Are you ready for a 30-year retirement?

Warren Buffet once called the babies born today “the luckiest crop in history” because they are expected to live longer and enjoy greater prosperity than any previous generation. I believe it would be a fair assumption to add that the baby-boomer generation is the “luckiest crop” of retirees to have ever lived. Today’s retirees are healthier, wealthier, happier, safer, freer, more educated, more equal, more charitable, and more technologically advanced than any previous generation.

4 Common Threats to Retirement Savings

Ironically, the wonderful advancements that current retirees are blessed with are also the root of the problems that retirees will face.  Longevity, inflation, and the retiree’s individual responsibility to manage their own investments will be the challenges that this generation of retirees will have to grapple with.

1. Longevity

Not only are we living better, we are also living longer. Therein lies the challenge: We are living too long. Life expectancies are steadily climbing. According to the Social Security Administration, a couple who is currently 65 years old have a 48% chance that one of them will live to be the age of 90.

Life Expectancy table for Age 65

Because of long life expectancies, many retirees face the very real risk that they will outlive their money if they don’t plan for a lengthy retirement. Planning on living to the average life expectancy is not enough. It is best to plan on living longer than your life expectancy, because life expectancy estimates the average time a person will live. To be certain, some people will die before their life expectancy, but some will live beyond, sometimes many years beyond, their projected life expectancy.

2. Inflation

Longevity is the catalyst for today’s retirees’ second challenge: their dollars are shrinking.

Every day, the purchasing power of the retiree is eroding as goods and services are getting more expensive. Although inflation has always existed, no previous generation has had to deal with it to the extent that today’s retiree does. Our parents and grandparents lived ten or fifteen years past retirement, inflation never had time to develop into a problem for them.

A retirement lasting thirty years or more is a game-changer. Inflation isn’t something that may happen, it will happen. In our opinion, inflation has confiscated more wealth, destroyed more retirements, and crushed more dreams than the combined effects of all stock market crashes. Historically the average inflation rate has been more than 3% annually. To put that into perspective, at a 3% inflation rate, a dollar’s worth of purchasing power today will only purchase forty-one cents worth of goods and services in thirty years from now.

Inflation poses a “stealth” threat to investors as it chips away at real savings and investment returns. The goal of every investor is to increase their long-term purchasing power. Inflation puts this goal at risk, because investment returns must match the rate of inflation just to break even. An investment that returns 2% before inflation in an environment of 3% inflation will actually lose 1% of its purchasing power. This erosion of purchasing power might seem incidental, but this type of loss, compounded over the duration of a retirement, is life-changing.

Dollars invested into money market accounts, certificates of deposits, fixed annuities, and bonds, never have, and never will, keep up with inflation. Uninformed, anxious, stock market-leery investors that depend on these types of investments for long-term growth may be insulating themselves from stock market volatility, but they are committing financial suicide, slowly but surely. To make matters worse, the paltry gains associated with these products must be taxed, which makes it that much more unlikely that they will be able to preserve purchasing power.

In the current environment of huge government budget deficits and spending, it is likely that inflation will continue to rise at least at the same pace as its historical average. Given the one-two punch of longevity and inflation, it is imperative that retirees are mindful of inflation as they invest and plan for the future.

3. Investment Management Risk

A third challenge for retirees to be aware of is the personal responsibility they now have to manage their own investments.

During the last couple of decades, a subtle transfer happened. The responsibility to provide retirement income shifted from the employers to the employees. The popular pension plans of the past, which guaranteed a lifetime of monthly income to retired employees and their spouses, are disappearing. Pensions have been replaced by 401(k)s and other similar plans that all place the burden of funding, managing, and properly distributing investments to last a lifetime, squarely on the backs of the unprepared employee. Like it or not… you, not your employer, hold the keys to your financial future.

An annual study done by DALBAR, Inc. shows that the average stock fund investor managed to capture only 60% of the return of the stock market over twenty years. Ouch! The largest contributing factor that explains this blatant underperformance was the investor’s own behavior. It appears that the typical investor followed the herd mentality, buying when stocks were high and selling in a panic when stocks were low. Seldom was the investor guided by a comprehensive investment plan. Consequently, little or no discipline was demonstrated. What is most concerning, is that for the most part, the investor failed at the easy part of investment management: the accumulation phase.

