As the adage goes, “a life without regrets is a life not lived,” but it is also “better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t.” The three biggest regrets of retired baby boomers center on the things they have not done and teach the next generation to make more informed choices.
- Not Saving for Retirement Earlier
A rare absolute rule of finance is that people should start saving for retirement as early as possible, with the best time to start being in one’s twenties. Life expectancies are growing and show no signs of slowing down, so more money is needed to be stretched out for a longer period of time. Starting to save and invest as soon as one enters the full-time workforce can make a dramatic difference in the amount of money that accumulates by the time a person is ready to retire.
Many baby boomers failed to start saving on time and properly because they did not understand just how much money would be needed for their retirement. Some also did not know that receiving social security benefits or taking money out of retirement accounts before it is needed can have tax consequences that can substantially lower savings. Finally, many people tend to forget to adjust for inflation when considering whether they are satisfied with the rate of return on their investments.
- Not Working Less and Traveling More
A study of 2,000 baby boomers commissioned by British Airways revealed that one out of five boomers regrets not doing more traveling around the world. The survey data also indicate that only 9% of American workers get more than nine vacations days per year and that only 37% of Americans took all of their vacation days in 2015, suggesting that working too much may be an issue whose scope extends far beyond just the baby boomer generation.
A 10-year research project conducted by Karl Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, into the lives of 1,200 people aged 65 and older also revealed that lack of travel during one’s youth is a common regret. He writes, “To sum up what I learned in a sentence: When your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip.”
- Not Working More
It might sound surprising given the decades of work they’ve done, but more than two-thirds of middle-income baby boomer retirees wish they had worked longer, and not for expected reasons. One might assume that people would want to continue working to keep earning their salaries, but for many baby boomers, wanting to keep working is about the work. People who are passionate about their careers and enjoy their work want to keep doing it. For this reason, many baby boomers return to the workforce on a part-time basis or as consultants. A number of baby boomers also enjoy working during their later years because they find that it keeps them mentally sharp, physically fit, and gives them a sense of purpose.
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.
Student debt is at an all-time high; about 44 million Americans hold almost $1.4 trillion in outstanding debts. The issue was hotly debated during the presidential elections, and higher education institutions have been soul-searching for innovative ways to help students deal with rising costs of education.
While the topic has gotten a lot of attention, though, the perception of those affected usually fits a certain stereotype: young millennials just starting down the road to a long-term career, with many years ahead of them to pay down their debt. The reality is more complicated. Currently, 6.4% of student loan borrowers are age 60 or older. That number is expected to grow as young Americans carry their debt further into their futures. Borrowers would do well to understand the resulting implications and the best ways to approach student debt as they get older.
Setting favorable terms for loan repayment
Some borrowers mistakenly think that their student debts will automatically be forgiven after a certain age. There is indeed precedent for this line of thinking; in the U.K., for example, federal student loans are forgiven when the borrower reaches age 65. This is not the case in the U.S., and federal loans are only cancelled upon the borrower’s death.
While this fact may be grim, it can still be used to the borrower’s advantage. Because older Americans are usually living on a set fixed income and federal loans are nullified upon death, it often makes sense to reduce monthly payments by arranging to stretch out the loan term. While this increases the total amount of interest paid, it serves to keep monthly payments to a minimum which can assist with budgeting purposes. Also, if the borrower passes away before the loan is completely paid off, the resulting loan forgiveness would end up reducing the total lifetime costs.
Additionally, borrowers should be aware that some loan servicer providers automatically enter borrowers into a repayment plan where costs start low and increase gradually, in anticipation of a recent graduate starting with a lower salary and slowly increasing their income. This arrangement clearly does not make sense for older borrowers on a fixed income, who should work with their servicer to arrange an alternate agreement that is a better fit for their predicted future income.
Forgiveness programs do exist
Although an automatic, one-size-fits-all forgiveness program does not exist, borrowers should be aware that there are still other avenues to help lessen their debt. Some older borrowers may be eligible for programs that help limit total payments.
