Retirement Planning

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

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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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Late-Career Women and Burn-Out or When Can I Retire?

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Does this sound like you?
– 50-60 ish,
– have been working for 30-40 years,
– salaried employee,
– your boss is a pain,
– co-workers are all 20-30 years younger than you,
– some days are better than others,
– someone asks: when do you want to retire? and you say “tomorrow.”

If you answered yes, you aren’t alone. One of the most common reasons mid-life women seek financial help is to figure out if they can quit their jobs.

And, if you don’t have a clue whether this is possible or not, unless you dig in, look at the numbers, and project into the future, you won’t get the clarity you need to make such a big life-changing decision.

So, where do you start?

Things You Need To Know

– How much do you have saved?
– Are you getting the return you need on your investments?
– How much do you spend?
– When you retire and start withdrawing from your savings, what will your withdrawal rate be? Is it sustainable?
– Will your spending habits change once you quit your job?
– If you continue to work, what do you project your income to be?
– What do you want to do differently in this next phase of life? How much will it cost?
– What are your assumptions for inflation rates in the future?
– How much will health insurance cost if you are retiring before reaching Medicare eligibility?
– Will you be able to afford healthcare costs not covered by insurance in your older years (long term care)?

The decision to semi-retire or retire is a big one not to be taken lightly. You can assess the viability of reaching your goal by taking a hard look at the facts and numbers and doing some analysis.

Best, Worst and Most Likely Outcomes

Best case outcome: You find out that you can retire or semi-retire when you want to. Worst case outcome: You have to work until you can’t any longer. Most likely case: You find out that you need to work and save for a few more years before reaching your goal.

And surprisingly, once you have clarity and a solid goal, you might find that work and your boss aren’t so bad after all.

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The Importance of Financial Education

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It’s a well-known fact that America has a huge financial literacy problem. The causes of this lack of financial knowledge are often cited as a deficiency of personal finance education in schools or at home. Personally, I would love to see personal finance as a mandatory senior year high school course. I think it would reduce the rate of debt mismanagement in college – both credit card and student loan debt; start young adults on a path to good credit early; and decrease the anxiety of knowing how to handle money as young adults.

A Course in Personal Finance
Recently, I was asked to teach a personal finance class at a local college. I was thrilled for the opportunity and worked diligently on the syllabus, the curriculum, and the slides for the four summer classes. 16 students signed up for the course, 6 of whom need the credit for their MBA degree. The average age of the students is 28, and mostly women.

The most surprising aspect of my experience is the enthusiastic response from the students to the subject matter. The first class focused on personal budgeting and retirement plans. To get these young people thinking critically about their spending, I had them read an ebook I wrote called the Happiness Spreadsheet (a free copy can be downloaded from my website). The book espouses the idea that if you think consciously about the relationship between your spending, what you value, and your happiness, it is easier to create a budget that will stick. Many students had never looked at their spending habits in this way, and it inspired them to do the work.

Learning About Retirement Plans
When it came to retirement savings plans, I was less surprised by the elementary knowledge of the majority of the students. Earlier in the class, I asked them to rank their financial literacy from 1- 10. The average response was 5. I was encouraged when two of the students immediately acted and opened up Roth IRA’s the following week, and others expressed greater interest in how their 401(k) was invested.

In the second class, I focused on credit and debt.

Some of the students had already experienced credit woes. One woman misused credit cards in college but was able to dig herself out and rebuild her credit. She has a credit score over 700 now. Another got into credit trouble after a divorce. She managed to bring her score up from the low 600’s to 700 by diligently going through her credit report to get joint accounts paid off and closed. Another student has stellar credit with an over 800 score. Her goal is to buy a house and has asked for help in reaching this goal.

Future classes will focus on investments and retirement planning. In the end, I will be happy if the students learn 3 concepts from the course:

1. The tax benefits and flexibility of the Roth IRA.
2. The benefits of saving early and the power of compounding.
3. How important it is to build good credit.

Of course, there is so much more to having a successful financial life, but if acted upon, these three concepts will lay a great foundation.

