Retirement Planning

Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 3: Planning for Expenses in Retirement

Planning for Expenses in Retirement

In Part 2 of this three-part blog series on single women and longevity risk, we discussed the importance of investing to supplement your income in retirement and minimize the risk of outliving your financial resources. In Part 3, we’ll explore why planning for expenses in retirement—both expected and unexpected—is essential when it comes to managing longevity risk.  

Estimating Your Expenses in Retirement

Failing to consider and plan for the various costs you’re likely to incur in retirement can lead to a savings shortfall, increasing the risk that you’ll outlive your assets. Thus, creating a retirement budget is necessary to ensure you’re saving enough and investing appropriately.

Of course, there are always uncertainties when it comes to planning for the future. Nevertheless, with the right guidance, it’s possible to project your retirement expenses with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

For example, basic living expenses like food, housing, utilities, and clothing tend to remain relatively steady in retirement and are therefore easier to anticipate. Yet other items like healthcare, travel, and entertainment often rise significantly once you stop working.

In fact, a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that in 2018, 12% of the median retiree’s total retirement income went toward medical expenses. Moreover, since 2000, the price of medical care has increased at a faster rate than the overall inflation rate.

Meanwhile, with more free time on your hands, you may wish to travel more and take longer, more expensive trips in retirement. Plus, you’re more likely to spend money on other types of entertainment once work no longer demands so much of your time.

No matter your retirement plans, it’s important to consider how your lifestyle goals will impact your budget and plan accordingly. This can help you determine what size nest egg you’ll need to retire successfully and mitigate longevity risk.  

Planning for Unexpected Expenses in Retirement

In addition to the expenses we can reasonably project, others can crop up as we age and our homes, children, and spouses age along with us. Unfortunately, unexpected expenses can mess with the best-laid plans when you’re living off savings and fixed sources of income like Social Security.

Therefore, it’s best to expect the unexpected and prepare for these expenses as best you can. Here’s a list of unexpected expenses you may face in retirement:

Home Repairs & Maintenance Costs

Many Americans own their homes when they reach retirement age. (When I say “own,” I mean they own their homes outright or are still paying down their mortgage as opposed to renting.)

It’s easy to overlook or postpone home maintenance, especially if everything looks fine on the surface. But homes age just like we do, and putting off necessary repairs can become a significant financial expense down the road.

A recent personal experience drove this point home when a routine paint job turned into a major dry rot mitigation project costing tens of thousands of dollars!

When it comes to planning for unexpected expenses in retirement, here’s a best practice to prevent a surprise cost like mine: hire a professional to inspect your home for hidden problems such as dry rot, termites, mold, foundation issues, leaks, and outdated plumbing and electrical systems. Then, develop a multi-year plan to fix the problems and schedule ongoing routine maintenance.

Remodeling Expenses

In addition to the unglamorous fixes a home occasionally needs, it’s not unusual to grow tired of your home decor over time. You may decide to buy new furniture or appliances or update the exterior of your home in retirement, all of which can be costly.

In some cases, you may simply want your home to maintain its value if you plan to eventually sell it. For example, kitchen and bathroom styles tend to change every 10-20 years, prompting homeowners to make major updates.

Or you may need to alter your home so you can age in place comfortably and safely. While no one likes to think about the possibility of losing mobility, it’s one of the realities many of us must face as our bodies age.

Regardless of the impetuous, remodeling costs are common in retirement and can be substantial. Thus, it’s best to expect them and manage your finances accordingly.  

Unexpected HealthCare Costs

The first time many retirees realize Medicare isn’t as cheap as they thought it would be is when they receive a notice from the Social Security Administration about IRMAA. IRMAA, which stands for Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount, is an extra charge added to your Medicare Part B and Part D premiums if your income exceeds a certain threshold.

When on Medicare, you pay monthly premiums for Part B, which covers doctor services, outpatient care, and preventive services, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. But if you’re a high-income earner according to your tax return from two years ago, the government says, “Hey, you can afford to contribute a little more.”

So, they add an extra charge (IRMAA) to your monthly premiums. And the more you earn, the higher your IRMAA charge will be.

Also, Medicare doesn’t cover all healthcare-related expenses in retirement. You’ll still be responsible for co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance, as well as long-term care, dental, hearing, and eye care. These out-of-pocket costs can add up quickly if you have a significant health issue or need extensive care.

Again, proper planning is essential to mitigate these costs. To avoid IRMAA, you can work with a financial planner to develop a retirement income plan that keeps your taxable income below the threshold.

In addition, you may want to consider buying a Medigap or Medicare Advantage policy to defray the healthcare costs Medicare doesn’t cover.

Medigap policies fill in the gaps in original Medicare coverage, including medical care when traveling outside the U.S. Just keep in mind you’ll still need a separate prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D).

Alternatively, Medicare Advantage (Part C) offers an “all-in-one” alternative to original Medicare. However, these plans are generally in HMOs or PPOs, which may limit your access to certain healthcare professionals or facilities.

Long-Term Care

Another common misconception is that Medicare covers long-term care costs. It doesn’t. This can be problematic, since most older adults will likely need long-term care during their lifetimes.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 70% of those turning 65 this year will eventually need long-term care. Meanwhile, women are more likely to need long-term care than men and for a longer duration, according to data from Morningstar.

These services can be costly—typically thousands of dollars a month in expenses. Unfortunately, long-term care insurance is also expensive, and the rigorous eligibility requirements put it out of reach for many.

