400,000 American Retirees Are Living Happily Overseas. Should You?

According to an article published by the Associated Press just a few weeks ago, more and more Americans are deciding to retire someplace outside the U.S. The AP reports that the number of overseas American retirees, now approaching 400,000, grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the trajectory is heading upward as the baby boomers begin retiring in greater numbers.

You can click here to read the Associated Press piece. It just might start you dreaming of relaxing beaches and warm sunshine, especially since we’re reading about this trend in the gloom of a January day in the Pacific Northwest!

Sunshine and warm weather may seem like the big draw for retirees with wanderlust, but cost of living usually plays the biggest role in the decision to leave the USA to retire. When you look at some of the most popular retirement destinations, they include places such as Canada and the United Kingdom that are certainly not known as tropical destinations. But one of the most perennially popular countries on the list of places to find retirement paradise is Mexico, where both sunshine and lower costs are big draws, not to mention a large and growing community of American expatriates to make newcomers feel more welcome.

“I wanted to find a place where I could afford to live off my Social Security,” said one American widow who quit her job and moved to Mexico after her husband died in 2012. “The weather here is so perfect, and it’s a beautiful place.” She lives in a community outside Guadalajara where her rent is half what it was in Texas – and because weather is mild, utility bills are relatively low. It’s also inexpensive to hire domestic help, something many American retirees choose to do, adding to the luster of the lifestyle.

As wonderful as all this may sound, however, there are hurdles. Even with fellow Americans nearby, experts say not everyone adjusts readily to life in a different country. One professor from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Viviana Rojas, interviewed a group of retirees for a book project and found that the biggest obstacle to feeling at home overseas is not speaking the language or knowing the culture. “Many of the people we interviewed said they spoke Spanish, but they actually spoke very little Spanish,” said Rojas. “They didn’t have the capacity of speaking enough Spanish to meet their basic needs like going to the doctor or to the store.” Another potential obstacle to retiring overseas is access to health care, which can also be a challenge. “While retirees still can receive Social Security benefits, Medicare is not available to those living abroad,” says the AP article.  Availability and quality of care can vary widely.

As we looked further into this enticing topic of retirement overseas, we also found this very helpful article in the Washington Post. Written about 18 months ago, it’s called “A Financial Guide to Retiring Abroad,” and while some of the specific data may have changed, the basic info is still sound. And the article definitely gives someone considering foreign living in retirement some reasons to pause. “When you just begin thinking about it at a superficial infatuation level, it’s a very exotic, romantic, sexy idea,” says Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of “Live and Invest Overseas,” which publishes an annual ranking of the best places to retire overseas. “But the truth is that once you get into it, it’s not easy.”

The Washington Post article explains that “not all of the lifestyle changes that come with moving overseas will be ideal. Retirees will want to research how the move could affect their cost of living, tax bill and health. So “before you sell your belongings and buy a one-way plane ticket,” the article lists some big considerations that will require careful planning and attention. For example, some countries welcome American retirees while others have fairly restrictive residency requirements, including requiring expat retirees to keep a certain amount of savings on hand to avoid becoming a burden on the host country. How about that lower cost of living? It may come with a downside, including inconsistent electricity service, occasional plumbing disruptions and appliances you can’t get in your new country of residence. Health care and reliable banking services can be a decidedly mixed bag. Buying and owning property may or may not be an option depending on where you choose to live. And no matter where you move to, odds are the IRS won’t forget about you – especially each year when April 15th rolls around. You’ll no doubt still be liable to Uncle Sam for any income tax liability you’ve incurred.

We think this quote from the Washington Post best sums up the bottom line. “Retiring overseas can be both more enticing and more affordable — depending on the locale — than retiring in the United States. But a smooth transition requires careful planning.”  We would go farther and assert that a smooth transition to any type of retirement requires careful planning, and that is why we’re here. At AgingOptions our goal is to be your guide in the comprehensive process we call LifePlanning, so that your retirement future will be every bit as fruitful and secure as you’ve always hoped it would be, no matter where you choose to live. Can you protect your assets in retirement? Can you live where and how you want without being forced into unplanned institutional care? Can you avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones? With a LifePlan in place, the answer to those critical questions is a confident “yes.”

