Q&A: Don’t jump into early retirement without considering these things

Dear Liz: I am almost 59½. Can I retire at 60½?

I have $570,000 in a 401(k) and $180,000 in an IRA. I owe $253,000 on a condo that would sell for $600,000. I plan to buy a home next year for $400,000 and pay off the mortgage with the proceeds of the condo. Then I would be left with no bills. I will start collecting Social Security at 62 for approximately $1,850 a month.

I had a wonderful job for 23 years but something changed at work and now just going to work is hard on me. Let me know if you think this is doable.

Answer: That depends. How much do you need and want to spend?

Financial planners typically consider a 3% to 5% withdrawal rate as “sustainable.” The rate depends on how long you’re expected to live and your asset allocation, among other factors, but you should err on the conservative side if you expect to retire early.

A 3% initial withdrawal rate would give you $1,875 a month. A higher withdrawal rate could dramatically increase your chances of running short of money later in retirement.

While you might not have a mortgage, you would certainly have other bills, including the cost of healthcare insurance. If your employer is subsidizing your coverage, as many do, you could end up paying a lot more.

And if Congress dismantles or alters the Affordable Care Act, your health insurance could get even more expensive or perhaps hard to find. Your healthcare costs may go down once you qualify for Medicare at age 65, but they certainly won’t go away.

Also consider that taking Social Security retirement early means a smaller check for the rest of your life. If you do run short of money, that check may be your only source of income, and you may curse yourself for locking in the smaller amount.

You certainly shouldn’t bail on your job before you’ve had a fee-only financial planner look at your situation and see if your plans are realistic.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 back-to-college lessons on building credit. Also in the news: Focus on just one thing in order to retire early, 4 salary negotiation tactics that actually work, and what you need to know before switching to a cheaper phone plan.

5 Back-to-College Lessons on Building Credit
Preparing for a solid future.

To Retire Early, Focus on Just One Thing
Save like mad.

4 Salary Negotiation Tactics That Really Worked
How to get what you’re worth.

What You Need to Know Before Switching to a Cheaper Phone Plan
There will be changes.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to read the fine print on credit card offers. Also in the news: Mistakes to avoid if you want your student loans forgiven, how to switch brokers and move your investments, and three retirement savings strategiess to use if you plan to retire early.

How to Read the Fine Print of Credit Card Offers
Paying close attention.

Want Your Student Loans Forgiven? Avoid These 4 Mistakes
Forgiveness is possible.

How to Switch Brokers and Move Your Investments
Big banking moves.

Three retirement savings strategies to use if you plan to retire early
Getting out as soon as you can.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How your house payments can unexpectedly increase. Also in the news: Why grandparents should be careful with 529 plans, why right now could be the right time to refinance your student loans, and six reasons why early retirement could be a mistake.

4 Ways Your House Payment Could Unexpectedly Go Up
Don’t get caught off guard.

Grandparents: Don’t Make a 529 Plan Mistake
529 disbursements come with some risks.

Now Could Be the Right Time to Refinance Your Student Loans
Taking stock of your student loan situation.

6 reasons early retirement might be wrong for you
What sounds like a good idea might not be.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

download (1)Today’s top story: The right card to get when you’re looking to build or rebuild your credit. Also in the news: How to cut your monthly expenses, what you need to know about renter’s insurance, and the habits of successful early retirees.

5 Credit Cards to Help You Build Credit
Cards that can help you establish or rebuild credit.

Ways to slash your monthly expenses
How to make your monthly expenses more manageable.

8 Facts You Didn’t Know About Renter’s Insurance
Protecting your belongings.

The 9 Habits of Highly Successful Early Retirees
Could you follow in their footsteps?

The 20 Worst (and 20 Best) Cities For Saving Money
Did yours make the list?

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How the habits of early retirees could lead you to retirement. Also in the news: Things to consider when saving for a mortgage, easing financial worries with smartphone apps, and what to do when your friends are big spenders.

5 Essential Habits of Early Retirees
Retire early by picking up these habits.

Saving for a House: It’s More Than a Down Payment
What to consider when you’re saving for a mortgage.

Face Your Retirement Fears With These Free Financial Tools
Reassurance is just a smartphone app away.

How to Keep but Not Go Broke with Expensive Friends
Balancing your friends and your budget.

