While many Americans look forward to their retirement years, saving for this time period can bring a lot of stress. A majority of workers participating in a 2017 AARP survey said they felt that they did not have enough saved for the various expenses, both expected and unexpected, that come with retirement. Part of this problem may relate to the hidden fees associated with retirement accounts, especially 401(k)s.
Often, people do not even know they are paying fees on their 401k, or have little choice in paying them, as their plan is selected by their employer. According to financial expert Robert Hiltonsmith, these fees can cost the average two-earner family more than $150,000 over a lifetime, an amount that accounts for nearly a third of all investment returns.
Understanding the Incredible Impact of Fees on Retirement Savings
Most people saving for retirement do not understand the impact that fees can have on their accounts. In fact, paying a single percent less in fees for an investment over the course of a lifetime can translate to enough money for an additional 10 years of retirement.
Consider three people who all invest $100,000 and achieve a rate of return of 8 percent. One person invests in an account with 1-percent fees and eventually achieves a total of $761,000. Another puts their $100k into an account with 2-percent fees. During the same time interval, this account will only grow to $574,000. The third person invests in an account with 3-percent fees. This account ends with $432,000. These figures demonstrate how seemingly small increases in fees can cut into overall savings.
In 2015 a law professor at Yale published a study concluding that a surprising number of 401(k) plans focus on high-fee funds, and ultimately recommended that employees pay close attention to the fees they pay.
Instead of putting money into plans with high fees, employees may be better off investing in a retirement account outside of their employers’ that will conserve a much higher percentage of their investment for the future. Pew Charitable Trusts has also researched this issue, noting that fees lower the amount of money available for compounding and thus have a reverberating effect on growth through the life of the investment. Unfortunately, many people think that fees are an inevitable part of saving for retirement, but this is not the case.
Pushing through the Confusing Language of Fee Disclosures
Often, 401(k) plans bury the nature and number of fees in pages upon pages of statements and then use undecipherable names to describe them. Since 2012, retirement plan companies have been required to declare the amount and purpose of fees, but that does not mean they do not try to confuse the average investor. Even savvy investors may feel lost in a 30-page disclosure document designed to discourage people from asking questions. Phrases like “asset maintenance fee” and “required revenue fee” seem legitimate, but they actually just refer to revenue sharing and commissions.
To determine if you are paying too much in fees, you will first need to know what an appropriate amount is. In general, fees should be less than 1 percent, but many finance professionals note that they have seen fees as high as 3.25 percent. Some plan managers will try to justify a higher rate by saying that a small company needs to pay higher fees until they grow larger—this is not the case. Ideally, it should be under 1 percent, regardless of the size of the company.
Viewing Employers as a Key Partner in Fee Negotiations
The regulatory changes that took place in 2012 made employers responsible for the plans they select for employees on a fiduciary level. Employers have a duty to select plans solely for the benefit of their employees and are required to review fee disclosure documents within 90 days of receiving them. During this time period, it is possible to make changes to the plan. Company owners and managers can actually face rather significant fines if they do not review the disclosure since it is considered disregard for the welfare of employees both now and in the future. In other words, employees are not alone when it comes to negotiating for better fee structures and should view their employers as partners in this struggle.
Employees should advocate for a joint disclosure assessment with their managers to make sure that the plan is the best for the future. When people take the time to learn what the fees mean and how they may be unnecessary, they can argue for a fairer structure and ultimately put everyone in a better position for retirement.
While historically people could count on Social Security and pension plans to provide a comfortable income during retirement, people today need to save and invest as they prepare for life after work. Luckily, there are wide variety of retirement plans available. However, understanding which vehicle is the best option can be confusing. Learning more about the specific advantages and disadvantages of various plans can help people figure out what they need for their particular retirement needs and goals. One way to categorize retirement plans is to consider those sponsored by employers versus individual retirement accounts.
Retirement Plans Sponsored by Employers
A great way to start saving is through employer-sponsored plans. The most basic employer-sponsored retirement account is the defined-contribution plan, typically a 401(k). A defined-contribution plan involves payroll deductions that go directly to an individual account within the company plan. Ideally, your company will match your contributions, which means that your employer will also put money into the account, up to a certain amount and based on how much you elect to contribute.