We invite you find out more about the LifePlanning process by attending a free, information-packed LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Just a few hours invested in this exciting event will open your eyes to the power of LifePlanning. New seminars are being scheduled frequently, so plan to attend and bring your spouse, parent or friend. For dates, times, locations and registration, click here, or call us during the week. We’ll be glad to assist you.

(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com and www.bigstory.ap.org)

 

New Report: More and More Seniors Burdened by Student Loans

A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reveals a startling statistic: the number of older Americans burdened by student loans they assumed on behalf of their children and grandchildren has increased four-fold over the past ten years. Student loan debt owed by people 60 and older now amounts to nearly $67 billion – and climbing.

This sobering article just published in the Washington Post details this growing concern, describing a debt load on well-intentioned seniors that the article calls “staggering.”  There are now more than 2.8 million borrowers aged 60 and older affected by student loans, up from about 700,000 in 2005. “The skyrocketing cost of college has placed a particular burden on older Americans,” says the Post article. Many of these seniors are already “struggling to pay back growing debts in their retirement years, according to the (government) report. Nearly 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers over age 65 are in default, the highest rate for any age group.”  Borrowers over 65 represented more than one-third of all student loan defaults in 2015.

In other words, the crushing problem of student loan debt, which now totals nearly $1.4 trillion in the U.S., is not just a problem for younger workers and recent graduates. It is, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “an intergenerational problem.”  The Washington Post article explains that “a slow job market recovery, growing income inequality and stagnant wages have made it difficult for younger Americans to be economically independent, and now there are signs that those financial struggles are dragging down their parents and grandparents as well.”

A growing number of seniors tell researchers that they have had to forego medical treatments and cut back on other essentials because of the pressures of student loan debt. Even more ominously, more and more seniors are reporting that their Social Security payments – the only source of retirement income for more than a third of older Americans – have been partially seized in order to satisfy demands for student loan repayments.

On top of the mortgages and other loans still carried by many seniors, student loans add a heavy load. The average borrower 60 and older with a student loan owes $23,500, about twice the average amount from a decade ago. Besides the slow economy, experts blame the debt hike on skyrocketing costs of college and the pressure to get an education.  The College Board estimates that a four-year degree from a public college or university now costs more than $80,000 – and for a private school the total is more than twice that amount. “Increasingly,” writes the Post, “older borrowers are being taken by surprise by student loan debt, according to financial advisers. Often parents and grandparents co-sign loans — the majority of student loans are co-signed by people age 55 and up — assuming they’ll be off the hook once the borrower graduates from school and lands a job. But increasingly, that’s not the case.”

If you’re facing pressure from your child or grandchild to co-sign a student loan, we strongly urge you to put the brakes on the conversation until you’ve met with a qualified retirement planner like those of us here at AgingOptions. If you’ll call our office we will be glad to suggest some strategies to help you make the right decision. It’s essential that you understand the huge problem represented by these burdensome debts! Instead of feeling obligated to co-sign, you may be able to suggest other options for your loved one to finance their education, including attending a less expensive school or working while they matriculate. No matter what, we urge you not to agree to take on the costs of someone else’s education until you’ve talked with an expert – because only then can you decide what to do, and make the decision with your eyes wide open.

Retirement planning is filled with important decisions. How can I protect my assets so I don’t outlive my funds? Where’s the best place for me to live as I age? What are the appropriate choices for my medical care needs? Are there certain legal preparations and processes I should pay attention to as I age? How can I make sure my family is knowledgeable and supportive of my wishes? In the past you may have had to consult several different professional services to get the right answers to these and other retirement-related questions, but no more. All these now are part of a breakthrough planning process we call LifePlanning. Your LifePlan, prepared with the supportive guidance of the AgingOptions team of experts, becomes your blueprint as you build the secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always hoped for.

Find out more about LifePlanning by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar soon. These seminars take just a few hours and are packed with valuable information – and they’re absolutely free. Find out for yourself! Click here to see a listing of upcoming LifePlanning Seminars and register online for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us for information and registration during the week. No matter what your retirement questions, it will be our privilege to provide you with solid, no-nonsense answers. We’ll see you soon!

 

(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)

UPDATE: Death of Superstar Prince Means Windfall for the IRS

Last May we wrote about the death of rock superstar Prince. At the time we pointed out that whenever a celebrity dies, there’s always a ripple effect. The death of Casey Kasem prompted increased interest in issues of health care directives, guardianship and end of life planning. The death of Michael Jackson shed new light on the abuse of prescription drugs. And just a few weeks after the death of the rock star Prince, who died in April of 2016 without a will, people began showing a surge of interest in wills and estate planning. (Click here to connect to the original Reuters article about this interesting phenomenon.)