4. Retirement Income Distribution Risk

When people enter retirement, they also enter the distribution phase of investment management. In other words, they start withdrawing their investments. The distribution phase is much more difficult to manage than the accumulation phase. In the distribution phase, it is still crucial to know how to properly allocate and invest a portfolio, but additional complexity is added to the mix. Therefore, income-hungry retirees need to know how to create a distribution plan that will provide a stream of income that will last until the end of their lives. They need to create and then follow a Retirement Income Plan.

Retirees need to be kept informed in order to make the best financial decisions. It is also important to work with a financial professional that specializes in retirement issues and that is a fiduciary who puts the retiree’s best interest ahead of their own.

Are you ready to start planning your 30-year retirement? Click here to schedule a complimentary planning session to start creating your own ‘Retirement Income Plan’.

How Will I Pay for Health Insurance in Retirement?

Bob and Patricia are 60 years old and would love to retire as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon to meet people like Bob and Patricia who have been saving diligently, setting money aside into their 401(k)s, making wise investments, and living below their means with a desire to transition into retirement as early as possible. Unfortunately, health insurance for them to retire before age 65 can now cost as much as $2,000 per month for a high deductible health insurance plan, even for someone who has significant savings, this additional expense can make early retirement unaffordable.

In the past, many people were able to leave the workforce and continue to receive health insurance through a former employer. These retiree health insurance plans would bridge the gap between the time that someone left the workforce and the time they began receiving Medicare benefits at age 65. Unfortunately, most of these benefits, along with other retirement benefits like generous pensions, have gone the way of the Dodo bird. If you are one of the few that still have these benefits available to you, count yourself very fortunate. So, is there a way to retire before age 65, and purchase affordable health insurance? The answer is yes! But it requires special planning.

The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act, also commonly known as, “Obamacare” contains a provision that provides health insurance subsidies to Americans below certain income levels. To qualify for a health insurance subsidy or discount, your household income cannot be more than four times the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line is based on the number of people in your household. Looking at Table 1., four times the federal poverty line ranges from $49,960 in 2020 for a household of one, all the way up to $138,360 for a household of six. Since Bob and Patricia have a household of two, they would need to have an income below $67,640 in 2020 to qualify for a subsidy, and the subsidies are significant.

Table 1. FEDERAL POVERTY GUIDELINES (YEAR 2020)
# In Household Federal Poverty Line (FPL) 2-Times (FPL) 3-Times (FPL) 4-Times (FPL)
1 $12,490.00 $24,980.00 $37,470.00 $49,960.00
2 $16,910.00 $33,820.00 $50,730.00 $67,640.00
3 $21,330.00 $42,660.00 $63,990.00 $85,320.00
4 $25,750.00 $51,500.00 $77,250.00 $103,000.00
5 $30,170.00 $60,340.00 $90,510.00 $120,680.00
6 $34,590.00 $69,180.00 $103,770.00 $138,360.00
http://www.healthreformbeyondthebasics.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/REFERENCE-GUIDE_Yearly-Guideline-and-Thresholds_CoverageYear2020.pdf

For example, Bob and Patricia, Utah residents, would receive $1,345.29 per month if they reported an income of $65,000 for the year. If Bob and Patricia were to choose a high deductible Bronze plan (See Table 2.) that would typically cost about $1,227 a month. Applying their subsidy of $1,345.29, they wouldn’t have to pay a monthly premium. Now let’s say they select a gold plan that costs $2,403 per month; they would only have to pay $1,058 after their subsidy is applied. That’s a savings of over $16,000 a year in healthcare expenses.

Table 2. EXAMPLES OF HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS AND IMPACT OF SUBSIDIES
Plan Bronze Plan Silver Plan Gold Plan
Monthly Premium $1,227.40 $1,856.76 $2,403.36
Subsidy $1,345.29 $1,345.29 $1,345.29
After Subsidy $0.00 $511.47 $1,058.07
Quotes ran August 2020 at www.healthcare.gov. Based on a household of two with an annual modified adjusted gross income of $65,000

You might be thinking, this sounds great, but I’m not sure I’m willing to restrict myself to only living on an amount that’s below the threshold to qualify for these discounts.