Employer-sponsored accounts are generally easy to set up, since the contributions are usually deducted directly from your pay each pay period. They’re also easy to maintain, because the plan administrator handles most of the statements and disclosure. In addition, 401(k) contribution limits are typically higher than those for individual retirement accounts—not to mention the fact that any employer matching is free money. Furthermore, contributions to 401(k) plans reduce your taxable income now. However, you’ll pay taxes on withdrawals from traditional 401(k) accounts during retirement.
In contrast, with a Roth 401(k), your payroll contributions are made after taxes, so your withdrawals during retirement are tax-free. A Roth 401(k) also has no income restrictions, unlike a Roth individual retirement account. Which you choose (traditional vs Roth 401(k)) basically depends on whether you think you’ll be in a higher income tax bracket during your retirement. Roth 401(k)s are often recommended for younger investors, who tend to fall in lower income tax brackets, but there may be good reasons for older investors to consider Roth 401(k)s as well. A financial advisor can help you make the best decision.
There are some drawbacks to defined-contribution plans, the most obvious of which is greater restrictions on investment choices. With an individual plan, you have much more control over where your money is invested. In addition, employer-sponsored plans often come with high management and administrative fees, which can take a significant chunk out of your savings. New employees should also make note of any waiting period before they can make contributions, as this is common. You may also have to wait until you’ve been with your company for a certain period of time (say, a year) before your employer will match your contributions.
Individual Retirement Accounts
The other main option when it comes to saving for retirement is the individual retirement account (IRA), which can be set up through banks, brokerage firms, and other financial institutions. These accounts hold various investments, from stocks and bonds to cash and mutual funds, reserved for retirement. Several different types of IRAs exist, each with its own tax and contribution rules, so it’s important to look through all the options. As with a 401(k) plan, you can select a traditional or Roth IRA, with Roth contributions made with after-tax income, in order to avoid taxation upon withdrawal during retirement. You can contribute to both a Roth and traditional IRA in the same year, provided that you qualify for both.
The main advantage of IRAs is the fact that you’re in the driver’s seat and make all the decisions, whether that means personally or choosing a professional to do so. Furthermore, an IRA comes with a very wide range of investment choices, so it becomes easier to diversify. However, there are some downsides, too. IRAs in general have lower annual contribution limits, although these limits increase once you turn 50. Contribution limits depend on your modified adjusted gross income. Furthermore, even traditional IRA contributions are not always tax-deductible. (Roth IRA contributions are never tax deductible.) The deductibility limits for traditional IRAs depend on your income, as well as your tax filing status and access to workplace retirement plans.
General Guidelines for Deciding on Retirement Contributions
The exact savings strategy you should use will depend on your individual circumstances, but some general guidelines can help you determine your contributions. For the most part, you should first take advantage of any workplace retirement plan that comes with employer matching. Outside of the 401(k), these plans might include 457(b)s, 403(b)s, and defined-benefit plans, which work much like a pension.
Once you’ve maxed out your 401(k) contributions, or at least the matching available from your employer, it might be time to consider an IRA. Additionally, people who do not have a retirement plan through their company should focus on an IRA. Here, the most important decision is whether a traditional or Roth IRA is more appropriate. Determining this will involve making some predictions about your tax status in retirement. People who will fall into a lower tax bracket in retirement will benefit the most from a traditional IRA. Furthermore, people who are self-employed or who own a small business should recognize that specialized accounts exist for them, including the solo 401(k) and specialized IRAs.
One of the most common questions people ask their financial advisors is, when should I start saving for retirement? Virtually across the board, financial advisors will say that you should start as early as possible—ideally when you’re in your 20s and have just launched your career.
Of course, there’s no reason to despair if you didn’t start a retirement fund right out of college. Not everyone in their 20s has the foresight to start saving for something decades in the future, especially since many employers do not offer a savings-matching program. If you started saving for retirement later in life, the situation certainly isn’t hopeless, but it is a bit more urgent. You’ll need to save more and be more focused to meet the same goals, since you’ll have less time to achieve them.