Well, now we have a truly eye-opening follow-up report, which we found in this insightful article on an unlikely website called Movie TV Tech Geeks!  We confess, this isn’t one of our typical sources of retirement news, but in this case the writer, Television Editor Shanka Cheryl, really got it right. The article is entitled, “Prince shows why wills really matter as IRS getting half his estate.” We suspect many readers of this website might be on the younger side, but this article should be a loud wake-up call to everyone, especially seniors.

Prince died on April 21, 2016, leaving behind an estate valued at more than $200 million.  Apparently the international celebrity never got around to drafting a will or establishing an estate plan. Prince was not a particularly young man (he was 57 at time of death) but like many aging boomers he may have had a distorted sense of his own immortality. He was hardly alone: research from LexisNexis reveals that at least 55 percent of all American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place.

Now, Shanka Cheryl’s article explains, “Prince’s estate has until Saturday (January 20th) to file an estate tax payment for the late rock superstar, and the taxes are expected to ultimately swallow nearly half the estate’s estimated $200 million value.” That means “a likely windfall of roughly $100 million for the government.” Estate law experts say Prince could have prevented that relatively easily, but he failed to act in time.

Not only did Prince leave no known will when he died in April of an accidental painkiller overdose, but he apparently did nothing to shelter his assets from the taxman. Federal and state taxes will claim about half the estate and his six siblings will divide the rest, say local tax experts studying the case. “Experts say Prince could have set up an estate plan with trusts to benefit any relatives and charities he chose – while leaving little if anything to be taxed.” The website article quotes Los Angeles attorney Robert Strauss who stated that there are basically only three options for distributing estate funds: “There’s family and friends, there’s charity, and there’s Uncle Sam. And most clients would rather that Uncle Sam got less.” In Prince’s case, by failing to plan, he made sure Uncle Sam received a generous payday.

As the Reuters article reported last spring, following the death of Prince, “many Americans moved ‘draft a will’ – arguably one of life’s most unpleasant tasks – to the top of their to-do lists.”  In some ways, as we reported, that’s good news. However, as professional retirement planners, we here at Aging Options fear that some of these newly-inspired people may be going about the process the wrong way, relying on free or low-cost will-writing software and websites that provide only bare-bones services, hardly adequate for most estate plans.  If you content yourself with simply seeking out the least expensive “quickie will kit” available online you will be doing yourself and your family a disservice. This is one area where it’s essential not to scrimp!  The cheapest and quickest route is almost always the wrong one.

We also remind you, as we tell our radio listeners and seminar guests, that merely writing a will is not enough. The process of putting your legal affairs in order is only one aspect of a fully-developed retirement plan, which we call a LifePlan. A LifePlan takes the key facets of your future planning into account: legal affairs, financial security, medical care, housing choices and family communication. This is the kind of comprehensive plan that brings true security as you age. It’s also the kind of well-developed plan that you can never get from an online will kit!

Want to find out more? Here’s the best way: attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held throughout the area. There’s absolutely no obligation – and we’re fully confident that you’ll come away armed with a fresh new approach to retirement. These free information-packed sessions fill up quickly, so click here for a listing of upcoming LifePlanning Seminars, select the seminar of your choice, and register online – or call our office during the week and well gladly assist you.

Making a will is important. But having a LifePlan in place will be of far greater benefit. If only Prince had known that, his family could have been spared even more grief, dissension and loss.

(originally reported at www.reuters.com and https://movietvtechgeeks.com)

Monthly Social Security Benefit Increase for 2017 and Medicare Part B is going up.

By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 0.3 percent in 2017.  The 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2017. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2016. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

The standard Part B premium amount in 2017 will be $134 (or higher depending on your income). However, most people who get Social Security benefits will pay less than this amount. This is because the Part B premium increased more than the cost-of-living increase for 2017 Social Security benefits. If you pay your Part B premium from your monthly Social Security payment, your monthly premium can go no higher than the increase you receive to your monthly Social Security benefit. Social Security will tell you the exact amount you will pay for Part B in 2017. You’ll pay the standard premium amount if:

  • You enroll in Part B for the first time in 2017.
  • You don’t get Social Security benefits.
  • You’re directly billed for your Part B premiums.
  • You have Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicaid pays your premiums. (Your state will pay the standard premium amount of $134.)
  • Your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple filing a joint tax return amount. If so, you’ll pay the standard premium amount plus an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). IRMAA is an extra charge added to your premium.