If you qualify for long-term care insurance and can afford it, you may want to consider your available options, including hybrid policies that include a life insurance component. Otherwise, self-funding long-term care by saving and investing enough money during your working years is likely your best option.

Family Obligations

It’s not uncommon for adult children or other relatives to need financial help occasionally. These requests can be tough to negotiate, especially if your loved ones don’t understand the strain an unexpected loan or gift can have on your finances in retirement.

Although discussing money is taboo in many families, it’s wise to be transparent about your financial circumstances and create boundaries around financial requests. If this isn’t a viable option, be sure to include potential loans and gifts when planning for expenses in retirement.

Losing a Spouse

Morningstar estimates that 90% of women will manage assets on their own at some point during their lifetimes. Many women experience this for the first time in retirement due to the death of a spouse.

Losing a spouse can be emotionally devastating, no matter your stage of life. Yet failing to prepare financially for this possibility can make an already challenging situation even worse.

If you depend on your partner financially, there are steps you can take now to safeguard your financial independence if you unexpectedly lose them. For example:

  • Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to replace lost income or cover funeral costs and other outstanding expenses.
  • If your spouse has a pension, explore your survivorship options before retirement to ensure continued payments.
  • Understand Social Security survivors benefits, especially if your spouse has the higher earnings record.
  • Consult an estate-planning attorney to ensure your estate plan is current and organized for a seamless transition of assets.

With Proper Planning, Single Women Can Minimize Longevity Risk and Thrive Financially in Retirement

Planning for expected and unexpected expenses in retirement is crucial for maintaining financial stability and peace of mind. Yet minimizing longevity risk requires more than managing your expenses. Meeting your savings targets and investing for your long-term goals is also essential.

Remember, the earlier you start preparing financially for retirement, the better off you’ll be long-term. Moreover, you don’t have to go it alone. A fiduciary financial planner like Curtis Financial Planning can provide expert guidance and help you implement the right strategies to secure your financial future. To learn more, please explore our services and free financial planning resources.

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Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 2: The Importance of Investing

Single Women and Investing

Saving and investing are both crucial for financial health. Yet investing is particularly important when it comes to mitigating longevity risk.  In Part 2 of this three-part series about single women and longevity risk, we’ll delve into the significance of investing and explore how understanding risk and reward can empower women to become better investors.

Differentiating Saving and Investing

When it comes to personal finance, many conflate saving and investing. While both are crucial for financial stability, they serve different purposes.

Saving entails setting aside a portion of your income for near-term expenses or potential emergencies. In other words, your savings should be a safety net that’s liquid and risk-free.

Investing, however, implies allocating money to stocks, bonds, and other assets in anticipation of a potential return in the future. Despite the inherent risks, investing is an essential strategy for single women to increase wealth over time, so you don’t outlive your financial resources.  

Understanding the Risk-Reward Relationship

While investing offers the potential for a higher return on your money, it’s also inherently riskier than saving. That’s why many women hold too much cash relative to their financial goals.

If you tend to be risk averse, you’re not alone. In fact, one Northwestern Mutual study found that in general, U.S. adults prefer to play it safe with their money than take risks.

However, understanding the risk-reward relationship is crucial for overcoming the confidence gap that many women experience as investors. Each investment carries a different level of risk, and effectively managing these risks is essential to achieve your financial goals.

Typically, investments with the potential for higher returns carry a higher degree of risk (although high risk doesn’t guarantee high returns). For example, higher-risk investments like individual stocks and equity funds generally offer the potential for higher returns over time. Conversely, lower-risk assets like savings accounts and short-term Treasury bonds tend to yield more modest returns.

Navigating the Risk vs. Reward Dilemma

Many women face the dilemma of whether to keep their money safe in a bank account or invest it for potential growth. Indeed, research suggests that men are generally more willing to take risks with their finances than women.

However, studies also indicate that as women gain confidence through education and experience, they become better investors. Moreover, women investors are more likely to exhibit traits such as reduced trading, increased patience, openness to advice, more diversified portfolios, and a healthy skepticism towards “hot” investments.

Ultimately, your financial goals determine the level of returns you need from your investments. Saving for a house down payment in the next few years, for example, might require safer investments with less risk. In contrast, saving for retirement that’s several decades away allows for higher-risk investments with the potential for more significant returns.

But you also need to weigh your return objectives against your comfort level with taking on risk. In this case, risk generally refers to the possibility of losing your money. Taking on more risk than you can tolerate can lead you to make rash investment decisions that impede your progress toward your financial goals.

Single Women and Investing: Mitigating Longevity Risk

To mitigate the risk of running out of money prematurely, women must embrace some investment risk. By profiling four different investors, we can illustrate the outcomes along the risk spectrum.

Assume the following savers/investors invest $50,000 for ten years and reinvest all interest and dividends.

  • Investor #1 places her $50,000 in a savings account earning an average annual return of 1.5%. Her account grows to $57.815 in 10 years.
  • Investor #2 places her $50,000 into a certificate of deposit (CD) with an annual yield of 3%. Her account grows to $67,196 in 10 years.
  • Investor #3 places her $50,000 into a diversified portfolio* of 60% stocks and 40% bonds earning a 6% average annualized return. As a result, her account grows to $89,542 in 10 years.
  • Investor #4 places her $50,000 into a diversified portfolio* of 100% stocks, and it earns a 9% average annualized return. As a result, her account grows to $129,687 in 10 years.