While three-fourths of older borrowers with student loan balances are only holding balances on their own education, the remainder are holding balances on a child or other relative’s education. The latter may be eligible for an Obama-era repayment program called the Pay as You Earn PAYE program, which limits required payments based on earnings. Borrowers can check on the Federal Student Aid website to determine eligibility.
Another federal program of interest is the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program, which caps maximum monthly payments at 15% of discretionary income. One of the most appealing aspects of this program is that after 25 years of continuous repayments, borrowers may be eligible for loan forgiveness for the remaining balance.
Be prepared to pay a Social Security offset
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the principle of “administrative offsets” that allow the government to collect on unpaid student loan debts by withholding Social Security benefits. The amount of the offset can range up to 15% of the borrower’s disability and retirement benefits, which may come as a surprise to elderly Americans who are depending on the income.
Many people are caught off guard is that Social Security used to be off limits for student loan offsets. Until 1991, there was a 10-year time limit on the government’s ability to collect student loan debt through administrative offsets. And until 1996, those offsets could not include Social Security. Now, though, 173,000 Americans received reduced Social Security checks because of unpaid student loan debts.
These factors are important to consider early so that Americans with student loan debt can be aware of the costs that may lie ahead.
Communicate with your loan servicer
The best repayment arrangement always depends on the specific circumstances of each individual borrower. To avoid getting lumped into terms that may not be the best for you, make sure to communicate with your loan service provider frequently and update them on any major changes. Open and frequent communication is the best way to help them help you.
Many economists agree that the personal savings rate in America is too low. Even though it climbed to 5.7% in late 2016, it’s still behind most other developed countries.
For instance, Switzerland households save 13.4% of their income. In Japan, workers have averaged a savings rate of 11.74% from 1970 to 2016.
For those looking to save more, what’s the solution? Obviously, making more money helps, but that may not be entirely possible for everybody.
What anyone can do right now is manage their budget better. Smarter spending equals higher savings—a good step towards ensuring a secure financial future. Here are 4 reasons why considering the impact of spending is just as important as saving.
1. A penny saved is still a penny earned
Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote is simple but profound. Anybody that’s worried about their financial well-being should remember it. Say it out loud, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Though most are familiar with this quote, it’s not being put into practice the way it should be. According to research from GOBankingRates, one in three Americans don’t have any retirement savings.
Cameron Huddleston, an expert columnist at GOBankingRates, believes this can be fixed. “There are plenty of obstacles Americans claim are in their way when it comes to saving for retirement,” she says. But things likes student loan debt, low wages, and a child’s education “don’t necessarily make it impossible to save for retirement.”
For those on a strained budget, the best way to save more money is to look at how you’re spending. There are many easy ways to save a few or even hundreds of dollars a month, from cutting the cord on cable to bargaining at flea markets.
2. Overspending carries future financial consequences
According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers overspend due to impatience and not thinking about long-term consequences. Examples of this play out every day.
For instance, 30-year olds probably don’t think about how buying a super-expensive TV today could negatively impact their quality of life at 65. That’s just so far away, and that TV can offer immediate pleasure.
This is what motivated the study’s researchers, Daniel M. Bartels and Oleg Urminsky, to look for ways to change this behavior. The two University of Chicago professors found that the solution is more complex than just thinking about one’s future self. While spending money, people must also care about their financial future. If someone doesn’t care, then spending less and saving more becomes less likely.
As Bartels and Urminsky say, “The best way to help consumers avoid overspending is to get them to both care about the future and recognize how their current behaviors affect the future.” Thinking and caring about the future is key to spending wisely today.
3. There is waste everywhere
Think of something like lean management in business. The core idea is to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. People should be applying this philosophy to the way they spend money.
Many may argue that saving is tough because all their income is spent on essentials, but research doesn’t necessarily support that claim. A survey by 24/7 Wall Street found that Americans spend roughly 15% on non-essentials (which means $15 out of every $100 doesn’t necessarily need to be spent).