Most Social Security beneficiaries will not see a reduction in their 2016 monthly benefit amount because of the increase in the Medicare Part B premium. This is because the Social Security Act contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects most beneficiaries. The amount of the benefit payable between 2016 and 2017 will stay the same even though the Medicare Part B premium increases.

To learn more about Medicare Part B costs go to https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs/part-b-costs.html at the Medicare webpage.

Six Things Couples Should Discuss when Planning for Retirement

Here at AgingOptions we are firm believers in the power of communication when it comes to planning for retirement. Sadly, it has been our observation that too many couples avoid the topic entirely, or else they talk about it in broad, general “wish list” terms, never really getting serious about some of the critical details. This lack of communication and pre-planning is unquestionably a recipe for disaster – or at least major disappointment.

For that reason we were interested to read this very recent article on the financial website Kiplinger. The title is straightforward: it’s called “6 Things Married Couples Should Talk About When Planning for Retirement.” The article, written by investment adviser Steve Fullerton, says the only way to help ensure a “happy ever after” retirement is for couples to get on the same page as soon as possible.

“When they discuss the future,” Fullerton writes, “couples in their 50s and 60s often put the focus on their children and grandchildren or the needs of their aging parents. If they get around to talking about themselves at all, they might discuss an upcoming vacation or something that needs fixing around the house.” But, says Fullerton, these couples tend to leave out the most important thing. “What they tend to skip over is what will happen to them once they retire—and that’s a mistake.”

The Kiplinger article includes at least six questions couples should ask themselves as they look ahead to their retirement years.  It’s essential that couples talk about what will their life together might look like when one or both of them isn’t heading off to a regular job every day.  Fullerton asks, “Do their individual visions match up or is there a complete disconnect?”  This may seem like a completely obvious statement, but we have heard from numerous couples who entered retirement without adequate planning and communication and had an extremely hard time adjusting.

So if you and your spouse decide to sit down and start the conversation, begin at the beginning. Each one of you should answer the question, “What does retirement mean to you?” Does it involve one exotic vacation after another, or quiet times at home with the garden and the grandkids?  You don’t have to have absolute agreement, Fullerton points out – you can make differing visions work if you have a plan. Fullerton, the Kiplinger author, writes, “Talk about your goals and dreams now so you can work toward making them mesh later on.”

The next questions are more technical but equally important. Are you and your spouse in agreement about what age you plan to retire? One of you may expect to keep working well past 70 while the other anticipates an “early out” at age 62. This is something you’ll want to talk about early and often, in order to achieve a compromise before retirement age arrives. You’ll also need to be 100% clear on your fiscal realities:  how much money you have, and exactly where it is. It’s not uncommon, even in this day and age, to have one spouse or the other keep all the financial knowledge to himself or herself with the other left in the dark. This imbalance will create inevitable conflict in retirement when decisions about risk and what happens to your income if one of you dies become critical.

Fullerton writing in Kiplinger concludes with this advice: “Talk to each other about how you want to handle your estate—and then talk to a qualified financial professional and attorney.” It might not always be smooth sailing at first. “When you have these retirement conversations, expect to have some disagreements, but keep looking for compromise.”  Even if your visions of retirement diverge, good open communication is the best place to start. We here at AgingOptions want to be of service to you, and we have two suggestions on how to help make certain you and your spouse see eye to eye when it comes to planning for your retirement future. First, let us schedule a family conference where you and your adult children can gather with one of our professional staff and talk openly and honestly about a full range of retirement expectations. Second, as soon as you can, make plans to attend – together – one of our free LifePlanning Seminars.

At these popular information-packed events, you’ll learn first-hand from Rajiv Nagaich how to make certain all facets of your future planning work together interdependently. It’s essential that your retirement plan, called a LifePlan, include all five key components: your finances, your legal preparation, your housing choices, your medical insurance and communication with your family. Your LifePlan helps ensure that you will be able to maintain your security and your assets in retirement without becoming a burden to your loved ones. We guarantee that a few hours spent at a LifePlanning Seminar will be a terrific step toward the retirement you’ve both hoped for. Click here to register online for the upcoming seminar of your choice or call us at AgingOptions and let us register you by phone. Before you know it, you and your spouse will be on the same page! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

Here are Three Things You Need to Know if You’re Turning 70 in 2017

Is 2017 the year you turn 70? If so, congratulations – 70 years old marks a major milestone in life. As someone hitting the big 7-oh, you’re among the leading edge of baby boomers who have lived seven decades and are still going strong.  But whether you’re retired or not, your upcoming 70th birthday could have a significant impact on your finances.

