' How to retire without regrets - Rodney Brooks

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December 14th, 2017

Life's Next Act

How to retire without regrets

  Rodney Brooks

By Rodney Brooks The Washington Post

Published August 5, 2016

How to retire without regrets

Many of us look back at those wasted years of our youth and wish we had done at least a few things differently.

That's been proven in a recent survey by Allianz Life Insurance Co., which said 32 percent of those polled say they regret major life choices. The biggest regrets were not following their dreams (39 percent), not taking more risks with their careers (38 percent) and not taking risks with their lives in general (36 percent).

But there is another big regret that many people have, and that's that they did not do enough to prepare for retirement.

By now you should know the numbers. Surveys show that people have not saved enough. And they are worried. According to PwC's 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 37 percent of those interviewed were worried that they would not be able to retire when they wanted. That survey tracks the financial well-being of full-time-employed U.S. adults nationwide.

Another survey, by the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, says a quarter of Americans are worried about running out of money in retirement.

But the biggest regrets aren't always financial.

"Some folks say 'I wish I had enjoyed life a little more when I was working,' " says Aaron W. Smith at A.W. Smith Financial Group in Glen Allen, Va. "Now that they are older, their health is not allowing them to do some of the things they've always wanted to do in retirement."

As I've said many times before, retirement is hard, as is preparing for retirement. So here's some help from people who, for the most part, have done it. Not starting earlier.

"People always talk about how they wish they would have started sooner, put more away," says Tim McGrath at Riverpoint Wealth Management in Chicago. "A lot of times, clients wish they would have gotten organized regarding finances. If they had done it earlier, they would have changed their habits."

Not retiring sooner.

This may surprise people, but it comes up with financial planners more often than you think.

"My clients don't always retire when they say," says Ken Moraif, a senior adviser at Money Matters. "Faced with actually retiring, it is stressful. So they delay it. After they do [retire], they say, 'I don't know why I waited.' They endured at work a little longer than they needed to."

Kirk Cassidy, co-president of Senior Planning Advisors in Farmington Hills, Mich., says people work longer than they need to because they don't have a customized income plan. "They have regrets afterward when they find out they didn't need to," he says. "They were working for their children rather than themselves. Working did not change their quality of life. It only changed their children's quality of life in their death."

Not getting help from a financial planner earlier.

"One of the biggest is 'I wish I had come to see you, or someone like you, years ago,' " Smith says. "I didn't come to see you because it wasn't important at that time. I was intimidated, or I was embarrassed at where I was."

"Another regret is they take advice from the people they love," he says. "We all do that. They wish they didn't get that advice from a friend or a co-worker."

Not making the right decisions for their surviving spouse.

Smith says clients often wish they had made better decision on their pension distributions. "That's a biggie," he says. "A lot of retirees, if they work for a government agency or corporation that offers a pension, and they're married, find we should have made a better decision with the pension."

Pensions offer a larger monthly benefit for a single-life benefit than they do with a survivor annuity. But the single-life benefit ends when the pensioner dies, leaving the surviving spouse without a benefit.

"Some of the folks who have taken the single-life benefit weren't in that great of health," Smith says. "But the loved one was in better health. It leaves the loved one without a pension for the remainder of their life."

Not considering taxes when making withdrawals from retirement accounts.

"Retirement planning, especially withdrawal, can be like a Rubik's Cube," Cassidy says. "You can solve the blue side, then you have a problem with the orange side. It can be complex. We want to make sure we take distributions from the right source at the right time at the right ages."

Not understanding when your strategy changes from saving to spending/withdrawal.

"When we are younger and accumulating wealth, we are making decisions in isolation," Cassidy says. "We are buying this mutual fund, buying this life insurance and taking Social Security at this time. We are making decisions in a vacuum as opposed to looking at it holistically. A holistic approach is not a one-size-fits-all retirement plan. Each one will be custom and individual, based on age, wealth, net worth, assets they have."

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