Some common non-essentials include the following:
Eating out at restaurants
It’s worth noting that things that can be classified as “non-essentials” offer necessary relief from the stresses of life. Yet the fact remains that this is the primary area where wasteful spending occurs. Cut down any wasteful spending here and savings rates rise immediately.
4. Overspending leads to debt
It shouldn’t be a surprise that student loan debt can delay saving for retirement. It’s hard to stash away cash when lenders need those monthly payments.
For those that overspend and get caught in debt, the same idea applies. Habitual overspending makes getting out of debt—and saving—quite difficult.
It’s rather alarming that the average credit card per U.S. household is around $16,000. This indicates consumers are buying things without having the ability to pay in full. Carrying a credit card balance is necessary sometimes when the unexpected arises. But for many, high balances are simply a result of bad money management (overspending).
Also, since credit cards have higher interest rates, this means people are getting burnt by interest payments. That interest money could have been savings instead.
Saving more by spending wisely
In the end, it’s not necessarily about being stingy. It’s about spending more wisely. This means buying things at the lowest possible prices, staying away from unnecessary purchases, keeping credit card balances as low as possible, and more. If more folks start to pay attention to the impact of their spending, they’ll see their savings rise.
Even as they enter their 50s and 60s, couples tend to avoid discussing their retirement. Although the subject can be uncomfortable because it touches on the end of life, not talking about retirement often leads to problems, both financial and domestic. To ensure that you and your partner are both well taken care of when you choose transition from the workforce, we recommend that you discuss the topics outlined below as early as you can.
- When do you plan to retire?
Because this question impacts both finances and lifestyle, it can often be the most difficult one for couples to resolve. Your partner may wish to retire early after a prosperous career, but you still feel satisfied in your work and are not yet ready to leave it behind.
The best way to get past a potential roadblock is to examine the impact one partner’s earlier retirement will have on your mutual financial situation. Having one partner remain in the workforce can increase retirement savings, grow your employer-sponsored pension, and delay taking out social security benefits, which can be helpful in making sure that neither of you run out of money once you’re both fully retired. Having one partner keep working may be especially beneficial in light of the fact that women are expected to live as much as 10 years longer than men, which could result in their living past their retirement savings.
- Where do you plan to retire?
This question impacts the kind of lifestyle you and your partner might want. Talk about your interests and the activities you wish to pursue in your free time. Depending on whether you’d like to live in a pricier urban setting or somewhere less expensive and more rural, the answer will also impact your finances. State income and property taxes, which vary widely, can also affect your decision. Whether to live in a house—which can require financial investments for upkeep as it ages—or to downsize to a condominium to free up more cash and have less maintenance activities to worry about is another key point to consider.
- What does retirement mean to you / how will we spend our time?
If you’re both retiring around the same time, do you or your partner plan to work part-time, whether to make extra money or simply to remain active, as many retired professionals increasingly do today? If one of you chooses to retire early, will that partner help the other in his or her professional career? Would you or your partner be happy spending your days pursuing exclusively non-professional interests? What do those interests include? Consider the costs of travel, theatre, family time, etc.
Developing a financial plan for retirement can help answer these questions. It is recommended that each partner prepare to answer these questions separately, as that will make your discussion more productive when you come together to merge your ideas into a unified plan. Do not let yourselves get frustrated if you cannot find common ground right away. Plans of this nature often take months of negotiation before they are set.
- Whose investment style will we follow to meet our mutual goals?
You or your partner may manage your own 401(k)s or IRAs as you move through your careers. This individualized approach does not need to change. However, the two of you should choose a financial advisor that can guide both of your individualized efforts to work together in an overall portfolio that serves your mutual goals. You should also discuss ways to keep your investment funds growing even after you begin drawing on them.
- Will we leave any money to our children and/or to charity?
If you’ve come to this point in your retirement discussion, it is likely that you have agreed upon the points outlined above to your mutual satisfaction. Still, this topic can also produce passionate discussion, depending on your family situation. After you agree upon the best ways to serve your family and legacy, we recommend working with a financial advisor to learn about the many different tools for passing on wealth to heirs or the charitable organization(s) of your choice.