A few weeks ago we read an article on the financial website Motley Fool that you need to read if this coming year marks your 70th birthday. Motley Fool lists three things that are important for you to know if 2017 is your big year.

First, if you’re turning 70 and still working, you’re definitely not alone – and that’s probably a good thing. “While many Americans aim to retire well before 70,” says Motley Fool, “that doesn’t always happen.”  According to a recent human resources study, “almost 25% of Americans say they won’t be able to retire until age 70 or older.” If you always planned to be retired by now, that may seem like bad news – but the truth is that “there are benefits to extending your stay in the workforce.” For one thing, the longer you work, the more you can potentially save for retirement. As a worker over age 50, you can contribute up to $24,000 during this coming year into a company retirement plan, hopefully taking advantage of your company’s matching funds if they offer them.

Not only do you save more retirement money by continuing to work, but you also shorten the period of your retirement, which can alleviate some of your financial pressure when you do retire. Here at AgingOptions, our experience, corroborated by research studies, tells us that running out of money in retirement is the #1 fear of most older adults: one survey conducted by insurance giant Transamerica reveals that “over 40% of workers 50 and older are more afraid of running out of money in retirement than dying.”  And speaking of dying, if you’re 70 and still working, you may enjoy some major health benefits. One Oregon State University study showed that working past age 65 could prolong your life, while retiring early could actually be a risk factor for dying earlier. As Motley Fool says, “Working at age 70 is a great way to exercise your mind, your brain, and your social skills, so whether you’ve yet to leave the workforce for financial reasons or because you love your job, know that you’re making a really smart move.”

Another action you need to take if you’re about to turn 70: go ahead and claim Social Security.  A significant number of adults take Social Security as early as 62, some by choice and some by necessity, but for most seniors Social Security benefits continue increasing by about 8% per year until age 70. “However,” says Motley Fool, “once you reach age 70, the incentive to delay Social Security runs out. So if you’re turning 70 next year and haven’t started taking benefits, you should plan on doing so in time for your birthday. Otherwise, you’re basically just passing up money you’re entitled to.”

Finally, says the Motley Fool article, if you’re about to turn 70 you probably need to start making specific plans for mandatory withdrawals from your retirement accounts. “The money you’ve been saving in your retirement account generally can’t just sit there forever,” says Motley Fool. “Unless you have a Roth IRA, you’ll need to start thinking about required minimum distributions if you’re turning 70 next year.” The article explains some of the specifics which we won’t reiterate here, but with an issue this important we suggest you get some good advice. Contact our office and we’ll be happy to suggest some helpful next steps. Remember, the stakes are high.  “Be sure to take your distribution on time and in full,” warns the Motley Fool. “Otherwise, you’ll face a 50% penalty for failing to withdraw your own money. In other words, if your required minimum distribution is $8,000 and you don’t take it when you’re supposed to, you’ll kiss $4,000 of it goodbye.”

The article concludes, “No matter where you are in life, turning 70 is something to celebrate. Whether you’re planning to retire in 2017, keep working, or do a little of both, if you plan accordingly, you’ll be in a good financial position as you navigate this next stage.” We agree – and we would add that this is a great time to get serious about comprehensive retirement planning. We call the process LifePlanning, and to help you get started we offer highly popular LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region. These seminars are information-packed and absolutely free. Are you ready for the next step? Click here for a listing of upcoming seminars, plus simple online registration. You can also contact our office during the week and we’ll answer your questions and assist you with registration by phone.

Whatever your age, LifePlanning is a vital part of retirement planning. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.

(originally reported at www.fool.com)

Monthly Social Security Benefit Increase for 2017 and Medicare Part B is going up.

