Making a Retirement Budget

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Believe it or not, a retirement budget leads to more fun in retirement! In addition, making a retirement budget helps you avoid one of the biggest retirement mistakes people make – which is spending too much too soon.”

Quoted above is an except from a recent about.com, Money over 55, article. (View full article here- http://moneyover55.about.com/od/budgetingsaving/a/How-To-Make-A-Retirement-Budget.htm)

Why is making a retirement budget so important? There are many factors that you may end up having no control over when it comes to retirement income, such as when you retire, your Social Security, and the rate of inflation. The one thing you CAN control is your personal spending.

It seems as though many retirees throw the budget out the window when they finally have that retirement check coming in, and unwise or excessive spending can end up being a huge detriment if the retirement funds are not covering what is leaving your bank account.

Others haven’t had to budget in many years and are used to living comfortably without much worry for the balance on their credit card. This can all change when you are suddenly on a fixed income.

The wise course of action is to look at your spending habits now and see where you can start adjusting and adapting to make a smooth transition into retired life.

This type of planning is not difficult and can be started with only a few hours of time, but it’s easy to put off. Why not start working on it today?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your last 6 to 12 months worth of bank account statements
  • Your last 6 to 12 months worth of credit card statements
  • Last two paystubs for you (and your spouse if you are married)
  • 10-12 colored highlighters
  • Last year’s tax return

Use the information on the items above to see where your money has been going and use the highlighters to group expenses into categories.

Above referenced article gives 5 steps to using this information to create your retirement budget.

STEP 1 – Make a list of all your fixed or required monthly obligations.

To make a super effective retirement budget, break this list down into three parts:

  • Essentials: This includes expenses that cover food, clothing, housing, transportation and health care.
  • Non-essential monthly obligations: Although we all may think of cable TV as an essential, it is not. Non-essentials are things like cable, cell phone, gym memberships, subscriptions and other items you receive bills for.
  • Required non-monthly expenses: Items like property taxes, insurance premiums, auto registration and home warranties may come up once a year. Be sure to take these periodic expenses and calculate their cost on a monthly basis and include it in your retirement budget.

STEP 2 – Research your costs for health care before and after retirement.

  • Get estimates from your employer, from AARP sponsored health plans, for from an independent health insurance agent (Cornerstone has over 75 Licensed Representatives across the Nation) so you have accurate idea of these costs by expected retirement age. Account for these costs on your after-retirement budget.

STEP 3 – List all your flexible or optional expenses.

  • This all the fun stuff, like travel, hobbies, sports and entertainment.

STEP 4 – Write down some thoughts on how you want to spend your time in retirement.

  • Ask your spouse to do this also. Think about the things you want to be able to spend money on in retirement. Begin to think about changes you may be willing to make that would reallocate money from items that are less important to items that are more important.

STEP 5 – Calculate Fixed verses Flex

  • Total all your expenses.
  • Total all your fixed expenses separately.
  • Divide your fixed expenses into your total expenses.

How much of your retirement income will go toward fixed expenses? Does this align with your thoughts in Step 4 on how you want to spend your time in retirement?

The About.com article concludes with the following thought: “As a general rule of thumb, if you want more fun in retirement, find ways to lower fixed expenses so you can have more flex to spend on the hobbies and interests you most enjoy!”

Cornerstone Representatives are trained to help you make the most of your retirement in a number of different ways. Are you possibly paying too much for your health or life insurance as mentioned in step 2? Are your investments giving you all the earnings they could? Our agents are available, free of charge to answer these types of questions for you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like help in planning your retirement budget!

The Future of Social Security

 

Social Security taxes- They’re taken out of every paycheck. We all see the figures every few weeks on our stub and although a small part of us wishes we could hold onto that money, we know that it’s going towards a good cause, so we let it slide. We are appreciative of a system that is supposed to take care of us after we retire. At least, that’s how it used to be.

When Social Security was enacted in the 1930’s it was a great bargain for its recipients because payroll taxes were very low.

“For the early generations, it was an incredibly good deal,” said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy Social Security commissioner as quoted in a recent Fox News article.* “The government gave you free money and getting free money is popular.”

