Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Will you really run out of money in retirement? Also in the news: What to do if your mortgage forbearance is ending, 5 home remodeling trends to watch for 2021, and how to pay your medical bills without crowdfunding.

Will You Really Run Out of Money in Retirement?
Most people adjust spending to stretch their resources, but you can proactively get help now to ease your worries.

The Property Line: Mortgage Forbearance Ending? Here Are Your Options
When your mortgage forbearance ends, options will include extension, repayment or deferment, and will vary by loan type.

5 Home Remodeling Trends to Watch for in 2021
Say goodbye to neutrals and open floor plans and hello to mood-lifting color and a place for everyone.

How to Pay Your Medical Bills Without Crowdfunding
The limits of crowdfunding.

Will you really run out of money in retirement?

Many U.S. households retire without enough money to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living. Once retired, though, people often reduce their spending enough to make their money last, according to a recent study by David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar, and Warren Cormier, executive director of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association’s Retirement Research Center.

“People are finding a way to make it work,” Blanchett says.

The findings challenge a common financial planning assumption that retirees’ spending will increase at the rate of inflation each year. But the research also indicates many people retire without a realistic understanding of how much they can safely spend. In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at running out vs. running short.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to reclaim money lost to COVID disruptions. Also in the news: How phone calls can save you money, start early to get your house retirement-ready, and which states have extended their tax deadlines.

It’s Not Too Late to Reclaim Money ‘Lost’ to COVID Disruptions
A chargeback can be a helpful tool, particularly if the pandemic has affected the delivery of a good or service. But there are rules and limits to be aware of.

Deep Breath and Dial: How Phone Calls Can Save You Money
It’ll take a little patience.

Start Early to Get Your House Retirement-Ready
Most homes aren’t ready for “aging in place,” but you could take steps now to make your home better for retirement.

Which States Have Extended Their Tax Deadlines?
See if yours is on the list.

Start early to get your house retirement-ready

Many people want to remain in their homes after they retire rather than move to a senior living facility or community. Unfortunately, most homes aren’t set up to help us age safely and affordably.

If your goal is to “age in place,” some advance preparation could help make that possible — or point to better alternatives.

“Somewhere in your 50s, hopefully, you’re starting to think seriously about are you going to be able to stay in the house you’re in? Or are you going to need to make changes?” says DeDe Jones, a certified financial planner in Denver.

In my latest for the Associated Press, changes you need to consider to get your house retirement ready.

Q&A: They paid off the mortgage rather than save for retirement. Now what?

Dear Liz: My wife and I aggressively paid down our mortgage and now have it paid off, but we don’t have much saved for retirement. I make about $90,000 a year and will receive a teacher’s pension that will replace between 30% and 60% of that (depending on what option we choose) when I retire in about 10 years. It probably won’t be enough to live on. We will receive no Social Security benefits. We have no other debts, and we would like to make up for lost time as best we can on retirement preparation. What is your best advice for people like us who have diligently paid off their mortgage but have not diligently put money away for retirement?

Answer: The older you get, the harder it is to make up for lost time with retirement savings. You probably can’t do it if retirement is just a few years away.

This is not to make you feel bad, but to serve as a warning for others tempted to prioritize paying off a mortgage over saving for retirement.

If you’re in your 50s, you’d typically need to save nearly half your income to equal what you could have accumulated had you put aside just 10% of your pay starting in your 20s. The miracle of compounding means even small contributions have decades to grow into considerable sums. Without the benefit of time, your contributions can’t grow as much so you have to put aside more.

But you can certainly save aggressively and consider a few alternatives for your later years.

Once you hit 50, you can benefit from the ability to make “catch up” contributions. For example, if you have a workplace retirement plan such as a 403(b), you can contribute as much as $26,000 — the $19,500 regular limit plus a $6,500 additional contribution for those 50 and older.

You and your spouse also can contribute as much as $7,000 each to an IRA; whether those contributions are deductible depends on your income and whether you’re covered by a workplace plan. If you’re covered, your ability to deduct your contribution phases out with a modified adjusted gross income of $105,000 to $125,000 for married couples filing jointly. If your spouse isn’t covered by a workplace plan but you are, her ability to deduct her contribution phases out with a modified adjusted gross income of $198,000 to $208,000. (All figures are for 2021.)

If you can’t deduct the contribution, consider putting the money into a Roth IRA instead because withdrawals from a Roth are tax free in retirement. The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA phases out with modified adjusted gross incomes between $198,000 and $208,000 for married couples filing jointly.