By Kirk Larson Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 0.3 percent in 2017.  The 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2017. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2016. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

The standard Part B premium amount in 2017 will be $134 (or higher depending on your income). However, most people who get Social Security benefits will pay less than this amount. This is because the Part B premium increased more than the cost-of-living increase for 2017 Social Security benefits. If you pay your Part B premium from your monthly Social Security payment, your monthly premium can go no higher than the increase you receive to your monthly Social Security benefit. Social Security will tell you the exact amount you will pay for Part B in 2017. You’ll pay the standard premium amount if:

  • You enroll in Part B for the first time in 2017.
  • You don’t get Social Security benefits.
  • You’re directly billed for your Part B premiums.
  • You have Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicaid pays your premiums. (Your state will pay the standard premium amount of $134.)
  • Your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple filing a joint tax return amount. If so, you’ll pay the standard premium amount plus an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). IRMAA is an extra charge added to your premium.

Most Social Security beneficiaries will not see a reduction in their 2016 monthly benefit amount because of the increase in the Medicare Part B premium. This is because the Social Security Act contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects most beneficiaries. The amount of the benefit payable between 2016 and 2017 will stay the same even though the Medicare Part B premium increases.

To learn more about Medicare Part B costs go to https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs/part-b-costs.html at the Medicare webpage.

Retirement Experts Say, Don’t Just Stay “Busy” – Look For Fulfillment

If you’re still working full time, you might find yourself experiencing a touch of envy when you get together with retired friends. They always seem so relaxed and happy, while you’re still spending 40-50 hours a week with your nose to the workplace grindstone. Your friends will also probably tell you how “busy” they are in retirement – busier than ever, in fact. They’ll wonder aloud how they ever had time to work a regular job and still get everything done.

This recent article on the US News website looks at this phenomenon and asks a probing question: “Is Your Retirement Fulfilling, or Just Busy?” If you’re already retired, we think this article will give you a fresh and helpful perspective on how you spend your time. And if you’re looking ahead to retirement, the US News piece might just cause you to start planning differently.

Retirement expert Dave Hughes, author of the article, writes, “After you retire and you no longer have to go into work every day, it seems like everything else expands, multiplies and rushes in to consume the time you used to work. You may wonder how you ever had time to work and still get everything else done.” But after a while, Hughes says, your perspective starts to change. “A sense of discontentment may emerge,” he writes. “You will begin to wonder if this is all there is.” In other words, after a year or two of the new routine, “Something seems to be missing.”

What’s missing, says Hughes, is a sense of fulfillment. All those days of leisure and relaxation that you worked decades to achieve     are fun and therapeutic at first, but ultimately they can become unrewarding and unfulfilling. “Human nature is such that we aren’t meant to be fulfilled by constant pleasure,” says Hughes. “You still need to feel like you have a purpose in your life. Pleasure is fun (but) fulfillment is rewarding.” In short, if you’re approaching that point in your retirement where purpose seems to be lacking, it may be time to rearrange your priorities and find the sense of fulfillment you’ve been missing.

Fortunately, retirement can offer people the best chance they’ve ever had to pursue activities that lead to a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Some people worked in careers they found personally fulfilling and rewarding, but for many others their work life was anything but fulfilling. But no matter: retirement is time for a clean slate. And the possibilities are limitless. “Fulfillment,” writes Hughes, “may come from expressing your thoughts by writing or speaking. It may come from expressing your creativity through art or music.” Volunteering, traveling, hiking, reading, socializing – all represent activities that can add a sense of satisfaction to your life. You might be one of the fortunate few who found their careers so rewarding they were able to keep volunteering in their career field after retirement, like one man we know who retired after decades in the yearbook industry and now volunteers as a yearbook advisor with a small urban high school. The search for fulfillment is unique to each individual.

As you search, here’s one important caution: don’t confuse “fulfilling” with “productive.” According to Hughes, “After you retire, it may be difficult to reprogram yourself to believe that you don’t always have to be productive. Activities that bring you fulfillment don’t have to be productive. They can be, but that’s not required.” This may require a significant change in the mindset you developed and nurtured during all those years of working for a living. But as we said, retirement is a clean slate – what better time for you to examine all the things that keep you busy and make the decision to stop doing some things, start doing other, and seek a sense of purpose in your life? “The greatest gift that retirement offers,” Hughes writes, “is the freedom to live life on your terms.”