The article says that if you retired in 1960, you could expect to get back seven times more in benefits than you paid in Social Security taxes and more if you were a low-income worker, as long as you made it to age 78 for men and 81 for women.

However, in recent years those numbers have changed drastically. According to a 2011 study by the Urban Institute, the average married couple retiring last year paid $598,000 in Social Security taxes during their careers and can only expect to collect about $556,000 in benefits if they live into their 80’s.

Fox’s article explains why the decrease is happening.

“The shift among middle-income workers is happening just as millions of baby boomers are reaching retirement, leaving relatively fewer workers behind to pay into the system. It’s coming at a critical time for Social Security, the federal government’s largest program.

“The trustees who oversee Social security say its funds, which have been built up over the past 30 years with surplus payroll taxes, will run dry in 2033 unless Congress acts. At that point, payroll taxes would provide enough revenue each year to pay about 75 percent of benefits.”

This leaves future generations either getting fewer benefits or paying higher taxes, and individuals who fall into this bracket are less than pleased. One recent college graduate states that she recognizes the money she pays in now, isn’t going to be waiting for her when she retires. “If I wanted Social Security 50 years from now I would have to hope that someone else is still working and putting money aside in their paychecks to pay for my Social Security at that point,” she says.

Some have taken a more aggressive approach and opened their own private retirement accounts to ease their worry that Social Security won’t provide adequate benefits in the future.

David Armbruster, Investment Advisor Representative in South Carolina, sees more and more clients of the younger generation, who are interested in finding the best place to invest their funds.

“They know that although their parents and grandparents have been able to rely on Social Security, it may not be there, or be sufficient when their turn rolls around, and they don’t want to take any chances,” he says.  “The biggest problem that we see overall when it comes to retirement funding is that costs are going up and benefits are going down. For our younger generations, it is imperative, more so now than ever before, that they be involved in their own retirement planning. IRA, 401K, Roth IRA and other retirement vehicles are becoming more and more important. These younger generations will be responsible for their own retirements. Gone are the days of waiting for Uncle Sam to pass out a paycheck. Self sufficiency is a must.

“There are a lot of wonderful investment vehicles out there. Some of the best programs around right now are annuities. Inside annuities we can find protection from market risk, guaranteed growth moving towards retirement, and guaranteed income once we get to retirement. For many folks, annuities will be the tool that can be used to create their own “social security” checks. Pensions are a thing of the past. Social security is moving that direction quickly. People are going to have to get smarter about their planning or plan on working for a lot longer.”

For more information on the types of products discussed above visit www.cswta.com.

* http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/08/07/new-retirees-receiving-less-in-social-security-than-paid-in-marking-historic/

Lost Life Insurance Policies

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Last week’s blog focused on a program that can help the person managing your affairs after you pass away. https://cswta.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/silent-partner/. In a follow-up to that post, we’d like to reference a recent article found on Yahoo Finance entitled “Life Insurers Pressed on Lost Policies.”*

The article begins by mentioning a woman, named Mary Lou, who was surprised to receive a check for $7,000 more than a decade after the death of her father. The check was from unclaimed life insurance policies her father had taken out previously, that his family had no knowledge of.

At the time of her father’s death, Mary Lou inquired with the insurance company with whom she knew he had policies, to see if there were any other accounts. She was told at the time that they didn’t owe her anything else. As it turns out, that $7,000 check was for three policies that she didn’t have a policy number for.

Mary Lou voices her concern for the situation as it may affect others, “Can you imagine all the millions or billions of dollars that belong to other people and they don’t know to claim it,” she says, in Yahoo’s article?

Backing up Mary Lou’s statement, state regulators estimate that over the decades life insurance companies have failed to pay well over $1 Billion in death benefits. The reason? Because it’s up to the beneficiaries to file a claim following death.  One industry official says that whatever the amount is, it’s a “very small percentage” of total claims paid. “We know the percentages represent real people and we’ve been working with policy makers on ways to ensure all policyholders get the benefits they deserve,” said the official, Bruce Ferguson of the American Council of Life Insurers.

Recognizing that new technology can help alleviate this problem, insurance companies in many states are being required to check old unclaimed policies against death databases, and to make payouts to those they owe.

