Q&A: Healthcare costs and retirement

Dear Liz: You usually don’t give me such a laugh, but today’s letter was from someone who’s 41 and her husband is 51. They now have $800,000 saved and want to retire early. You told them they might do better leaving the country since it will be so bad for them with health insurance.

My husband was a teacher in Los Angeles, with no Social Security. We have $60,000 in the bank and together we bring in $3,400 a month. We have Kaiser insurance that totals $2,400 a year for both. We have a house, a car, not so much money, but are happy. He’s 82, I’m 79. What planet do you live on? I guess people who have so much money can’t imagine people like us.

Answer: You’re living on Planet Medicare, so perhaps you can’t imagine what people are facing who don’t have access to guaranteed medical coverage.

Currently, those without employer-provided insurance can buy coverage on Affordable Care Act exchanges, but that option may soon be going away. Congress ended the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires most people to have insurance, so costs are expected to rise sharply.

In addition, the future of so-called “guaranteed issue” is in doubt. The ACA currently requires health insurers to accept people with preexisting conditions and limits how much people can be charged, something known as “community rating.” The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would not defend those provisions against a lawsuit filed by several states.

When health insurance is unavailable or unaffordable, it doesn’t matter if you have $1 million or more in savings. A hefty retirement fund can disappear in a few months without coverage.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How 1% savings hikes can spice up retired life by $1 million. Also in the news: 7 ways to save at Disneyland, why you shouldn’t let a down payment scare you from buying a home, and how Millennial men and women invest differently.

1% Savings Hikes Can Spice Up Retired Life by $1 Million
The earlier start, the better the boost.

7 Ways to Save at Disneyland — No Magic Required
Keeping your money away from the Mouse.

Don’t Let a Down Payment Scare You Off
Help is available for first-time buyers.

401(k) investing: How Millennial men and women invest differently
It goes back to childhood.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why new grads shouldn’t snooze and lose on their employer’s 401(k). Also in the news: Ditching debt by working side gigs, how to decide if that life insurance rider is worth it, and how freelancers can save for retirement beyond an IRA.

New Grads, Don’t Snooze and Lose on Your Employer’s 401(k)
One of the biggest steps you’ll take in your new financial life.

How I Ditched Debt: Paying With Cash, Working Side Gigs
One man’s experience paying down his debt.

How to Decide If That Life Insurance Rider Is Worth It
A look at the extra benefits.

How Freelancers Can Save for Retirement Beyond an IRA
Other options to consider.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to resolve finances after a death. Also in the news: 8 ways to prep for financial adulthood, 5 survival strategies for camping on a budget, and how much money you need to save by the time you’re 35.

How to Resolve Finances After a Death
Tying up loose ends.

Class of 2018: 8 Ways to Prep for Financial Adulthood
You’re on your own now.

5 Survival Strategies for Camping on a Budget
Sleeping under the stars for less.

How Much Money You Need to Save by the Time You’re 35
Cause for debate.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 ways to rebuild your retirement savings later in life. Also in the news: What you need to know about stock dividend reinvestment plans, the true story of young adults who are totally debt free, and how to boost your retirement fund with a few minor lifestyle changes.

5 Ways to Rebuild Retirement Savings Later in Life
It’s never too late to start saving,

Stock Dividend Reinvestment Plans: What You Should Know
Reinvesting your dividends.

These Young Adults Are Totally Debt-Free — True Story
How they live debt-free.

Boost Your Retirement Fund With These Minor Lifestyle Changes
Small changes that can add up over time.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How much you should contribute to an IRA and how often. Also in the news: Creating a meaningful financial plan, what you should tell your financial advisor, and how to avoid drunk shopping binges.

How Much Should I Contribute to an IRA — and How Often?
Establishing a schedule.

Ask Why, Not What for a Meaningful Financial Plan
Setting the tone.

What You Should Tell Your Financial Advisor
Important information to share.

How to Avoid Drunk Shopping Binges
Valuable advice.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to build your ‘Oh, Crap!’ fund. Also in the news: A strategy that could help new grads retire sooner, United Airlines sets a new pet transport policy, and what happens to your debts when you die.

How to Build Your ‘Oh, Crap!’ Fund
Don’t get caught empty-handed.

New Grads, This Strategy Could Mean Retiring Sooner
Doesn’t that sound nice?

United Airlines Sets New Pet Transport Policy
The policy will ban dozens of dog breeds from being transported in cargo.

What Happens to Your Debts When You Die
They don’t disappear.

Q&A: Don’t run out of money in retirement: Here’s how much to use per year, and why

Dear Liz: I am confused about “safe withdrawal rates” from retirement accounts. I’ve read that withdrawing 4% of savings each year is the gold standard that financial planners utilize to ensure that life savings are preserved in retirement.

However, if the Standard & Poor’s 500 index returns on average 8% a year, and if the life savings are locked down in a mutual fund that is indexed to the S&P 500, then shouldn’t the annual withdrawal amount, to preserve those savings, be 8%? Limiting my withdrawals to 4% means my retirement would be pushed several years down the road. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s good you asked this question before you retired, rather than afterward when it might have been too late.

You’re right that on average, the S&P 500 has returned at least 8% annualized returns in every rolling 30-year period since 1926. (“Rolling” means each 30-year period starting in 1926, then 1927, then 1928, and so on.)

But the market doesn’t return 8% each and every year. Some years are up a lot more. And some are down — way down. In 2008, for example, the S&P 500 lost about 37% of its value in a single year.

Such big downturns are especially risky for retirees, because retirees are drawing money from a shrinking pool of assets. The money they withdraw doesn’t have the chance to benefit from the inevitable rebound when stock prices recover. Bad markets, particularly at the beginning of someone’s retirement, can dramatically increase the odds of running out of money.

Inflation also can vary, as can returns on cash and bonds. All these factors play a role in how long a pot of money can be expected to last. The “4% rule” resulted from research by financial planner William Bengen, who in the 1990s examined historical returns from 1926 to 1976. Bengen found there was no period when an initial 4% withdrawal, adjusted each year afterward for inflation, would have exhausted a diversified investment portfolio of stocks and bonds in less than 33 years.

Some subsequent research has suggested a 3% initial withdrawal rate might be better, especially for early retirees or those with more conservative, bond-heavy portfolios.

Free online calculators can give you some idea of whether you’re on track to retire. A good one to check out is T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator. But you’d be smart to run your findings past a fee-only financial planner as well. The decisions you make in the years around retirement are often irreversible, and what you don’t know can hurt you.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How not to run out of money in retirement. Also in the news: How bountiful is tax-loss harvesting, what the (almost) end of credit card signatures means for you, and how your spouse’s student loans affect you.

How Not to Run Out of Money in Retirement
Making it through the long haul.

How Bountiful Is Tax-Loss Harvesting?
A gimmick or an advantage?

What the (Almost) End of Credit Card Signatures Means for You
Less time at the register.

How Your Spouse’s Student Loans Affect You
Everything from taxes to mortgages.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to curb your online shopping enthusiasm. Also in the news: 13 last-ditch ways to avoid the poorhouse in retirement, why you should freeze your child’s credit, and 8 inspirational stories of people who overcame debt.

4 Ways to Curb Your Online Shopping Enthusiasm
Back away from the mouse.

13 Last-Ditch Ways to Avoid the Poorhouse in Retirement
There’s still time.

Why You Should Freeze Your Child’s Credit
Identity theft starts early.

8 inspirational stories of people who overcame debt
Learning from those who have been there.