If possible, a part-time job in retirement could be extremely helpful in making ends meet. So could downsizing or tapping your home equity with a reverse mortgage. A fee-only financial planner could help you sort through your options, as well as help you figure out the best way to take your pension when the time comes.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to retire rich without following a budget. Also in the news: a new episode of the Smart Money podcast on how to buy a house in 2021, a look at President Biden’s housing plans, and how much a divorce will cost you.

You’ll Never Follow a Budget. Here’s How to Retire Rich Anyway
Calculate your net worth by taking what you own and subtracting what you owe to measure your financial progress.

Smart Money Podcast: How to Buy a House in 2021
And a discussion of NerdWallet’s Best-Of Awards.

The Property Line: Biden Housing Plans Include Down Payment Help
Joe Biden’s campaign included numerous proposals to expand housing opportunity. Here’s what some of them might look like.

How Much Will A Divorce Will Cost You?
Breaking down the cost.

Q&A: Retirees and mobile home parks

Dear Liz: I’ve been following the discussion of the reader who was 70 and trying to decide between renting in a senior living facility versus buying a second-floor condo with no elevator. There is a third choice for people who are older and cannot stay in their present residence. We moved to a senior citizen manufactured-home park. It has a clubhouse, and before the COVID epidemic the park had all kinds of activities. It is a great place for seniors.

Answer: That’s a good suggestion and actually just one of many choices people have to age safely. Many mobile home parks are “naturally occurring retirement communities,” a term for areas that weren’t necessarily created for seniors but that nonetheless have a high concentration of older folks. At their best, these organic retirement communities provide services and activities that benefit seniors, including opportunities for socializing and the sense that their neighbors are looking out for them.

Q&A: Older parents and retirement: What about child benefits?

Dear Liz: I am trying to decide whether to take Social Security at my full retirement age (66 years and four months) or wait and take it at 70. I am 64 and have two children, 13 and 11. My older child could get the child benefit for 24 months while my younger one would receive it for 41 months. Currently I am scheduled to receive about $2,600 a month at full retirement age or $3,500 at 70. My family maximum is $4,668 per month. I am having a hard time finding out what each dependent would earn monthly. Also, when my older child turns 18, does my younger child’s payment increase?

Answer: Starting Social Security earlier than age 70 means giving up the delayed retirement credits that otherwise would boost your checks for the rest of your life, and potentially those of a surviving spouse. As mentioned in an earlier column, though, child benefits complicate the math that typically favors waiting to claim Social Security.

Once you start your own Social Security benefit, each eligible child could get an amount up to 50% of your benefit. Eligible children are those who are unmarried and younger than 18, or under 19 if they’re still in high school, or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

There’s a maximum a family can receive based on one worker’s earning record, however. The family maximum is 150% to 180% of the worker’s benefit. If your family’s total benefit would exceed that maximum, the children’s checks would be reduced, but yours would stay the same.

If you were receiving $2,600 a month, and your family maximum is $4,668, your children would split the remaining $2,068 and get $1,034 apiece. Once your older child is no longer eligible, your younger child’s benefit would increase to equal 50% of what you receive ($1,300, plus any cost of living adjustments).

If you were to start your benefit now, before your full retirement age, these checks would be subject to the earnings test that reduces the benefit by $1 for every $2 earned over a certain limit, which is $18,240 in 2020. The earnings test doesn’t apply after full retirement age.

Free Social Security claiming calculators typically don’t include child benefits as a variable, so you’d be wise to invest $20 to $50 in a more sophisticated calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or Social Security Solutions.

Suddenly retired? Here’s what to do next

The pandemic seems to be driving a surge of early retirements as businesses close or downsize and older people weigh the health risks of continuing to work.

The share of unemployed people not looking for work who called themselves “retired” increased to 60% in April from 53% in January, according to a study by three economists. The study was done in the early days of the pandemic, well before tens of thousands of businesses nationwide closed permanently and others began offering early retirement packages to trim their workforces.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to avoid making hasty decisions that could cause you to run out of money.

Is your target date investment letting you down?

Target date investments are supposed to be an easier way to invest, and they’re a popular choice in 401(k) plans. But the recent market downturn showed that some target date strategies suffered much bigger losses than others, especially for investors nearing retirement.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to be sure the investment strategy you’re using still makes sense, especially if you’re close to retirement.