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Marc A. Hebert's Money Sense: How to transition during countdown to retirement

By MARC A. HEBERT
August 25. 2017 7:57PM




Your retirement is on the horizon at last. After all the years of working and saving, it is time to reap the benefits. But for many people, retirement may not be an easy financial transition. Here are a few things to consider as you count down the days to retirement.

The first step in the process is to evaluate your needs. This starts with reviewing your existing budget, line by line, and considering how retirement might affect each item. Fixed items, such as housing and food, may not change that much, but variable items may change considerably. This category includes expenses such as travel and entertainment. For example, retirement might present an opportunity for you to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip. The other big items to consider are the costs of medical care and insurance. When you have finished your assessment of your expenses, calculate a total. The main goal here is to have a concrete idea of how much money you will need to cover your basic spending and to do some of the extra activities that you have been planning.

The next step is to look at the sources of income you will have to pay for your expenses. Social Security is probably on the list. The major decision here is when to start claiming benefits. This is especially important for couples. One spouse may want to wait while the other starts to collect. When reviewing your choices, consider the effects on the survivor's benefits.

You can claim Social Security as early as age 62, but the amount you receive is reduced. The longer you wait, the more you will receive up to age 70. It's a good idea to contact the Social Security Administration and get payment estimates, or you can sign up for a "my Social Security" account on their website at www.ssa.gov.

Another source of income may be a pension. Be sure to review your pension's features. For example, does the benefit remain steady or increase with inflation? The pension may offer different options for taking benefits. It might be available as a single life annuity, meaning benefits are provided until the worker's death. Another option might be some type of joint and survivor benefit. The benefit in this case will be reduced, as the time frame for paying it is potentially longer than a single life.

In addition, it is a good time to review your employer-provided retirement plan. Assuming you have one, this is another area where you have some options. The employer may allow you to leave the money in the plan and begin taking distributions once you reach the plan's normal retirement age. This might be an attractive option if you like the investment choices within the plan.

You might also be able to roll the money from an employer plan into an IRA. This choice will continue the tax-deferral until you take the money out. Be sure to compare investment options, fees, and expenses of the plan and the IRA that you'll be moving to.

You may have contributed to IRAs and Roth IRAs over the years. Unless you have made after-tax contributions, the IRA distributions will all be taxed as you withdraw the funds. If certain parameters are met, the Roth IRA distributions are tax-free.

It's now time to compare the income to the expenses. If there is a shortage of income, it is not too late to do something. Maybe working longer is an option. Maybe working part-time during retirement is feasible. In any event, planning these decisions can help you reach your retirement goal.

Marc A. Hebert, M.S., CFP, is a senior member and president of the wealth management and financial planning firm The Harbor Group of Bedford. Email questions to Marc at mhebert@harborgroup.com. Your question and his response might appear in a future column.


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