A Note on Volatility

While the 100% stock portfolio generates the highest outcome, it also experiences substantial fluctuations over the 10-year period. Meanwhile, the 60% stock/40% bond portfolio exhibits less volatility due to the lower risk associated with bonds. 

Consider the following hypothetical annual return patterns for these two portfolios:

The graphs above illustrate how Investor #4 experiences larger swings in performance over the 10-year period by investing exclusively in stocks than Investor #3. In other words, the price of higher returns is generally increased volatility.

Thus, investors who are unable to weather the ups and downs of the stock market may need to sacrifice return potential to stay the course over time.  

*Diversified portfolio returns were generated using Vanguard Total Market Funds, both U.S. and international.

Striking the Right Balance to Reach Your Financial Goals

The challenge for many independent women investors is understanding their risk tolerance in relation to their need for return.

For example, if Investor #1 doesn’t invest in stocks, will she reach her financial goals and manage longevity risk, or will she run out of money before the end of her life? On the other hand, does Investor #4 need to take quite so much risk, or can she beat longevity risk by investing in a less volatile portfolio?

These are the answers I seek when working with my female clients. Ultimately, my aim is to keep my clients invested for the long term to experience the magic of compounding returns and reach their financial goals.

In the third and final article in this blog series, we’ll look at the other side of the equation: minimizing longevity risk by managing your expenses in retirement.

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Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 1: Why Independent Women Are Most at Risk

Single Women and Longevity Risk Part 1

This is the first blog post in a three-part series about single women and longevity risk. In this article, we’ll explore why independent women are most at risk of outliving their financial resources.

One of the reasons long-term financial planning is important is to minimize longevity risk, or the risk of outliving your financial resources. Longevity risk is generally brought up in connection with retirement, since the risk of depleting your savings increases once you stop working.

With advances in healthcare and increasing life expectancies, longevity risk is becoming an increasingly relevant concern for many retirees. Unfortunately, single women are among those most at risk of outliving their resources due to a variety of factors.

#1: Women Live Longer Than Men

First, women tend to live longer than men on average, which means they may need to support themselves financially for a longer period during retirement. According to a 2021 CDC study, the average life expectancy for women in the United States is 79.1, while for men, it’s 73.2.

However, using an average statistic to determine life expectancy and longevity risk can be problematic as each person’s family, health history, and lifestyle differ. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a life expectancy calculator that can help you better understand your likelihood of living past a certain age.

For example, a 45-year-old woman’s life expectancy today is 85.4 years. But if she lives until age 70, her life expectancy increases to 88.9.

#2: Single Women Face Unique Financial Challenges

Second, single women often face unique financial challenges, such as lower average incomes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women working full-time and year-round make 83.7% of what men earn in similar jobs.

In addition, women are more likely than men to experience a gap in employment due to caregiving responsibilities, which can interrupt their earning and saving potential. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this disparity, as women’s participation in the workforce tumbled disproportionately in part due to increased childcare responsibilities as schools and daycares closed.

Given these challenges, women tend to save less than men on average, further contributing to longevity risk. In fact, a recent T. Rowe Price report found that women tend to contribute less annually to workplace retirement accounts than men and have meaningfully lower account balances.

#3: Women Tend to Invest Less Often and More Conservatively Than Men

According to data from Morningstar, women tend to invest less and hold a larger percentage of cash than their male counterparts.

Studies show that this is largely due to a lack of confidence. For example, Fidelity’s 2021 Women and Investing Study revealed that only 19% of women feel confident in their ability to choose investments that align with their financial goals.

Unfortunately, this lack of confidence often translates to smaller nest eggs in retirement, increasing longevity risk. Consider the following example.

Suppose you invested $1,000 in the U.S. stock market 30 years ago, at the beginning of 1993. Over the next 30 years, the S&P 500 generated an annualized return of 9.7% before accounting for inflation.

That means at the end of 2022, you would have had $16,074 if you reinvested all dividends. Had you kept this money in a savings account that yielded an average of 1% over the last 30 years, you’d have about $1,347 at the end of the same period.

Thus, investing is necessary for single women to minimize longevity risk and outpace inflation, so your dollars don’t lose value in retirement.

How Single Women Can Address Longevity Risk

To address longevity risk, engaging in proactive financial planning is essential. This includes:

  • Saving and investing. It’s crucial to start saving early and regularly contribute to retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, to accumulate a sufficient nest egg for retirement. Within investment accounts, include stocks for their above-average growth potential and diversify your investments to mitigate market volatility risks.
  • Estimating retirement expenses. Assess your expected expenses during retirement, including healthcare costs, housing, and daily living expenses. This evaluation can help determine how much you need to save to ensure a comfortable retirement and reduce longevity risk.
  • Social Security planning. Understand how the Social Security system works and develop a strategy to maximize your benefits. Consider when to start claiming benefits and spousal or survivor benefits if applicable.
  • Long-term care insurance. Evaluate the potential need for long-term care insurance to protect against the high costs associated with extended care services. Research different policies and assess your options based on your health, family history, and financial situation.
  • Health and wellness. Prioritize maintaining good health and adopting a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy can contribute to a longer and more active retirement, reducing potential healthcare expenses and increasing overall financial security.

By being proactive and mindful of longevity risk, single women can take steps to secure their ongoing financial well-being.