However, if you start early, you’ll enjoy a wide range of benefits, including the increased flexibility that compounding interest provides. You’ll also be able to take more chances with your investments, because you’ll have more time to recover from losses. Another major benefit of starting early is that it instills good habits early on.
When you start to plan for retirement in your 20s, you’ll learn several lessons that will serve you well for the rest of your financial future. These include:
Learning the value of compounding.
If you’re in your 20s, you have a lot of time before you retire and can use this to your advantage. Making money grow over the course of 40 years is much easier than achieving the same thing in half that time. Even when your money just sits there, over time it can double, triple, or quadruple. The best way to understand the value of compounding is to think about the math behind it.
As a hypothetical situation, imagine you save $6,000 toward retirement each year until the age of 65 at a 7-percent rate of return. If you start saving at age 45, you will have about $246,000 in the account when you reach retirement age. If you begin saving at 35, the account would have about $567,000. However, starting at the age of 25 means you’ll amass nearly $1,198,000. In other words, starting at 25 nearly quintuples the final amount saved, compared to starting at 45. This happens even though you would only contribute an additional $120,000, or $6,000 annually, for the 20 years between age 25 and 45. This math underscores that your savings depend not only on how much you contribute, but also on how long you’ve been contributing.
Understanding how to maximize employee benefits.
Employers often provide some sort of retirement benefit for full-time employees. Most commonly, you’ll have access to a 401(k) plan through your company. Understanding these accounts and how they work sooner, rather than later, will make it easier to use them strategically down the line, when choosing the right investments becomes extremely important. When you start contributing to your 401(k) early, you’ll have some time to play with the account without serious consequences.
A 401(k) typically rises and falls with the stock market and continues to grow over time. Money for the account is taken directly out of your paycheck, so you never see it. If you’re lucky, your employer will match your contributions to the account at some percentage—this can be a major boon and add up quickly. Plus, this matching is essentially free money, so it makes sense to take advantage of it. Some employers will offer profit-sharing instead, which means that a portion of the company’s profits is put into your 401(k) account, reducing your tax liability.
Keeping meticulous records and budgets.
People save money when they spend less than they bring in. The concept is simple, of course, but it’s a lesson many of us learn the hard way. However, saving for retirement will encourage you to become more discerning with your money, and you’ll soon learn to keep track of exactly where it goes. This skill will become more important over time, especially when it’s time to save for a down payment on a house or pay off a big debt. Ideally, people in their 20s should strive to live on about 85 percent of their income and save or invest the rest.
Keeping track of spending has become simultaneously more and less difficult. It’s easier than ever to buy things today; sometimes it only takes a few taps on a screen or one click of a button. Because of this, impulse spending can be hard to avoid.
At the same time, technology does a lot of the recordkeeping for us. Most of us no longer have to spend time adding and subtracting columns of numbers to balance a checkbook. In addition, smartphone apps can help track your spending; basic spreadsheets on your desktop computer are also effective. Whatever method you use, keeping track of spending can help you stay out of debt or pay off a large debt that must be wiped out before you can begin saving for retirement in earnest.
The Bottom Line: When it comes to saving for retirement, there really is no such thing as too soon. People who start saving early will set themselves up for success down the line by learning critical lessons about finance and investing. In addition, starting to save early, even if only a small amount, leads to significant gains because of compounding interest. If you think you can’t save, re-examine your finances to see if you can cut back on spending in some places. Putting aside even a little bit of money each month will help you establish a lifelong habit that will pay off enormously in the end.
A majority of America’s small business owners are not saving for retirement. Many know they should, but feel that saving will hurt their business. According to David Deeds, Schulze Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, small business owners do not save because they consider the business their retirement plan. “The plan is that when they retire, they are either going to transfer the business to a family member in exchange for a share of future wealth or a buyout or they are going to sell it off and turn that into cash.”
However, many circumstances may prevent the sale of a small business. Even if the business can be sold, the sale may not provide enough income to cover one’s entire retirement. Entrepreneurs may also have to retire earlier than they expected due to health problems or other unforeseen events.
Having a well-rounded retirement plan can help protect entrepreneurs against these and other risks. Here are five things small business owners need to know to plan their retirement effectively.