Here at AgingOptions, we are dedicated to helping retirees do just that – live life on their own terms, free from the worries that plague so many people as they get older. But you’ve heard us say this before: you simply can’t achieve this kind of retirement without planning for it. If it’s your goal to protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the fate of being institutionalized against your wishes, you need to start now to plan for the rest of your life. In short, you need a LifePlan – a comprehensive retirement plan that encompasses your financial protection, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical insurance coverage, even communication with your family. If you’ll work with us to create and follow a well-crafted LifePlan, the odds of fulfilling your retirement dreams increase exponentially.

Why not take the next step, invest just a few hours and find out more? We offer free LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region. You can click here for information about upcoming seminars and also register online for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us during the week and we’ll assist you in registration. You can have a fulfilling and genuinely satisfying retirement, if you plan for it! It will be our pleasure to help you do just that.

(originally reported at http://money.usnews.com)

This “Misunderstood” Financial Tool Could Rescue Your Retirement

There’s a crisis looming in America when it comes to retirement. No doubt you’ve read the articles and heard the news stories about this oncoming tidal wave of challenges for retirees, especially aging boomers. We’ve written about this issue several times on the AgingOptions Blog. As baby boomers retire – now at the rate of about 10,000 every day – they simply don’t have enough money set aside. “Many of them,” say the experts, “are woefully underfunded for their future retirement needs.”

So is it possible that one of the most misunderstood financial tools in America could be the very thing that saves retirement for a growing number of aging boomers? According to this article from Yahoo News, reprinted from US News & World Report, the answer is a definite yes. And what is this mystery tool? It’s none other than the reverse mortgage, which one expert, Jamie Hopkins, professor of finance at the John E. Simon School of Business, calls “one of the most misunderstood financial products in existence.”

The Yahoo News article points out, as most people know, that reverse mortgages (known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECM) have gotten a “bad rap” over the past decade or two because of the way these instruments were designed and marketed when they first appeared. Reverse mortgages were associated with late night television ads featuring endorsements by aging celebrities. As a result, many financial planners were skeptical of the HECM at best. But unbeknownst to many uninformed Americans who still view these financial instruments with disdain and suspicion, the reverse mortgage has changed dramatically in recent years, with a host of new regulations and safeguards. As a result, says the article, “Reverse mortgages are now gaining a lot of attention as a viable option for retirement income.” Most of the skeptics have now become enthusiastic advocates. One expert quoted in the Yahoo News article stated flatly, “Reverse mortgages deserve a second look today.”

This fresh new look at the HECM couldn’t come at a better time for retiring boomers, the majority of whom are moving into their “golden years” with far fewer resources than they’ll need. This lack of savings is compounded by an anticipated longer lifespan, which means today’s boomers will probably be facing an increasing number of age-related health issues. According to Professor Hopkins, “This retirement income shortfall is nothing less than a crisis facing the United States.”  But the crisis could be averted for many by the power of a reverse mortgage which will allow homeowners to stay securely in their homes while tapping into the largest single “cash reserve” most of them possess – their home equity.

How might an HECM benefit a retiree? There are several ways. One popular option is to take out a line of credit, which allows the homeowner to supplement his or her income when needed. Not only is this a protected source of ready funds, but the available credit amount grows the longer the HECM is in force. Another option is to use the proceeds from the reverse mortgage to pay off the original loan, leaving a retiree with no house payment – a saving which would make a dramatic difference in retirement lifestyle for most of us.

Some retirees use income from their reverse mortgage to allow them to delay claiming Social Security benefits, a tactic which can boost monthly payments by more than 30% if, for instance, a retiree can hold off until age 70 instead of drawing benefits at 66. Other retirees have found that drawing on their HECM during times when the stock market is down and the value of their stock-based assets is depressed gives those balances time to recover. The HECM provides an excellent cushion, protecting retirees from having to sell when prices are low.

So we encourage you to read the Yahoo News article for yourself. You can also search the AgingOptions Blog for past articles on reverse mortgages. But without a doubt the most important step you can take is to talk with an expert to get all your questions answered and to find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you. We are well acquainted with several highly qualified professionals in the reverse mortgage field and can recommend them with complete confidence. Don’t let your preconceived notions and other people’s opinions keep you from discovering the power of a reverse mortgage! You just may find, as others are discovering, that a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage could save your retirement.