5 Ways to Pick the Perfect Time to Sell Your House
As they say, timing is everything.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Security tips from a former identity thief. Also in the news: What to teach teen about debt, tax mistakes you don’t know you’re making, and tips on retiring early. Ways-of-Identity-Theft

4 Security Tips From a Former Fraudster
Advice on how to protect yourself from guys like him.

4 Things Your Teen Needs to Know About Debt
Teaching your teens to avoid the debt trap.

7 Easy Steps to Pay Off Debt
Budgeting is essential.

7 Tax Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
Don’t forget about tax credits!

5 tips to help you retire early
Treating dollars like employees.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

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Your Spouse’s Credit Could Hurt Your Chance of Buying a Home
Welcome to life in community property states.

How Many Bank Accounts Do You Need?
The fewer, the better.

Ways to Save: Best times to score travel deals
Holiday travel will be here before you know it!

Top 5 careers for an early retirement
If you’re a physician or an air traffic controller, you’ve got it made.

Who Should You Tip — and How Much?
A handy guide on how not to be a cheapskate.

Your financial independence day

Colorful and vibrant fireworksWorking just to pay the bills isn’t enough. We should be reaching for something more: financial independence.

Financial independence is when your investments and other sources of income provide you with a comfortable-enough living that paid work becomes optional. As we mark the anniversary of our nation’s independence, I like to review our progress toward this goal. The good news: we’re pretty close to financial independence now, if we were willing to live frugally.

Some people who use the principles of voluntary simplicity achieve financial independence remarkably early. I’ve talked to people who “retired” in their 40s or even 30s, trading the 9-to-5 for a more relaxed lifestyle where they worked fewer hours, or worked for pay only when they wanted to. (If you want to know more about voluntary simplicity, the book “Your Money or Your Life” is a great place to start.)

But my husband and I have decided on a different path—a lifestyle that involves more spending now with the understanding we’ll work a little longer. That’s the best fit for us, because we both love what we do and we like the idea of doing it for a long time.

We’re planning a “phased” retirement, cranking back on our work commitments gradually over time. We like T. Rowe Price’s concept of a “practice retirement,” which suggests that those who have saved substantially for retirement can start putting some of that money toward travel and other spending once they hit their 60s, as long as they continue to work and put off tapping Social Security, pensions and their retirement accounts.

We’re also working on a Plan B, in case we aren’t able to work as long as we’d like. About half of retirees leave the workforce earlier than they’d planned, usually for health reasons although also because of layoffs or the need to care for a loved one. Finding ways to have a smaller “nut” in retirement—a lower level of fixed costs—can really help if you have to leave work early. That’s one of the reasons we’re paying down our mortgage, so that we won’t have that bill later. One of my readers installed solar panels for the express purpose of reducing his utility bills in retirement.

If you got a late start saving for retirement or have suffered some big financial setbacks, your financial independence day may seem impossibly distant. But you may be able to move that date into sight if you’re willing to plan, make some sacrifices and stick to your guns. Start with “Your Money or Your Life” and build from there.

How are you doing on your path to financial independence?

About to retire? Get some help

Dear Liz: I am approaching being able to retire in three years at 56, but I’m really concerned with the current market conditions. I have around $320,000 in 401(k) and 457 accounts now, all of it invested in stocks. Should I scale this back to more moderate allocations? My pension will pay me around $5,200 a month, so I do not anticipate needing to withdraw from my investments before age 59.

Answer: Even if you’ve been a die-hard do-it-yourself investor until now, it’s time to get help. Retirement decisions can be incredibly complicated, and you may not have time to recover from mistakes.

A fee-only financial planner would ask, among other things, what your current living costs are and what additional expenses you expect, such as buying another car, taking trips and so on. Those details can help determine whether your savings are adequate. The planner also would ask you how you plan to pay for healthcare in retirement, since Medicare doesn’t kick in until age 65, and an individual policy at your age could eat into that pension check. Even with Medicare, Fidelity Investments estimates, a 65-year-old couple retiring this year would need $240,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement — not counting any money they might need to pay for nursing home or other custodial care.

What a planner probably wouldn’t do is approve having 100% of your investments in stock at any age, even with a nice pension. You may have time to ride out another market downturn, but watching half of your life savings disappear might increase the chances you’d sell out in a panic. Having a more moderate allocation that includes bonds and cash could help cushion those market swings and keep you invested.

You can get referrals to fee-only planners who charge by the hour at the Garrett Planning Network, http://www.garrettplanningnetwork.com. If you’re looking for fee-only planners who charge a retainer or a percentage of assets, you’ll find those at the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, http://www.napfa.org. NAPFA has tools for consumers at http://www.napfa.org/consumer/Resources.asp and the Financial Planning Assn. has tips on choosing a financial planner at http://www.fpanet.org/FindaPlanner/ChoosingaPlanner/.