Part 2: The Importance of Investing for Single Women to Offset Longevity Risk

Although single women face a variety of unique challenges and risks when it comes to financial planning, there are steps you can take to manage these risks and achieve your financial goals. In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll dive deeper into why it’s so important for single women to invest when it comes to minimizing longevity risk.

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SECURE 2.0 Act Cliff Notes (So You Don’t Have to Read the Whole Thing)

SECURE 2.0 Act Cliff Notes

On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed into law a $1.7 trillion spending package, which includes the SECURE 2.0 Act, legislation that changes the rules on saving for retirement and emergencies and withdrawals from retirement plans. The good news is that it opens up opportunities to save more and expands on tax benefits for Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans.

Many of the SECURE 2.0 Act’s provisions take effect on January 1, 2023, while others may take years to implement. Here’s a summary of key provisions in the SECURE 2.0 Act and how they may affect your retirement savings goals.

If you are a client of Curtis Financial Planning, we will discuss these changes as they pertain to your situation, ensuring that you maximize every opportunity.

Changes to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

For those who need to be made aware, this is when you must take withdrawals from your retirement accounts, even if you don’t need the extra income. The IRS wants to collect the deferred tax on these funds. (Remember that Roth IRAs don’t have RMDs, but all other IRAs and retirement accounts do).

The changes:

  • Raises the RMD age to 73 for those who turn 73 between 2023 and 2032. In 2033 and beyond, the RMD age will increase to 75. (Unfortunately, if you turned 72 in 2022 or earlier, you must keep taking RMDs).
  • Reduces the IRS’s 50% penalty for failing to satisfy your RMD before the year-end deadline to 25% of the RMD amount. The liability falls to 10% if an individual corrects the discrepancy promptly.
  • Roth accounts in employer retirement plans (such as Roth 401k’s) will be exempt from RMDs beginning in 2024. Nothing changes for individual Roth IRAs that have no RMD requirement.

Increases to Catch-Up Contributions per the SECURE 2.0 Act

Catch-up contributions aim to help older people make up for not saving enough earlier in their lives in their IRAs or company retirement plans.

  • Currently, if you’re 50 or older and are allowed to contribute to a 401(k) plan at work, in 2022, you can put in up to $6,500 more than younger people. Starting in 2025, individuals between the ages of 60 and 63 can make annual catch-up contributions of up to $10,000 to a workplace plan. This amount will be indexed to inflation.
  • Beginning in 2024, the IRA catch-up contribution amount for those 50 and older will be indexed to inflation. Currently, the maximum catch-up is $1000.00 and has been stagnant.
  • If your wage income exceeds $145,000 in the previous calendar year, you’ll need to make catch-up contributions to a Roth account in after-tax dollars. Those earning less than $145,000 are exempt from this requirement. The impact of this change is that you will not get a tax deduction for the catch-up contribution as you did with an traditional IRA, but the Roth contribution will grow tax-free.

Employer Matching for Roth Retirement Accounts

Employers can now offer employees the option of receiving matching and non-elective contributions to their Roth retirement accounts. Note that profit-sharing contributions do not qualify. The employer will get a tax deduction, but the employee must pay taxes on these employer contributions.

Changes to Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs)

  • Currently, IRA owners can transfer up to $100,000 each year to a charity as a QCD. This $100,000 will now be indexed for inflation.
  • There is now a one-time maximum $50,000 QCD distribution to a charitable remainder trust (CRUT), charitable annuity trust (CRAT) or charitable gift annuity (CGA). However, with the $50,000 limit the administrative costs to set this up may be prohibitive.

Self-Employed Plan Changes

Sole proprietors can now open up new 401(k) plans for the prior year up until the filing deadline (NOT including extensions) instead of year-end. But as before, self-employed can make contributions up to the extended filing date.

More Flexibility for 529 Plan Balances

The IRS will allow direct transfers from 529 plans (open for at least 15 years) to Roth IRAs starting in 2024. The Roth IRA must be in the name of the beneficiary of the 529 plan. The maximum lifetime transfer is $35,000 and is subject to annual IRA contribution limits. The IRS is working out the details on how to interpret this law.

Key Provisions for Younger Retirement Savers

  • Beginning in 2025, employers offering new 401(k) and 403(b) plans must automatically enroll eligible employees at an initial contribution rate of 3%. In addition, employees with low-balance retirement accounts may also have the option to automatically transfer their balance to a new plan when they change jobs.
  • Starting in 2024, employers can add a Roth emergency savings account option to employer plans such as 401(k)s. Non-highly compensated employees can contribute up to $2,500 annually, and their first four withdrawals per calendar year will be tax-free and penalty-free.
  • Beginning in 2024, employers can “match” an employee’s student loan payments by contributing an equal amount to a retirement account on their behalf.

Help for Part-Time Workers per the SECURE 2.0 Act

Currently, if you are a part-time worker at an employer with a 401(k) plan you can only contribute once you work there for at least 500 hours a year for three years or if you work for over 1000 hours for one year. The new rules will reduce the threshold to 500 hours a year for two years starting in 2025.

Changes for S Corp Owners

Owners of S Corporation stock may take advantage of like-kind exchange non-recognition treatment for their sales to an ESOP, beginning in 2028.