Well, here’s where the planning comes in. The discounts are based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). We need to be careful not to confuse this with cash flow coming into the household.

Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)

Let’s look at how the tax code defines modified adjusted gross income for health insurance – to determine your modified adjusted gross income, the tax code looks at your adjusted gross income (AGI) and adds back in a few income sources that are normally not included. Three of the most common income sources that must be added back into AGI to come to the MAGI calculation are:

  • Excluded foreign income
  • The Non-taxable portion of Social Security
  • Tax-exempt interest

Once MAGI is calculated, there are ways to keep your income below the 400% of the federal poverty line income limit that would allow you to qualify for subsidies and still have the monthly cash flow you would like.

Let’s return to the case of Bob and Patricia and see how this would work. Let’s say that Bob and Patricia have saved $3,000,000 for retirement. These savings include pre-tax accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, tax-free accounts like Roth IRAs, and after-tax brokerage investment accounts. Bob and Patricia decide that they would like to have $100,000 per year in income. Bob and Patricia can control how much of their $100,000 income are included in their AGI by choosing which accounts they take distributions from.

Example: Bob and Patricia decide to take out $50,000 from Bob’s IRA over the year for income. They then supplement their IRA income by taking out $50,000 from Bob’s after-tax brokerage investment account. Bob is careful not to sell stocks that have embedded capital gains, which would be added to their MAGI. This means that Bob and Patricia will be able to enjoy $100,000 per year of income but only report about $50,000 on their taxes. This would allow them to then qualify for the significant health insurance subsidies.

This example doesn’t consider things like capital gains, interest, or dividend income that would likely be applicable in their case. These items need to be considered, so careful planning is required. However, the point remains that this strategy would allow someone to enjoy the amount of income they prefer, while simultaneously qualifying for significant subsidies for health insurance.

One last note on health insurance subsidies for early retirees. When you apply for health insurance during open enrollment, you will have to estimate your income or MAGI for the following year. For Bob and Patricia, this means that they would state their income on the application as $50,000 using the numbers from the example above. You might ask, what if my income ends up being different from my estimate? Any difference in income between your estimate and actual income will be reconciled when you file your taxes for the following year. If your actual income is higher than the estimate you used on your application, you would be required to pay back a portion of the subsidy you received. If your actual income is lower than your estimate, you may be eligible for a higher subsidy, which would be paid to you as a tax credit.

In my experience, this isn’t much of an issue unless your actual income is so high that you wouldn’t have qualified for a subsidy at all. In this case, you would be required to pay back the entire subsidy you received throughout the year. In Bob and Patricia’s case, this would mean coming out of pocket $16,000 to pay back the subsidies they received based on their income estimates.

Careful planning is the key. If you understand and follow the rules you can receive significant benefits, if you mess up, you’ll go from thinking you’ve saved money to having to pay out large sums at tax time.

There are other aspects of this planning strategy for early retirees that I haven’t mentioned in this article, but this is a good start. I would recommend you consult with a qualified financial professional that is knowledgeable in the detailed tax rules associated with the Affordable Care Act before attempting to implement this strategy. If you’ve prepared well, early retirement is an achievable goal. Health insurance is a significant expense, that can derail your ability to retire early. However, there are powerful planning strategies available to the well informed to help you retire with confidence.

Mark P. Whitaker, MS, CFP®, CRPC® is a financial advisor and partner with Peterson Wealth Advisors, an SEC-registered investment advisor practice located in Utah. Peterson Wealth Advisors specialize in helping successful professionals transition into retirement and helping clients through retirement by providing expert investment and financial planning advice. Peterson Wealth Advisors are the only retirement specialists who offer the Perennial Income Model™, a proprietary investment approach that matches a retiree’s investments with their current and future income needs. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in Personal Financial Planning from Utah Valley University and a master’s degree in Financial Planning from The College for Financial Planning. Mark is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and holds various other industry-recognized certifications. Mark loves his country; he served for 11 years in the Utah Army National Guard, including a deployment to Afghanistan. Mark loves his family and lives with his wife and children in Provo, Utah.