Most insurance companies will probably not fight these regulations. Yahoo’s article went on to state that opposing a requirement to check the databases would be particularly difficult given that many insurance companies already check them when it’s in their interest- for example, to learn about the deaths of annuity customers because such deaths usually end the insurers duty to make payments under retirement-income contracts.

As many such modern systems are slowly being implemented into this industry, the process of handling insurance claims is no doubt going to undergo some changes. The article mentioned above referenced a number of such changes that are already taking place.

Of course we all look forward to a time when this process has been completely ironed out and programs such as “Silent Partner Executor Planning” will no longer be necessary. But in the mean time, the monetary figures mentioned most likely only strengthen your resolve not to be one of the many whose unclaimed benefits make up that staggering $1 Billion.

Taking advantage of a free program to keep you out of that statistic is definitely a wise course.

For more information about this program as offered through Cornerstone please visit us here: http://www.cornerstonewealthsc.com/silent_partner.php

*http://finance.yahoo.com/news/life-insurers-pressed-lost-policies-030100774.html 

Silent Partner

It’s pretty much understood that planning for the future with products such as retirement packages and Life Insurance are necessary in today’s world. Nobody wants to leave their family members scrambling to come up with funeral expense funds in the wake of losing a loved one!

So, you’ve taken care of this, and that’s great! You have the best interests of your spouse, or children in mind and you have taken definite steps to make that inevitable occurrence a little easier to handle. However, one thing many people neglect to consider is how arduous the process can be when it comes to filing paperwork and handling claims. Especially because sometimes the family members left behind aren’t fully aware of what kinds of plans/policies their deceased loved one even had!

This is where something called a “Silent Partner Program” can really come in handy.

A Silent Partner Program is just another term for an Executor Planning Document and is a way to keep family records organized and up-to-date. This will take a lot of the stress away from someone who is going to be grieving and may find it difficult to navigate the planning process ahead of them.

Many people find it difficult to compile this information and share it with their family members, but fortunately, a number of Retirement Planning companies provide a structured program to manage all of this data.

Usually, a representative from the company will meet with you one on one and walk you through filling out all necessary documents. This will likely include details on the following personal information:

•             Personal Documents

•             Survivor’s Guide

•             Family Data

•             Safe Deposit Box Inventory

•             Contacts

•             Budgeting

•             Additional Sources of Help

•             Personal and Financial Security

As you work together to gather all this data, you will no doubt start to realize how important it is to have this available to those who care about you most!

When all the details are correct and finalized, a number of copies of this document will be created to be kept by the necessary individuals. You will keep one copy for yourself so that you can refer back to it annually and make sure it’s still up to date. Another copy will go to your “Silent Partner,” the person who will be using this information in the event of you becoming disabled or passing away. A final copy will be kept by your retirement planning agency. Your representative will check back with you periodically to see if you need to execute any changes to the information, in which case a new document will be created and distributed. This representative will also be the point of contact for your family members when the time arises to use the information contained in the document.

Just like a will or a Life Insurance policy, a Silent Partner Program is an essential step in looking out for the future of your loved ones. It’s a simple service that many companies provide for free to you and your family.

Why not start working on yours today? http://www.cornerstonewealthsc.com/silent_partner.php

The Importance of Fact Finding

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You’re at home on a Tuesday afternoon and you receive a phone call from a local retirement planner, offering to visit you at your home, explain the Medicare program and do a free financial review.

Of course, as an informed consumer, you are skeptical. “What are they going to try to sell me? Is this legitimate?” You may wonder.  And these are valid questions. ANY time ANYONE wants to visit you at your home or wants you to divulge personal information, it’s your responsibility to do your due diligence and make sure the representative is legitimate. In a society filled with dishonesty, scams and scandals it can be hard to know who to trust! This article will discuss a few ways you can help ensure that you are dealing with who you THINK you’re dealing with and also that they give you the treatment you deserve.