The SECURE 2.0 Act: Bottom Line

This is not an exhaustive list of the provisions, but I chose to write about those that pertain to most people. Also, now that Congress has passed the act, the IRS will provide details on how they will interpret some of the provisions, as clarifications are almost always necessary with a bill as far-reaching as this one.

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9 Things You May Not Know About Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security Benefits

On the face of it, Social Security benefits seem straightforward. You simply fill out some paperwork when you retire and start receiving your monthly amount.

Unfortunately, many people do just that. They may glance at their Social Security statement now and then but don’t put much thought into it beyond that. Meanwhile, others may assume they’re not entitled to benefits and leave money on the table.

The truth is many people don’t maximize their Social Security benefits, either because they don’t understand how the system works or they need the money before reaching their full retirement age. Once you’re aware of Social Security’s many nuances, you can use the system to your advantage.

Here are 9 things you probably didn’t know about Social Security benefits (but should):

#1: Reaching age 62 is significant when it comes to Social Security.

When it comes to claiming Social Security benefits, a variety of important things take place when you turn 62.

First, the Social Security Administration officially calculates your benefit amount when you reach age 62. That’s because 62 is the age you can begin claiming benefits if you choose. Up until this point, the benefit information on your Social Security statements is merely an estimate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always wise to start your benefits at age 62. In fact, by claiming your benefits at age 62 instead of when you reach full retirement age (currently, between age 66 and 67 depending what year you were born), you may decrease your monthly benefit amount by as much as 30%.

You’re also eligible for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) beginning at age 62—even if you don’t claim your benefits right away. Since the Consumer Price Index determines COLA, eligibility can pay off in high-inflation years. For instance, some groups are estimating the increase will be as high as 10.8% in 2023 to account for rising price levels.  

#2: Your Social Security statement now shows you how much your benefits will increase each year by waiting to claim them.

Indeed, the Social Security Administration recently redesigned their statements to clearly show the differences in your benefit amount based on the year you start taking them. And you don’t have to wait until you’re eligible for Social Security to see what this means for you.

Check it out! Go to ssa.gov and set up an account, so you can view your Social Security benefits at any time.

#3: You must work at least 10 years (40 credits) to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

Once you’re eligible for Social Security benefits, your highest 35 years of indexed earnings determine your benefit amount. Index means that the SSA adjusts your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages over time. However, if you keep working after claiming your benefits and report higher wages, they will replace one or more lower-wage years with your higher earnings.

For example, many women leave the workforce or cut back their working hours to raise children and restart their careers later. Those later years of earnings will replace the zero or low-wage years, thus increasing the ultimate benefit amount. This can also apply to people who change jobs to start their own business or work for a start-up and take a temporary pay cut as a result.

#4: Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is an important milestone.

Your full retirement age (FRA) is the age you’re eligible to receive your full Social Security retirement benefits. It’s important to note that full doesn’t necessarily mean maximum, however.

If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is 66. For those born between 1955 and 1960, FRA then gradually increases until it reaches 67. Anyone born in 1960 or later reaches their FRA at age 67.

Reaching your FRA is significant for several reasons:

  • Reaching your FRA does not mean you have to start taking benefits. You can delay your benefits until age 70.
  • Each month you delay taking benefits after reaching your FRA, your benefit increases. This is true until age 70. For example, if your FRA is 66, you can increase your benefit amount by as much as 32% if you wait until age 70 to claim your benefits. Your benefit amount at age 70 would also be roughly 77% higher than if you began claiming Social Security benefits at age 62.
  • If you claim your benefits before reaching your FRA and continue to work, you may be subject to the SSA’s Retirement Earnings Test. This may reduce or even eliminate your benefit temporarily. For example, the Social Security earnings limit is $1,630 per month or $19,560 per year in 2022 for anyone receiving benefits prior to reaching FRA. If you exceed these thresholds, you can expect the SSA to withhold $1 from your benefits check for every $2 you earn above the limit.

Remember: Everything about Social Security supports work. So, your benefit will continue to grow as you continue working and your earnings increase.

#5: Age 70 is another significant age when it comes to Social Security benefits.

You must start taking Social Security benefits by age 70. Delaying past age 70 will not increase your benefits. However, any cost-of-living adjustments will apply.  

If you work past age 70 and your earnings are higher than any of the previous 35 years used to calculate your benefit, your benefit will increase. Those higher earnings will replace a year where you didn’t earn as much.

#6: If you’re married, divorced, or widowed, it pays to understand your spousal benefits.

As with many government benefits, there are many rules when it comes to Social Security spousal benefits. The following flow charts may come in handy to determine your eligibility.

In the meantime, here are a few basics that are good to know:

  • A lower-earning spouse can collect a spousal benefit up to 50% of the higher earner’s FRA. Meanwhile, a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.
  • Because a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of a deceased spouse benefit, it makes sense for the higher earner to max out their benefit by waiting until age 70 to claim.
  • It may pay to keep tabs on your ex-spouse if you were married for at least 10 years. A divorced spouse can file for a spousal benefit even if the ex-spouse has not yet claimed if both parties are at least 62 years old and have been divorced for more than two years.
  • If your ex-spouse dies, the picture changes. As the surviving ex-spouse, you can claim a survivor benefit as early as 60. You can also allow your own retirement benefit to grow until age 70. Alternatively, you can claim a reduced retirement benefit early. Then, you can switch to a higher survivor benefit at full retirement age.
  • If you’re married, you must wait until the higher earner files for benefits to claim benefits on their record.

