Retirees’ top money regrets

In a previous column, I detailed retirees’ biggest lifestyle regrets, such as not traveling more before their health gave out and not communicating clearly with a partner about what they hoped retirement would be like.

Now we’ll cover the money moves retirees wish they hadn’t made. The big ones, of course, are starting to save too late and not saving enough, but there are other common regrets, according to certified financial planners from the Financial Planning Association and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. In my latest for the Associated Press, learning from the money regrets of other retirees.

Q&A:Don’t make this mistake with your retirement savings

Dear Liz: My wife and I are in our mid-40s and planning to buy what likely will be the last house we’ll purchase. I’ve decided to withdraw around $15,000 from my IRA to buy down the rate, which will guarantee returns in the form of interest savings, even if those will be less than the returns I would earn if I left the money in the account. My real question is about our current house. We owe around $77,000 on a house that could likely fetch in the low $200,000 range. I’ve looked at it up, down and sideways. Would it make more sense to rent, sell, or rent then sell after a couple of years to avoid the capital gains tax?

Answer: Sometimes it can make sense to buy down a mortgage interest rate by paying more upfront if you plan to stay in the home for many years. The deals vary by lender, but you might pay 1% of the loan amount (one point) to get a rate that’s 0.25% lower, or 2% (two points) to get the rate reduced by 0.5%. For example, paying two points on a $200,000 mortgage, or $4,000, could lower the rate from 4.5% to 4%. You would drop the monthly payment about $59, and it would take you nearly six years for the slightly lower monthly payments to offset what you paid upfront.

You complicate the math, though, when the money used to buy down the rate comes out of a retirement account. That money is taxed as income and would likely be penalized as well because you aren’t yet 59½. (There’s an exception to the penalty for first-time home buyers who withdraw up to $10,000, but they’ll still owe income tax on the withdrawal.) The tax bill varies according to your tax bracket and your state, but you can expect it to equal roughly one-quarter to one-half of the amount withdrawn.

In addition to the tax bill, you’ve also given up future tax-deferred returns on the money. And because most people’s incomes drop in retirement, you’re probably paying a higher tax rate than you would if you withdrew the money later.

A good rule of thumb is to consult a tax pro before you take any money out of a retirement account. The rules can be complex and it’s easy to make an expensive mistake. A tax pro also could advise you about the tax implications of renting vs. selling, although you might also want to talk to anyone you know who’s a landlord about what’s involved with renting out a property.

The simplest solution may be to sell your current home and use the equity to reduce the size of the loan you’ll need on the next residence, rather than raiding a retirement fund to get a slightly lower rate.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to have a ‘no regrets’ retirement. Also in the news: How to sell your car to family and friends, the debt payoff method that can also help your credit, and your last chance to file an Equifax breach settlement claim.

How to Have a ‘No Regrets’ Retirement
Putting off travel, buying a retirement home too hastily and not discussing expectations are common mistakes.

How to Sell Your Car to Tough Customers: Friends and Family

The Debt Payoff Method That Can Help Your Credit, Too

Today (Wednesday) is Your Last Chance to File an Equifax Breach Settlement Claim
A few more hours to submit your claim.

Who should consider a Roth conversion now?

If you’ve saved a lot for retirement, or your parents have, you could be affected by recent changes in the rules about retirement distributions.

The recently enacted Secure Act eliminated the “stretch IRA,” a strategy used by affluent investors to pass tax-advantaged money to their heirs. The stretch IRA allowed nonspouse beneficiaries — typically children and grandchildren — to take money out of an inherited IRA gradually over their lifetimes. The new law requires most IRAs inherited by people other than spouses to be drained within 10 years, which can lead to much higher tax bills for heirs. (Spouses still have the option of treating an inherited IRA as their own and taking money out over their lifetimes.)

At the same time, the Secure Act delayed when required minimum distributions have to begin for most retirement account owners, increasing the age for mandatory distributions from 70 1/2 to 72. In my latest for the Associated Press, why financial planners say the changes make a Roth conversion attractive for big savers.

How to have a ‘no regrets’ retirement

Most retirees regret not saving more. A 2018 study by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found 73% wish they’d put aside more money on a consistent basis, and half felt they waited too long to get serious about retirement saving.

But retirement is about more than the balance in your 401(k). Even people with sizable nest eggs can wish they handled certain aspects of retirement differently.

Hoping to learn from others’ mistakes, I asked advisers with the Financial Planning Association and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners to share their clients’ biggest regrets about retirement. In my latest for the Associated Press, the common themes in their responses.

Q&A: Your retirement plans require lots of decisions. Get help

Dear Liz: We are a working couple in our late 50s. We live a comfortable lifestyle, have no mortgage, no debt, and we enjoy our careers. Through luck and diligence we have built a sizable net worth of $4.5 million (37% equity in our primary residence, 37% IRAs, 25% taxable equities). The investments are being managed by a family member. We plan to wait as long as possible before taking Social Security but would like to quit working within the next five years. As we look to retirement, we are undecided about where we’d like to live. We could stay in our current large house in Los Angeles, or we could move to a just-as-expensive nearby beach town and opt for a much smaller condominium.