First, know the numbers. Small business owners should calculate how much money they will need to live on in retirement. Factors such as where they want to live (a pricier home or a modest apartment), how they want to spend their time (traveling or working part-time), and healthcare costs play an important role in this assessment.
Once they have an idea of how much they will need, entrepreneurs should get a valuation of their business to see if its sale or transfer is a viable retirement option. As part of their valuation, small business owners should consider whether the business can operate without their involvement. If it cannot, it may be difficult to sell or generate income from it once the business owner retires.
Next, determine a goal. This might seem elementary, but the power of having a firm vision for the future of a small business and retirement cannot be overstated. Entrepreneurs who set firm goals take steps to make sure their goals are met. This helps them find the best tools to save and also prepares them to wind down the business when it is actually time to retire.
Know the best tools. Business owners do not need to move significant amounts of money from their business in order to start saving for retirement. Investing just a little bit can help entrepreneurs save on their present-day taxes until they make withdrawals in retirement. There are four main instruments to choose from.
SEP-IRA: Like a traditional IRA, this retirement plan is tax-deductible. For returns filed this year, small business owners can contribute up to 25% of their income or $54,000. A SEP-IRA is a great retirement plan for sole proprietors because it is self-directed, but the 401(k) described below offers similar benefits but may be more cost effective due to lower administration fees.
Simple IRA: This plan is designed for entrepreneurs who employ 100 or fewer employees. Like for a 401(k), contributions are taken directly from employee paychecks and are pre-tax. Contributions cannot exceed $12,500 in 2017, but employees who are 50 or older may contribute up to $15,500.
Solo 401(k): This plan is for sole proprietors but may include the proprietor’s spouse. Proprietors may contribute up to 25% of their salary plus up to $18,000 ($24,000 for people aged 50 or older), but the total contribution may not exceed $54,000. A spouse who works in the business may also contribute the same amounts.
Simple 401(k): Small businesses with 100 or fewer employees may utilize this plan. Owners and employees have the option to contribute up to $12,500 this year, or $15,500 for people aged 50 and older. This plan also allows for borrowing against it and making penalty-free withdrawals to cover financial hardship.
A sole proprietorship, a partnership, limited liability company, or corporate can qualify for every plan except the SEP-IRA.
Keep investments simple. Most small business owners should probably invest in a globally diverse collection of low-cost index funds. An index fund invests broadly across entire markets like the U.S. stock market, U.S. bond market, and developed foreign stock markets.
Another option for simple investment is a target-date fund, which automatically adjusts the balance of fixed-income investments based on age and the selected date.
Diversify all investments. Diversification does not apply only to the retirement plans described above but to any asset a small business owner may choose to invest in. Getting all of one’s savings or investments caught in one basket can be risky.
This is especially true of home ownership. The real estate market is cyclical, so it can yield high returns or unexpectedly big losses. Small business owners who place most of their net worth in their home are cautioned to spread their wealth around.
Put it all together. With their numbers as their foundation and their goals in mind, small business owners have terrific opportunities to save for retirement. By utilizing the tools we describe to invest in a diverse portfolio, more small business owners can effectively build their wealth without hurting their present-day business growth.
Reports claim that 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day. But many of them are retiring into a standard of life that is significantly less ideal than they imagined. You don’t want that for you.
Don’t worry. If you’re smart, retirement will be a breeze. It just boils down to asking the right questions.
Those questions are:
- Can you afford it?
- Where should you retire?
- How do you maximize social security benefits?
One of the biggest fears people have about retirement is that they’ll retire broke. The problem with this way of thinking is that retirement isn’t an event. Rather, it’s a process that starts even before you reach your prime working years.
Unfortunately, more than half of Americans go into retirement broke, with nothing to show for the 35+ years they’ve been working. According to a GoBankingRates research, there is a significant chunk of the population that has less than $10,000 saved for retirement. Worse, many don’t have any savings at all.
A survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch revealed that about 81% of Americans don’t even know how much they need to save for retirement.
Below are 3 questions to help you be more proactive in how you handle the retirement process.
1. “Can you afford it?”
The current economic environment has led to a rise in the number of people who are ready to retire but can’t. The common phenomenon is a hybrid; people are in retirement but they’re still working.