Step 1- Identification

When you book an appointment with a representative over the phone, be sure to get their FULL name and the name of the Company they represent. Your first step is to make sure that they are licensed to do what they say they do. If they are representing an insurance company, or a group that works with insurance companies, they are required to have a state insurance license. You can easily go online and do a search for the Department of Insurance for the state you live in. Each website usually has something called a “Producer Search” which allows you to inquire by Insurance License Number, or by name.

When you find the name of the person you’re looking for you will want to verify that their license is current and active. If you have trouble finding them, don’t hesitate to contact them back and ask for a State Insurance License Number. If you still can’t find it, or if it’s not active, do not meet with this person! Contact their company back and ask for a manager. The company should be able to provide you with a different representative who can help you. You can also contact the state Department of Insurance for more information on that individual.

If you DO find them online, you’ll also want to search further and see which companies they’re licensed with. If you don’t immediately see a particular company listed, don’t be alarmed. Insurance Agents frequently become contracted with new companies as rates fluctuate and products change. They just want to be able to offer their clients the very best options! But sometimes these companies take time to reflect those contracts in the State’s online system.

Another issue is that sometimes an agent works with an agency of a certain name (For example: Jones Retirement Center) who has contracts with insurance companies (Like, John Hancock or Lincoln Financial) So the person on the phone might say: “This is Mike, with Jones Retirement Center.” but when you look him up online you don’t see any sort of contract listed for “Jones Retirement Center”, you only see “John Hancock and Lincoln Financial”. This is because the State sometimes only lists the contracts for actual Insurance Companies, not for the agencies they work through.

If this is the case, you’ll want to do another online search for the name of the agency they work for. So, using the example above “Jones Retirement Center in Financeville, Washington.” Most agencies have a website and you can use this site to review a little more about the company the agent represents and possibly even verify that the agent DOES in fact, work for that agency. (Many agencies list their representatives on their website.) You might also check other outside online listings such as Yellow-Pages or Google, to read reviews about this agency. If negativity seems prevalent with no response or explanation from the business, then you might want to turn elsewhere for your financial planning advice.

If the agent and agency clear all the above filters, the last thing you’d want to do, is just verify that they are who they SAID they are, when they come to your house for their appointment. Asking to see a driver’s license or insurance license will not throw an honest agent off-guard. They will be happy to share their credentials with you. Hopefully they’ll tell you that they appreciate your diligence and that they’re glad to be working with someone who has taken steps to protect themselves in this crazy world we live in.

Step 2- Fact Finding

If you went to a doctor for a check-up and he walked in the room and handed you a prescription for a heart medication, without ever talking to you, taking your blood pressure or running any other tests, you’d think he was crazy! He knows nothing about you or your situation, yet he’s trying to get you to take a drug for a heart condition! How can he even know you HAVE this condition? And even if he’s right, you might already be taking some other medication to treat it! Who knows how the two could affect each other!

It’s just as unreasonable, for a representative to come to your home and tell you that a certain product or service will best suit your needs, if they haven’t first done a financial review.

Also called a “Fact Finder” a financial review will let your agent know about everything you are and aren’t currently doing with your insurance, investments and savings. Having this information will allow them to inform you of possible problems and offer valid solutions.

It can be unsettling to divulge this type of personal information, but keep in mind, you’ve already verified that this is a licensed and trained representative, working for a company that has a good reputation. It’s vital that they have a full picture of your financial situation BEFORE you purchase any new product, or they suggest any changes to your retirement plan.

You may be asked any of the following questions:

  • What types of investments do you currently have? What are the interest rates and total balance of those accounts? (They will want to see statements if you have them and might even call the company to confirm different details of your policies.)
  • What type of life insurance do you have? (This is another case where showing the agent your policy and letting them call the company for full details is definitely to your benefit.)
  • What are the balances of your checking and savings accounts?
  • What type of health insurance do you currently have?
  • What is the current state of your physical health?

Honestly answering all of these questions is the only way that your representative can truly evaluate your situation and offer real solutions that could change your life!

If your representative doesn’t take the time to do this type of review with you, they aren’t doing their job. To get the best service in this industry, you must demand it! Don’t settle for less. Give them your full attention, and they will give you theirs.

Together you can work towards a secure future for yourself and your family.

For more information about Wealth Management and Financial Planning visit www.cswta.com.