5 Ideas for a More Prosperous “Retirement Season”

Happy Retirement Season! My longtime former employer, Fidelity Investments, so dubbed this time of year in a marketing campaign several years ago.

The season ran from January through April 15, the traditional deadline for contributions to many retirement accounts that coincides with when tax returns are due. This was traditionally the busiest time of year when we would frequently take in up to half of the inflows we expected for the whole year.

I always thought the campaign was pretty clever even though it never really seemed to catch on outside of those green walls. Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security reported that the median retirement account balance for working age Americans is only $2500. Gallup conducted a November survey of Americans' 2015 holiday spending intentions and found U.S. adults planning to spend $830 during the last Christmas season alone. Considering Christmas has been around a couple thousand years, maybe the concept of  Retirement Season may just need a little more time to get off the ground.

In a tip of the cap to my former colleagues at Fido, I would like to wish everyone a happy Retirement Season. To get you in the mood, here are some ideas:

1.       Open an IRA. Everyone that has earned income can contribute to an IRA. You can contribute up to $5500 for 2015 (plus another $1000 if you are 50+ years old), or up to your taxable income amount if your compensation was less than the limit. Rules vary between Traditional and Roth IRAs, with the tax treatment of contributions and growth differing based on what you may qualify for or choose. If your income is under certain amounts, there are even tax credits that will essentially pay for up to 50% of your contribution.

2.       Participate in or create a workplace plan. There are many options that are determined by whether you work in the public, private, or non-profit sectors and/or if your employer has opted to offer a plan. Choices may include the US Thrift Savings Plan, 401(k), 403(b), SIMPLE IRA, and 457 plans. There are even more options if you are self employed. Some of these plans allow much higher contribution levels than IRAs and often have employer matching contributions that are essentially FREE MONEY if you stick around long enough to meet the vesting schedule. In some cases, over $50,000 per year can be put away in these tax advantaged accounts!

3.       Consolidate your old plans. If you have had several jobs, you may have just as many retirement plan balances sitting out there. In some cases your current plan may accept rollovers of those old plan balances. In other circumstances, it may be more practical to combine the old plans into a Rollover IRA. The point is to keep up with what you have saved, and consolidation makes that easier.

4.       Open a Health Savings Account (HSA). These accounts must be paired with a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and you can’t be eligible for Medicare, other health coverage, or claimed as a dependent by someone else. If you qualify, family contributions can be as high as $6750 for 2016 (plus $1000 for age 55+). These contributions are not only pre-tax but they grow tax free. If you don’t spend the HSA balance during the year, it continues to grow tax free and could ultimately be used to cover the estimated $266,589 of Medicare premiums and other retiree health care expenses that HealthView Services estimates for a healthy 65 year old couple.

5.       Write down your retirement plan. At age 25, your plan may be just a simple estimate of how much your money can grow over the years. At a hypothetical 10% return, your money doubles every 7.2 years. (For other rates of return, divide your hypothetical rate into 72 to determine how quickly it may grow.) If you are closer to retirement, your plan should model the likelihood of what you have saved lasting throughout retirement based on how you plan to spend it. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, no plan is a plan...to fail. 

Most of these retirement accounts have potential penalties for early withdrawals, typically defined as before age 59 1/2. Because the rules can vary and even become quite complicated, you should consult with an expert such as a CPA, tax attorney, or CFP® before considering any withdrawals.

If you aren’t sure where to start, get in touch to discuss your situation. Wishing you the wealth and prosperity this season brings!