#7: Benefits are taxable at the federal level and potentially at the state level.

In 2022, you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your taxable income exceeds $25,000 ($32,000 for married couples filing jointly). If your taxable income is between $25,000 and $34,000 ($32,000 and $44,000 if filing jointly), you’ll pay taxes on 50% of your benefit amount. For income levels above those thresholds, you’ll pay taxes on 85% of your benefit amount.

In addition, most states don’t tax Social Security benefits. However, some do, so be sure to check your state tax requirements.

#8: Beware of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

If you also receive pension benefits based on earnings from jobs that Social Security doesn’t cover (and therefore aren’t subject to the Social Security payroll tax), the windfall elimination provision (WEP) may reduce your benefit amount. WEP reductions don’t appear on your Social Security statement. So, they can come as a surprise if you’re not aware of it.

#9: The Government Pension Offset (GPO) may affect your spousal benefits.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects spouses, widows, and widowers with pensions from a federal, state, or local government job. It may reduce your Social Security benefits in some cases. Specifically, if you receive a pension from your government job and didn’t pay Social Security taxes while you had that job, the SSA will reduce your spousal benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your pension. There are exemptions, however.

To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits, Consider Working with a Financial Professional

Social Security is a complex topic that many people don’t fully understand. While the above list certainly isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it gives you a better understanding of how the system works. It may also give you a starting point to do your own research.

In addition, consider working with a trusted financial advisor, who can help you maximize your Social Security benefits. A financial advisor can also help you develop a comprehensive financial plan for your future, so you can retire on your terms.

To learn more about how Curtis Financial Planning helps self-made women and female-led households secure their financial future, please start here.

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Women and Long-Term Care Insurance: Preparing for Your Future Well-Being

Women and Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance is important for a wide variety of individuals to have. But women face a unique set of challenges that often makes it even more important. For starters, women tend to live longer than men after retirement age, which often means women should be financially prepared for more years than the average.

Long-term care insurance can help you become more financially and emotionally prepared for the future. But that’s not the only reason you might consider it. Women are also more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, making it crucial that long-term care insurance is there to fall back on when you need it most. The same is true when your partner falls ill, since women often become caretakers for their husbands later in life.

But the truth is that long-term care insurance is complicated, and it isn’t necessary for everyone. So, let’s talk about who needs and qualifies for it, how it works, and the benefits and downsides.

How to Determine if You Need Long-Term Care Insurance

70% of people turning age 65 will need some type of long-term care services in their lifetime. Long-term care services include assistance with activities of daily living. Activities like bathing, eating, medication management, and dressing are some of the most common. There are many different reasons that someone might need this type of assistance. Often, it’s due to an injury, degenerative health condition, or a cognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s.

When you are working with a professional to determine what types of insurance coverage you need, their first question in terms of long-term care insurance might be: is there someone who will take care of you in the unfortunate circumstance that you may no longer be able to care for yourself? As a result, individuals without spouses or children often seek long-term care insurance earlier in life than others.

Who Qualifies for Long-Term Care Insurance?

This may come as a surprise, but not everyone is eligible for long-term care insurance. There are no age requirements for purchasing long-term care insurance. But getting the timing right is crucial because several pre-existing conditions will render you ineligible. A few of these include:

  • AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • MS
  • Any dementia or progressive neurological condition
  • A stroke
  • Metastatic cancer

If you’re in good health and eligible, the optimal age range to shop for long-term care insurance is between 57 and 65.  Keep in mind that premiums go up as you get older.

How Does It Work?

The benefits and specifics of your long-term care insurance will vary depending on the policy. Some policies involve direct payments to care providers, while others offer reimbursement to the policyholder. Most policies require that a professional service take place to receive the benefit, regardless of the way it is paid out. This means that individuals can’t receive care from a family member and then request compensation. However, if this family member is part of a home care agency, that is a different story.

Benefits and Downsides

There are several benefits to obtaining long-term care insurance. Typically, these types of care plans are flexible, making it easy to structure them to meet a variety of unique needs. Long-term care can take place in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or in your home, depending on your comfort level and other individual factors.

And having long-term care insurance in place when you need it can help you avoid having your post-retirement budget derailed by exorbitant and unexpected nursing home bills. But there are downsides to consider here, too. Primarily, the health restrictions and cost-prohibitive long-term care policy options.

The best way to determine whether long-term care insurance is right for you is to speak with a professional. Everyone is different, and your needs are different, too. If you’d like to speak with a financial planner about how long-term care insurance may fit into your retirement plan, we’d love to chat.

Download your free guide: What Issues Should I Consider When Purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance?



For more information on women and long-term care insurance, check out our recent Financial Finesse podcast episode:

What Every Woman Needs To Know About Long-Term Care Insurance.


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Single and Thinking About Retirement? Five Tips to Help You Get There

Single Women Retirement Planning
Single Women Retirement Planning

Most of us dream about the day that we can take a break. We envision a full, long-lasting retirement that is free of financial worries and packed with more of the things we enjoy spending our time on. Whether you’re planning to retire at the traditional age of 65 or you’re aiming to get there earlier, being single doesn’t have to slow you down.

