for a pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security.

If you have no idea what any of that means, or what “credits” are, go rummage around on and take your time.

Are you OK with all of the above? Good. Go do it. It’s a pretty slick tool.

Best retirement age

By the way, there’s a link there for helping you to think about what is the best age to start receiving Social Security (which is a serious consideration for a lot of folks for a lot of reasons) and even one for estimating your life expectancy, if that’s the kind of day you’re having.

Most professionals who are good at planning for retirement talk a lot about income, which is why they are good at planning for retirement.

The often ignored other side of the coin is debt. Oops.

Look: If your retirement income is $10,000 per month, but you’re liabilities (debt) total $9,500 per month, you are not in good shape.

If you’re in debt, do everything you can to either get out or reduce it as dramatically as possible.

If you have no idea how to do that, find someone who can help to guide you. Those people are out there.

Balancing debt reduction with income generation (in other words, paying it off versus saving for retirement) can be delicate.

Use the same simplistic example from above: If you don’t owe anybody anything, but you’re only bringing in $500 per month, you are not in good shape.

Think it through, and if you need a professional to help you, get one.

If your employment prospects are great, you have no intention of retiring, you like paying interest and have never encountered the phrase “delayed gratification,” never mind.

Yes, I’m hoping I’m hitting some of you right between the metaphorical eyes because the point of this today is simply to (hopefully) get you to think.

The point is not to get you to go this way or that way.

What we want to do is avoid ugly surprises that often come six to 12 months into what was supposed to be a reasonably happy retirement.

If you like surprises, feel free to do absolutely nothing, as you celebrate your bold and fearless spirit … with a can of tuna.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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