So, how much money do you need to avoid this situation?
To be able to answer that question, it boils down to one simple idea: your expenses need to be less than your income. There’s more to it, but that’s the basis.
Being retired means living on a fixed income without a possibility of salary increment. Also, your expenses won’t always be fixed: healthcare goes up, taxes fluctuate, and things cost more in general over time. There are assumptions you’ll need to make when saving up.
As a guideline, many financial planners advise you to start saving up to 15% of your income while you’re still in your 20s. If you want to know the exact amount, professionals estimate that you should have at least 10 times your last full-year income by retirement. Thus, if you make $100,000 in your last year of work, you’ll need at least $1,000,000. Use this online calculator to estimate how much you need.
To increase your income, start saving and investing as early as possible. Take advantage of accounts such as Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.
2. “Where should you retire?”
Another thing most people overlook is the impact where they live has on their income. For instance, did you know that 13 states tax Social Security benefits while 37 don’t? Of the 13, 9 exempt tax up to a certain limit. The remaining 4 (Minnesota, Vermont, North Dakota and West Virginia) tax your benefits, no exemption.
Also, different states have different laws regarding estate and inheritance taxes. Some states have estate tax while others have inheritance tax. Yet, New Jersey and Maryland have both taxes.
You may also want to understand the different property tax rates across states. This will be crucial in helping you understand how you spend your money once you retire.
Bottom line: Understand the tax implications of your retirement state or city to save yourself from unnecessary surprises.
3. “Do you know how to maximize your Social Security benefits?”
A MassMutual quiz aimed at testing how much Americans know about the Social Security retirement benefits asked over 1,500 adults 10 basic Social Security questions and only one answered all correctly. Only 28% got seven or more questions right––this was the passing grade.
Will you be part of the many that retire without understanding how they can maximize their Social Security Benefits?
Although Social Security is designed to cover the disabled and survivors of deceased workers, is primary purpose is to assist retired workers with their monthly expenses and without it, most retirees would probably be in big trouble. According to a Gallup report, more than half of the retirees says Social Security is a major source of income.
While the Social Security benefits at Full Retirement Age (FRA) are capped at $2,687 a month in 2017, there are a number of ways that a retiree could use Social Security to boost benefits.
For instance, there’s a “Social Security secret” you can use to get an additional $15,978 each year. Retirees can influence the amount they are paid in Social Security by choosing when (what age) to claim their benefits. At FRA, a retiree is entitled to 100% of their benefits. Retiring before reaching the FRA reduces the monthly benefit. However, holding off filing for the benefits by a year increases your benefit by about 8%. This method works so well that 23% of retirees regret not waiting longer before filing.
Depending on how “lavish” you plan your retirement being, you might need a little more or less money. When in doubt, always opt for the higher amount. You never want to be surprised by post-retirement costs, and you always want to be ready.
If you’re worried about money for retirement, you’re not alone. 64% of Americans say they are moderately or very worried about having enough money in retirement. In fact, they’re more worried about retirement than yearly medical bills.
What’s the best way to prepare for retirement? Spending more time thinking about your portfolio. After all, you want to get the most out of your retirement investments.
Two products you may decide between are fixed annuities and bonds. Let’s take a look at which is better.
What are fixed annuities and bonds?
Usually purchased from life insurance companies, fixed annuities are insurance products that provide owners with lifetime income. Life insurance companies provide a fixed interest rate in exchange for a lump sum of capital.
Bonds, which are purchased from municipalities, governments, or corporations, are debt securities in which a fixed rate of interest is paid to the lender throughout the life of the loan. You are paid the principal back when the loan matures, or is due.
While fixed annuities and bonds have their similarities, they are some key differences when it comes to taxes, fees, risk, and liquidity. Let’s dig deeper.
With fixed annuities, not only is there no annual contribution limit (like with IRAs), you also can defer taxes. This makes them very useful to someone approaching retirement or with a large chunk of cash. When you begin to withdraw the money throughout retirement, you only pay taxes on earnings.
With bonds, you can actually make tax-free income. Certain types of municipal bonds are tax-exempt, meaning you don’t have to pay federal taxes on interest income you make. This makes bonds highly attractive to certain investors, especially those with high incomes and/or savings, provided the interest income is actually competitive (often, bond interest is very low).