Use your unique strengths to your advantage, and plan for a retirement filled with time spent with friends and family, giving back, reading books, traveling, and everything else you enjoy. If you’re thinking ahead to your retirement, but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips that will help you get there:

Revisit your spending and saving

The start of your retirement planning is a great time to check in with your spending or looking at it in reverse, at your savings rate. Could you be saving more money? Are you spending on things that aren’t important to you? Are you wasting money anywhere, such as trial subscriptions you forgot to cancel that are now costing you money annually? Paying for a high-priced gym that you rarely use? Highlight anything you think can be cut out or reduced. Savings gives you freedom and it’s something you have control over, more than your investment returns or even your income.  Then, use Vanguard’s handy retirement calculator to compare your current monthly income to what you’ll need in retirement. 

Make small changes

Now that you’ve revisited your spending vs savings rate and identified areas that could use improvement, start making small, incremental changes. Save takeout or restaurant meals for weekends; make coffee at home instead of suffering through long drive-thru lines; cancel unused services or subscriptions. Discretionary items like these add up quickly to cost us thousands each year. Aim for improvement, not deprivation and watch your savings grow. Cutting out all discretionary spending isn’t sustainable long-term. Choose the changes and budget cuts that make the most sense to you and your goals.

Max out your savings

Reallocate the funds from your discretionary budget cuts to your retirement accounts or investment accounts. While opting for easy alternatives may have been eating up all of your extra cash, maxing out your savings opportunities will make you extra cash. When it comes to saving for retirement, compound interest is your best friend. Start spending time with her as soon as you can.

Diversify

Any personal finance expert will tell you that it’s not enough to match your employer’s contributions (or fully fund your Solo 401(k) if you’re self-employed). Investing outside of your retirement account in mutual funds, ETFs, or individual stocks can help you create additional streams of income when you’re settling comfortably into your retirement.

Work a little longer than you think you can stand

While you are working your salary funds your expenses. When you stop working you are going to rely on other income sources: social security, maybe a pension, and withdrawals from your retirement and investment accounts. If your retirement projections are at all iffy – meaning, it seems your money may not last through your retirement years, it pays to stay employed. Most people want to maintain their standard of living in retirement not have to reduce it. Staying employed and savings as much as you can in those last years of working is one way to get you closer to your goal.

No one-size-fits-all plan for retirement

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for retirement. But if your end goal is a retirement free of financial worries, there are plenty of actionable steps you can take now to set your future self up for success. A lack of financial stress helps us better connect with the people we love, sleep better, stay healthy, and enjoy both the destination and the journey. Employ financial strategies that will help you move consistently toward your goals.  

If you need a retirement plan and want to work with a trusted financial partner, we encourage you to explore our services and schedule an introductory phone call.

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Returning 2020 RMD’s To Avoid Taxation – New IRS Notice

One of the March 27, 2020 CARES Act’s key provisions was to waive the requirement to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMD’s) in 2020. This waiver is good news for retirees who don’t need the money but have to withdraw and pay taxes anyway. However, some people take their RMD, part or in whole early in the year, or take it as a monthly distribution starting in January. At first, it appeared that these early-birds did not catch the worm in this case, because they didn’t avoid the tax on this income.

Good News
The IRS must have heard the groans from the early-bird RMD takers (and their financial advisors and accountants) because they have modified the rules several times since the original provision passed into law.

The Fix
On June 25th, the IRS issued a notice that fixes all the confusion for those who took RMDs earlier. The Notice says that all RMDs taken in 2020 can now be rolled back into the IRA. These rollovers need to be completed by the latest, August 31st of 2020 – including RMD’s taken in January, received as monthly distributions that may be more than 60 days old, and any RMDs withdrawn by beneficiaries.

How Do You Return Them?

With most custodians, you can do a rollover electronically. Or call and find out what the correct steps to take. If you have a financial advisor, they can do it for you.

Documentation: Best Practice

To prevent any problems later, be sure to document these transactions. Take notes and put them in your 2020 tax file, save a copy of your statement that reflects the transactions. Lastly, don’t forget to tell your tax accountant about the rollover so you don’t pay unnecessary tax.

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CARES Act Review Part II: Retirement Account Provisions

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

There are several retirement account provisions in the CARES ACT meant to reduce your tax liability or help with current cash flow or both. Here are the details:

1. RMD-REQUIRED MINIMUM DISTRIBUTIONS

You don’t have to take your RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) for 2020, whether it be from an IRA (regular, Simple, SEP), inherited IRA, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans or 457(b) plans.

PLANNING TIP: If you already withdrew your RMD for 2020, and the withdrawal has been within 60 days, you can redeposit it to your account and avoid tax. If a distribution was taken more than 60 days ago and you can qualify for the coronavirus-related distribution (described below) you can redeposit it and avoid tax. Note: Non-spouse inherited IRA beneficiaries cannot redeposit the withdrawal. 

2CORONAVIRUS DISTRIBUTIONS FROM RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS  – new more tax-friendly rules 

For 2020, the 10% penalty will be waived for taking an early distribution from your IRA or employer plan. Previously, distributions before the age of 59 1/2 incurred a 10% penalty in addition to tax owed (with a few hardship withdrawal exceptions).