When it comes to all aspects of retirement planning, we at AgingOptions stand ready to assist you with a full range of strategic services designed to help you enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement. Our approach, called LifePlanning, encompasses all aspects of retirement – finances, medical care, housing options, legal protection and family communications – weaving these into a well-crafted plan that protects your assets while helping you avoid becoming a burden to those you love. To learn more about this powerful approach to planning for your future, join us – without obligation or cost – at a future LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find all current dates, times and seminar locations on the Upcoming Events tab. You can register there, or contact us during the week, and we’ll gladly assist you.

(originally reported at http://finance.yahoo.com)

Fewer and fewer Americans are Seeing Retirement Dreams Come True

A few weeks ago USA Today published an article that was a real eye-opener for those of us in the retirement field. The title spoke volumes. “Easy retirement?” it read. “Only for the privileged few.” No matter whether you’re retired or just beginning to plan, we suggest you click here to read this important analysis. It will give you something to think about!

The gist of the article is that, for most households, retirement is going to mean severe cuts in spending and a major change for the worse when it comes to lifestyle. The reason is simple, say financial experts: people aren’t saving enough. USA Today reports that just over one-third of people in their prime earning years or older have nothing saved for retirement and no access to a traditional pension. That’s based on data from the Federal Reserve. Even those households who have retirement savings on hand don’t have nearly enough: just over $73,000 is the average.

A generation ago, a much larger percentage of workers could rely on a traditional pension plan. These secure plans covered about 38 percent of workers as recently as 1979. Today that figure has been slashed by more than two-thirds – just 13 percent of workers have some form of pension today, and for most of those this “pension” is also tied to a 401(k) style program. These plans which require employee contribution and some degree of employee self-management of funds now make up 94 percent of all corporate retirement plans in America.

These paltry savings statistics for most average Americans stand in sharp contrast to the situation in America’s richest households. Among the top 10 percent, average retirement savings tops $400,000. This disparity, says USA Today, is creating a situation in the U.S. where “the gap widens between the few households who don’t have to worry about a comfortable retirement and everyone else.” Surveys have shown that anxiety over retirement not only knows no geographic boundaries but also covers all ends of the political spectrum. “Nearly equivalent percentages of Democrats and Republicans say they’re not managing very well in retirement planning, a recent survey from Lincoln Financial found.”

The root of the problem goes back in part to this shift away from company-sponsored retirement programs toward “a system that’s increasingly put workers in charge of saving for and managing their own retirement.” What’s more, it’s also related to wage stagnation. Most income gains over the past decade or so have gone to the wealthiest households who already have access to larger pools of retirement savings. According to USA Today, “experts say the gap in retirement savings is only growing wider. They’re expecting to see more elderly Americans working longer, moving in with their kids and tapping assistance programs.” Some of these state and local support programs will likely get more and more strapped for income.

We do feel the need to challenge one quote in the article that really grabbed our attention.  It came from a labor economist and researcher who stated, “Only the privileged have access to a secure retirement.” Here at AgingOptions we would answer, “Not necessarily true.” You may not be able to afford to retire in the lap of luxury, but we believe with some solid planning and professional guidance just about anyone should be able to craft a retirement strategy that is secure and rewarding. The key lies in your plan – or as we call it, your LifePlan.

Over the years we have helped thousands of clients, seminar attendees and radio listeners – even those with modest resources – look at their retirement years with a fresh new perspective. We help people develop a LifePlan, which is a unique and comprehensive tool that takes all the critical aspects of retirement into account. Some people think that a financial plan alone is enough to guide them through their retirement years, but in our experience traditional financial planning all by itself can be a recipe for disaster for many retirees. Of course it’s important to be as financially secure as your resources will allow. But it’s just as important to decide how and where you would like to live, based on your health and circumstances. There are legal safeguards that must be put into place if your retirement plan is to be called complete. Your medical insurance needs have to be considered since your health will be the single greatest determining factor to decide how much you’ll be able to enjoy retirement. Finally, unless your family is informed and supportive of your wishes, regardless of whether your estate is large or small, you’re asking for trouble. Your LifePlan will help you here as well.

So if articles like this one from USA Today scare you, don’t feel paralyzed or helpless. Why not take a vitally important step and come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminars? Bring your questions and you’ll discover the power of solid retirement planning done the right way. You’ll find a listing of seminar dates, times and locations on our Upcoming Events page – then you can register online, or call our office. We’ll be glad to assist you. And if you know someone else – a family member or friend – who is worried, even fearful, about retirement, invite them to join you. We guarantee you’ll be very, very glad you did!

(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)