Whether retirement is 15 years away or right around the corner, it’s never too early to start your retirement plan. In my experience people find it difficult conceptualizing their retirement. A retirement plan has many intangible issues and most folks struggle to see the bigger picture. It’s a lot like starting a 1,000 piece puzzle; each piece somehow fits to make the picture clear but at first it’s hard to see how and where each piece fits. Retirement planning can be complicated, so having a financial advisor who can build a clear, easy-to-understand retirement plan will save you a lot of work. Here is a list of five traits you should look for when choosing your retirement planning specialist.
Your input matters. Make sure your advisor understands that it’s your plan, not his. A retirement plan must be built to satisfy your specific needs, not a one-size-fits-all approach. Collaborating with your advisor ensures that he can identify holes in your current plan, see obstacles you may face, and capitalize on opportunities. A trusted financial advisor will provide meaningful guidance with your input, not preach to you about what you’re doing wrong.
Having a collaborative relationship between you and your advisor builds trust from both parties. You, as the client, will understand that your advisor cares about your concerns, goals, and objectives. For the advisor, when they implement an actionable plan to help you achieve those goals they feel rewarded by your trust and belief in their ability.
There’s nothing worse than trying to get help from a seemingly trusted professional who acts as if they’ve never seen your issue before. Financial advice is no different. There are a host of problems retirees’ face that are very specific to this group of people. When seeking a retirement planning specialist, be sure to seek out someone with prior experience on the issues you face. Things like taxation on Social Security, planning for required minimum distributions, or planning for higher healthcare costs in retirement, to name a few, are at the heart of many retirement anxieties. Make sure the advisor you choose can provide meaningful guidance on issues you face.
One area that has significant impact on your retirement that your advisor should incorporate as their core competency is the impact of taxes on your retirement plan. April 15th is a four letter word and we rue the day we have to shell out money to the government. In retirement, paying more taxes than necessary may dramatically change the course of the future. Many Americans are shocked to see their taxes in retirement are considerably higher than anticipated. This is often called the retirement “tax cliff” — an unintended result of maximizing tax-deferred accounts that may lead to an abrupt increase later in both income and income taxes. Work with an advisor who is competent to manage taxes effectively, efficiently, and look for opportunities for tax diversification.
As a financial advisor I see many situations where a retirement plan falls flat. Accounting for various cash flows will allow you to fully understand how you’ll spend your money in retirement. As with many things in life, the devil is in the details, and not providing enough detail on a financial plan can mean you have a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Properly planning how money comes in and how money is spent could save you from retirement disaster.
The first thing to understand is how money is being spent. This includes fixed and variable expenses. Your advisor should understand this and build a plan around these expenses. For your variable expenses, a big one is healthcare costs. Healthcare costs are rising at a significantly higher rate than average inflation. If your advisor isn’t accounting for higher cost, then you might not be seeing an accurate picture of your retirement.
For fixed expenses, such as a fixed-rate mortgage, make sure these are not inflated over time. That expense may even end during retirement, therefore you won’t have to dole out that money each month at some point in the future. Ensure that your advisor is calculating the true impact of expenses throughout retirement.
A strong retirement plan will properly analyze income sources in retirement, then work to properly coordinate those income streams. Social Security planning is at the heart of a quality retirement plan. For many folks their Social Security benefit is somewhere between 30% and 70% of their retirement income. Other income cash flows could include pension benefits, real estate income, an inheritance, or other retirement packages. A quality retirement plan will evaluate the best way to optimize your retirement cash flow.
Whenever we have income from investments there’s always a fear of paying too much tax. Paying taxes in retirement is like the story of Goldilocks. Retirees don’t want to pay too much, or too little, they want to pay just the right amount of taxes. This requires being thorough in accounting for the various income streams and expenses you may have in retirement, and applying the best tax expense or credit to ensure proper tax planning.
Your advisor should understand your detailed retirement income budget so they can apply proper rates of inflation on various cash flows. A thorough retirement plan will coordinate investments, income streams, taxes, and expenses to provide you with a quality comprehensive retirement plan. This plan should have the ability to be altered, amended, or scrapped altogether to ensure it’s the best fit for you!
Over time your financial needs change, so your retirement plan must be dynamic enough to keep up. During your working years your objective is accumulating your nest egg, but at retirement your focus is on effective distributions. This requires your financial advisor to have a sound understanding of how to distribute assets wisely and shift to investments that are more suitable for your new stage in life.
Anticipating risks or events can mean the difference between retirement freedom and retirement failure. The famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky was famous for saying “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Any good retirement plan will be able to help you identify possible financial potholes. As changes occur you can shift your retirement plan accordingly. This may mean changing investment strategies, adding additional layers of safety, or simply providing guidance on financial events, like downsizing a house.
Technology can drive how dynamic your retirement plan can be. Just having advanced planning technology isn’t enough, it’s how it’s used. Being able to model various “what-if” scenarios side-by-side can allow you to make confident financial decisions that may impact you for many years to come. A dynamic retirement plan can change as your life changes.
Compassion is the key to a quality relationship with your financial advisor. Your financial advisor must care about you, not just your business. Retirement is about realizing the fruits of your labor and enjoying life on your terms. Retirement can also be an emotional time because you are thrust into the unknown. Many Americans define themselves by what they do, but at retirement your world changes. The emotional side of retirement can be where your advisor provides the most value to your retirement.
If you think about it, retirement can last for a long time. Imagine you retire in your 60s and live into your 80s or 90s; that’s 20-25 years or longer in retirement. During that time many things can happen: the market will see its good years and bad, a significant life event will occur, and changes will inevitably occur. An advisor with a vested interested in your well-being, both emotionally and financially, will serve you well throughout retirement.
A financial advisor who can adequately assist you in planning for retirement can save you more than just money. They can save you from financial hardship, help you avoid emotional strain, and even provide a legacy for your family. A financial advisor is only as good as the qualities he embodies. So when you look for a financial advisor to help build your retirement plan think about the characteristics I have outlined. Compassion, competency, collaboration are core building blocks of a quality advisor-client relationship and having a plan that’s dynamic and thorough will provide you the confidence and freedom throughout retirement.
Any of our advisors would be happy to meet with you to see if we are the right fit to help you plan and execute your retirement plan. Click here to schedule a Discovery Session to start the process.
Taylor Leary, Financial Advisor