We all know we should be saving more for retirement. It’s common knowledge that increasing our retirement savings by a percent or two will help us to be better prepared for retirement. But in addition to saving regularly, here are some ways to improve your retirement finances in 2016.
Plan for a long retirement. While you need to protect your savings as you approach retirement, you will also continue to need growth over several decades. “At retirement, you’re likely to live 30 years or more, or your spouse will,” says Jane Bryant Quinn, author of “How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide.” “Money you don’t expect to touch for 10 years or more should be invested for growth — preferably in broad-based stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds.”
Avoid emotional attachments to investments. Strive to be logical when making investment decisions. Don’t make changes to your portfolio because you are scared of a potential negative outcome or when a friend recommends a hot tip. “Resolve to rebalance your investments without emotion. If a fund in your account has gone down in value, think of it as buying on sale instead of losing money,” says Liz Davidson, CEO of Financial Finesse and author of “What Your Financial Advisor Isn’t Telling You: The 10 Essential Truths You Need to Know About Your Money.” “You want to buy mutual fund shares when they’re down in value. That’s the concept behind buying low.”
Prepare for the unexpected. When you retire may not be within your control. Many people retire ahead of schedule due to unforeseen events. “Boomers are often blindsided by a merger and resulting layoffs, by a health condition of a parent, partner or even themselves, by an adult child’s or their own divorce,” says Phyllis Moen, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota and author of “Encore Adulthood: Boomers on the Edge of Risk, Renewal, and Purpose.” “Plan for change. In other words, have several alternative scenarios and expect the unexpected.”
Find a fiduciary. If you plan to seek financial advice, make sure the professional you work with is a fiduciary. This means that the financial advisor is required to provide advice that is in your best interest, not the investments that produce the highest commissions for the advisor. “Find out if his or her income depends on the products you buy,” says Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at The New School for Social Research and author of “How to Retire with Enough Money: And How to Know What Enough Is.” “Choose a fee-only investment adviser, meaning that the decisions that you make don’t affect his or her income.”
Pay off debt. Aim to eliminate as much debt as possible before you retire. Paying off your mortgage will significantly reduce your monthly housing costs and make it easier to get by with less retirement income. “It helps eliminate the risk of a rental increase,” Ghilarducci says.
Open a MyRA. If you don’t have a 401(k) account at work, consider doing some of your retirement saving in America’s newest retirement account: the MyRA. The money you deposit in this Roth account is guaranteed by the government never to lose value and earns a variable interest rate that was 2.31 percent in 2014. However, once you hit the maximum balance of $15,000, your money will be transferred to a private sector Roth IRA.
Create a my Social Security account. There’s no need to wait to get your paper Social Security statement in the mail. You can check your recorded earnings and taxes paid at any time by setting up a my Social Security account at ssa.gov/myaccount. This tool will also give you a personalized estimate of your benefit payments at various claiming ages or if you become disabled in the coming year.
Avoid gaps in health insurance. Even a short gap in health insurance coverage can result in a huge medical bill if you become injured. If you don’t qualify for group health insurance through your job, look into the benefits you qualify for through your state’s health insurance exchange. You can also sign up for Medicare beginning three months before your 65th birthday.
Coordinate with your spouse. Make sure that your retirement savings will last throughout both of your lifetimes. “Often, widows are left with insufficient income,” Quinn says. “When projecting your future income and expenses, work out the numbers for all three of the following scenarios: You both live to 95, your spouse dies first and you live to 95, you die first and your spouse survives to 95 or even 100.”
Consider pushing back your retirement date. Delaying retirement for even one year can dramatically improve your retirement finances. “Stay at work longer if you can,” Quinn says. “If you do, three wonderful things happen: You’ll have more current income, you’ll keep adding to your retirement savings plan and you can put off taking Social Security benefits.”
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