I’d like to purchase the condo before retirement (paying cash, as we are debt-averse at this stage of our lives). This plan could improve our current lifestyle by providing a weekend retreat. Once retired, we might then have the luxury of deciding which home to keep and which to sell.

However, my partner is rightfully concerned about having too much exposure to real estate and missing out on the portfolio growth we’ve enjoyed by staying in the stock market as long as we have. What should we do?

Answer: It’s not a bad idea to test drive your planned retirement community before you give up your current home. But your partner is right to be concerned about having too much money tied up in real estate. Most people need to keep a substantial portion of their portfolios in stocks even in retirement. Plus, any money you pull from your investments could incur a rather substantial tax bill.

One solution could be to purchase the condo using a mortgage. Interest rates are quite low, and it sounds like your finances are in good-enough shape to pass the extra scrutiny lenders often give second-home purchases. If you eventually decide to sell your current home, the proceeds could be used to pay off the loan.

This would be a good time to hire a comprehensive financial planner who can help you figure out how this next phase of your life will work. The planner also could help you with all the other retirement issues you’ll face, such as picking a Medicare supplement plan, managing required minimum distributions and paying for long-term care.

You can get referrals to fee-only planners from a number of organizations, including the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the Garrett Planning Network, the XY Planning Network and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to create a retirement ‘paycheck’. Also in the news: Handy money rules of thumb for a quick financial checkup, how one woman ditched nearly $60K of debt in less than a year, and the retirement savings blind spot you don’t realize you have.

How to Create a Retirement ‘Paycheck’
Creating a reliable retirement income stream is complex but worth it.

Handy Money Rules of Thumb for a Quick Financial Checkup
Stop winging your way through it.

How I Ditched Debt: A Spender, a Saver and Dreams of a Family
How one woman conquered nearly $60K of debt in less than a year.

The retirement savings blind spot you don’t realize you have
You could be retiring too early.

Q&A: This retiree got a big surprise: taxes

Dear Liz: I’m 76 and retired. During the decades I worked, I contributed to my IRA yearly using my tax refund or having money deducted from my paycheck. No one told me I would have to pay taxes on this when I turned 70. For the past six years, I have been required to withdraw a certain percentage of this IRA money and pay taxes on it. Is there ever going to be an end to this? Do I have to keep paying taxes on the same money every year? And what about when I pass away, do my children have to keep paying?

Answer: Ever heard the expression, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?

You got tax deductions on the money you contributed to your IRA over the years, and the earnings were allowed to grow tax deferred. Those tax breaks are designed to encourage people to save, but eventually Uncle Sam wants his cut.

Also, you aren’t “paying taxes on the same money every year,” because the money you withdraw has never been taxed. Plus, you’re required to take out only a small portion of your IRA each year starting at 70½. The required minimum distribution starts at 3.65% and creeps up a bit every year, but even at age 100 it’s only 15.87% of the total. You can leave the bulk of your IRA alone so it can continue to grow and bequeath the balance to your children.

Your heirs won’t get the money tax free. They typically will be required to make withdrawals to empty the account within 10 years and pay income taxes on those withdrawals. Previously, they were allowed to spread required minimum distributions over their own lifetimes. Congress recently changed that to require faster payouts because the intent of IRA deductions was to encourage saving for retirement, not transfer large sums to heirs.

The Roth IRA is an exception to the above rules. There’s no tax deduction when you contribute the money, but the money can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement or left alone — there are no required minimum distributions. Your children would be required to start distributions, but wouldn’t owe taxes on those withdrawals.

How to create a retirement ‘paycheck’

Your expenses don’t end when your paychecks do, but creating a reliable income stream in retirement can be tricky. The right choices can result in sustainable income for the rest of your life. The wrong choices could leave you uncomfortably short of cash.

In fact, retirement includes so many important, potentially irreversible decisions that most people could benefit from a few sessions with a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner. (Fiduciary means the adviser is committed to putting your interests ahead of their own.) These ideally would start about 10 years before retirement. In my latest for the Associated Press, key concepts that could make those discussions easier — or keep you from making serious mistakes if you take a do-it-yourself approach.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Retirement costs that could surprise you. Also in the news: A new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on keeping your New Year’s money resolution, how procrastinators can win at gift-giving, and another reason to not pay for your gas at the pump.

Retirement Costs That Could Surprise You
Covering all the bases.

SmartMoney podcast: ‘How Can I (Actually) Keep My New Year’s Money Resolution?’
Making it past the first week and beyond.

How Procrastinators Can Win at Gift-Giving
You might need to leave the house.

Another Reason to Not Pay for Gas at the Pump
Hackers have a new way to steal your info at the gas station.