How To Make Sure You See All the Places On Your Bucket List

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Americans love to travel. When I ask my clients what they want more of in their life now and later, the most common answer includes “I want to travel more.” And, many tell me that their travel spending is a non-negotiable expense. This wanderlust grows after retirement as the time constraint that existed while working is gone.

Travel Isn’t Cheap and Priorities Change
But travel isn’t cheap and is something that needs to be planned for especially when the paychecks stop. It doesn’t help that after a certain age, traveling on a budget is not as appealing. We want to enjoy some luxury while on the road, or at the minimum a home-like experience. This means that besides the basics: a clean room, good lighting, and reliable hot running water, we want crisp white sheets, a firm mattress, a fluffy bathrobe, and high-quality toiletries.

Another shift happens as one gets older, the job of planning every detail of a trip – from hotels to meals to excursions gets less appealing, and opting for a group tour (even with the risk of traveling with strangers) becomes more attractive. This type of travel can come at an extra cost.

How sad it would be if a person who loves to travel reaches retirement and realizes that they can’t afford to go to all the places on their bucket list!

So, if you are a person that is continuously daydreaming about where you want to go next, and your bucket list never gets shorter, there is only one answer: make saving for travel a priority.

If you need some help in creating a budget that aligns with the things you most value (like travel), please download a free copy of The Happiness Spreadsheet: How To Create A Life Aligned With Your Values, Beliefs, and Ideals. I think you will find it helpful. Happy traveling!

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Financial Housekeeping: What To Do with Those “Old” 401(k)s

There is no shame in owning multiple  401(k) or 403(b) accounts—the fact that they exist indicates a commitment to retirement savings. What may bring on a twinge of guilt (and rightfully so) is the neglect of these accounts, such as ignoring how the money is invested and leaving quarterly statements unopened.

Sound familiar? Rest assured that you’re not alone. When leaving an employer many people opt to take the easy way out and check the box next to “no change, leave funds in current 401(k).” Then they go on to their next job and forget about it. For some, this may be the best option, but for many, it’s not.

When is it a good idea to leave your 401(k) with your old employer?

  • If you have a small balance (usually less than $20,000–$25,000), otherwise you’ll pay a custodian (bank or brokerage) an annual maintenance fee to hold the account.
  • If you like the investment options available to you and don’t have the time or inclination to investigate the best place to invest outside the 401(k).

In other situations, it makes more financial sense to choose one of the other options available to you:

  1. Rollover the 401(k) to a self-directed IRA in an account at a new custodian. You can then manage it yourself with the help of an advisor or online investment service.
  2. Rollover the 401(k) into your new employer’s 401(k) if there are decent investment options available, you have a small balance, or you don’t want to manage it yourself.

There is a fourth option: cash out and pay tax and penalties (with some exceptions) on the balance. However, this is not a smart choice for most people.

There are many advantages to rolling over to a self-directed IRA:

  • Gives you more investment options, including exchange-traded funds and stocks.
  • Possibly reduces 401(k) record-keeping and other account maintenance fees.
  • Reduces the number of investment statements you receive.
  • Reduces the chances of duplication in your portfolio.
  • Decreases the possibility that you will “forget” about your money.

Here are the steps you need to take to rollover your old 401(k) into an IRA:

  1. Open an IRA account at your chosen custodian or let your financial advisor know that you want to rollover your employer retirement account and they will send you the account application paperwork.
  2. Contact the plan administrator for your previous employer company and ask to be sent an IRA rollover form or ask if you can execute the rollover on-line.
  3. Be sure to check the boxes for no tax withholding; because you are planning to roll the funds over, there will be no tax consequences. Some companies will conduct a trustee-to-trustee transfer, which means you won’t have to handle the money, but most send checks made out to the new custodian. The check will be written to the name of the new custodian, FBO (for the benefit of) your name and your new IRA account #.
  4. You will then mail the check to your new custodian to deposit into your IRA. There may be a one-time fee – $25-50$ to execute the rollover.
  5. It’s also important to know that the mutual funds you own in your 401(k), will most likely be sold and the money will be moved to a cash account prior to the rollover. This means that you must go invest the cash in your new IRA account after the rollover is complete.

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Curtis Financial Planning