  • The distribution can be up to $100,000
  • It must be taken in 2020
  • The income is spread over 3 years for tax purposes unless you proactively elect to include it all in 2020
  • Beginning on the day after receipt of a Coronavirus-related distribution, an individual has up to three years to repay the amount as qualified rollover distribution (in one or multiple payments). Any distribution going back to January 1, 2020 qualifies

PLANNING TIP:  If you elect to take a distribution, it may be beneficial to include the entire distribution in 2020 if you expect your income to significantly decline in 2020 and be higher in future years).​​​​​​

PLANNING TIP: In a perfect world, withdrawing from retirement accounts early should be a last resort. These accounts get tax-deferral benefits to incentivize us to save for our future non-earning years. The compounding that happens when the money is left to grow tax-deferred is invaluable in building a nest egg. However, keeping that caution in mind, these are challenging times and the loosening up of these rules may be very helpful to many people. The good news is that there is a way to pay it back and avoid tax and penalties.

 Eligibility (very broad):

  •  People diagnosed with COVID-19, or have a spouse or dependents diagnosed with the virus.
  •  People who are experiencing adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, reduced hours, unable to work because of childcare issues, and a handful of other similar reasons.
  •  Business owners that had to close or operate under reduced hours
  •  Meet some other reason that the IRS decides to say is OK

3. ​​​​​​​COMPANY RETIREMENT PLAN LOANS – a provision to further expand company retirement plan loans (like from a 401(k):

  • The maximum amount of an allowable plan loan doubled from $50,000 to $100,000
  • The loan may be for up to the present value of the participant’s account
  • Payment on plan loan otherwise owed may be delayed for one year

In addition, the usual 20% mandatory tax withholding for non-direct rollovers from company plans is waived for 2020.  However, you will still need to pay tax (at tax time) on any amounts that you don’t roll back into a retirement plan within 60 days.

Next up: A review of enhanced Unemployment Benefits in the CARES Act

If you missed Part I: Stimulus Payments go here.

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Being Single, Wanting to Retire Early, and Medical Insurance Options

financial planning diversification

Recent surveys have indicated that a big worry for baby boomers is how they are going to handle healthcare costs in retirement. This concern is paramount for those who want to retire early. For singles who want to retire early, there is no spousal insurance fallback. Single people need to get insurance to bridge the gap between retirement and Medicare on their own.

A Brief Summary Of Medicare And Average Costs

For people who retire at age 65, Medicare (Part A, B, and D) will take over as the primary health insurance. Premiums are announced each year by the Federal government Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Most people will also need a supplemental policy to cover the roughly 20% of health care costs that Medicare does not cover. Alternatively, a person can opt for Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C), an all-in-one solution that has less flexibility but is usually less expensive. 

Depending on income (MAGI) Medicare Part B premiums range from $1626 to $5,526 per year, Medicare Part D premiums average about $400 per year, and Medicare Supplemental (Medi-Gap) premiums average $1700 per year. Then there are out-of-pocket health care costs such as co-pays. The total average healthcare costs for a 65-year-old woman is $5200/year – this is not a small amount of money, but it is predictable and manageable and easy to plan around. Costs can be substantially higher for someone with chronic illnesses.

Health Insurance Options For An Individual Who Wants to Retire Early 

For a single person who wants to retire before age 65, there are a few options for health insurance overage. One option is COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) – a health insurance program that allows an eligible employee to continue their employer health insurance coverage for up to 18 months. Some states (such as California) have COBRA laws that allow up to an additional 18 months, for a total of 36 months. However, the premiums can be quite high. The advantage of choosing COBRA is a seamless continuation of coverage. Another option for some retirees, although not as common and can be expensive,  is to “convert” their group health insurance policy into their own individual health insurance plan. 

Besides the high cost, depending on what age a person retires, COBRA may not bridge the coverage gap completely. For example, a person who retires at age 60 and chooses COBRA, will have coverage for 3 years maximum up to age is 63, but will still have to buy health insurance for the next 2 years. 

A better option may be to purchase a health insurance policy on the health insurance marketplace in your state. These exchanges were instituted with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Buying health insurance in this way is especially affordable for people whose income (AGI) qualifies for premium tax credits.  In general, individuals and families may be eligible for the premium tax credit if their household income for the year is at least 100 percent but no more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line for their family size. This amounts to $12,140 to $48,560 for a single individual in the continental U.S. during 2019.

These income levels may seem low, but many individuals income drops dramatically after retiring. Net worth isn’t considered for eligibility for premium tax credits. It’s quite possible for a person with a comfortable net worth to qualify for premium tax credits.

 An example:

Susan is 60 years old, lives in California and wants to retire in the next year. She has $1,000,000 saved in her 401(k) and another $800,000 in taxable savings accounts. Dividends and capital gains generated by her taxable investments average $30,000 per year. She has an inherited IRA and last year had to take a distribution of $5000.00. She earns a small amount of interest on her bank account, so her AGI is about $35,500.00. With this amount of income, she would qualify for premium tax credits.

Entering her details on the California State Health Insurance marketplace – Covered California website, Susan could qualify for a monthly discount of up to $809.00! She could opt for a Silver Plan with premiums ranging from $224 to $413 a month or choose a more expensive plan, for example, Gold plan options range from $264-$587 per month. (These premium levels include the discount).

Bottom Line

The cost of healthcare is a topic that causes a lot of anxiety and many times unnecessarily so. Just with any other financial decision, it pays to know your options and to do a detailed cost/benefit analysis. As you can see, with the above example, Susan’s healthcare costs will be manageable. If you are trying to decide whether to retire early and want to understand your healthcare costs, start by talking to your employer’s human resources department about options for extending your current insurance. At the same time, log into your state’s health insurance marketplace and compare costs. Armed with this information, you can make the right decision for your situation. 

 
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