From a tax standpoint, bonds sometimes offer you the chance to make more tax-free income, but overall earnings aren’t necessarily higher. That’s why it’s important to look at the rates being offered before making the investment. Make proper calculations and get the help of a certified financial advisor to choose the plan that can deliver you the best overall growth.
Though fixed annuities typically come with lower fees (less than 1%) than variable annuities, fees for annuities are still high. Sometimes insurance brokers aren’t entirely transparent about exactly how much you’re paying in fees, either.
There has been progress made to reduce fees, but the cost of owning an annuity is precisely the reason why it’s not as popular as before. It’s worth mentioning that the earnings annuities bring investors, especially in a high-interest rate environment, are more than enough to offset the fees. In some cases, they can be a much better investment vehicles than bonds.
Bonds, which are still praised for their higher yields, are also popular for their lower fees and commissions. This may seem like bonds are a no-brainer, but keep in mind your situation, as lifetime income does offer tremendous peace of mind. Also, think about risk.
Risk and Security
Fixed annuities can be set up for payouts over a lifetime, while bonds are paid in full at maturity. Considering that Americans are now living longer thanks to medical advancements and healthier habits, this makes annuities attractive, as many want the security of knowing their accounts are generating income regardless of how long they live. After all, 43% of Americans fear outliving their investments; fixed annuities are a viable solution.
Another positive development in the annuity world is the income rider. Lifetime annuity income riders provide investors with a guaranteed income account rate, typically around a minimum of 6–7% and sometimes higher. This can potentially allow your annual income to increase, as previous annuities only offered a “flat payout” and may not have actually kept up with inflation.
A fixed annuity does appear to remove market risk from your investment, but remember that payouts can be much lower than bonds, especially for products that have high fees and no inflation protection. In some annuities, If you die early you don’t get the full value of the annuity, and your surviving spouse or children might not be entitled to anything (unless you get a joint life annuity). Private annuity contracts also aren’t guaranteed by a federal agency, so there is a company failure risk as well.
When it comes to risk and security, bonds are seen as a way to preserve capital and earn a predictable rate of return. During any financial crisis, investors from all over the world buy U.S. Treasury Bonds, which are seen as a safe haven during tough times.
In this sense, there doesn’t appear to be much risk, but keep in mind the following:
- Bonds have maturity dates, and you’re at the mercy of whatever rates the “new bonds” are offering when the loan matures. These rates could be negative.
- Bond yields can vary tremendously if you don’t choose governments and corporations with high credit ratings. Always look at credit ratings.
- Municipal bonds do come with a default risk. For example, debt levels in Illinois should make bond investors cautious as to whether the state can fulfill its obligation.
To manage such risk, retirees can invest in short-term bonds for a much more predictable stream of income. Another good idea to avoid risk is to steer clear of bond funds, which can expose you to some bad investments.
Target date funds may also deliver low or negative growth if you’re nearing retirement, and the bond market isn’t good. For instance, due to rising interest rates, there was a bond market pullback in early 2017, which undoubtedly affected those with 2020 target date funds.
Based on your age and timeline for needing retirement money, liquidity may be a factor. Most annuities have a surrender term, usually spanning anywhere from 3–10 years. Many annuities enable you to access 10% of your investment per year, which is arguably more than you’ll need during retirement if you’ve planned well. But if you must access all of it, you will pay a surrender penalty.
Most experts recommend that you wait until maturity to access your bond investment. Early withdrawal puts you at the risk of the bond price rising or falling, and this may not be favorable to you. You could sell the bond at a discount and receive less than the principal. Holding the bond until maturity ensures you get your money back.
It’s all about balance and diversity
You’ve heard the proverb: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s especially true with retirement savings. Both annuities and bonds have their pros and cons. The best solution is to diversify and spread your assets into both annuities and bonds, as well as other investment and insurance products (like a Roth IRA and health savings account).
Whatever investments you choose, make sure your portfolio aligns with your comfort level for risk and your goals for retirement. This will help you find a balance that gives you peace of mind during your working years and financial security in retirement.