As humans, we tend to be overoptimistic on everything from our driving ability to investment prowess. It’s perennial problem when it comes to money and retirement management.
A recent study found that people routinely over-estimate their Social Security benefits. Two researchers from the University of Michigan found that “Americans face the challenges of retirement with varying degrees of preparation. Evidence indicates that that many individuals may not be making the best possible choices with respect to their Social Security and retirement savings.”
Why do people expect more than what they actually receive in benefits? Here’s what the researchers found:
Most retirees find that the amount of Social Security retirement benefits they receive is lower than what they had expected before claiming.
Not appropriately adjusting for early or delayed claiming could contribute to expectation biases about retirement benefits. In particular, this would be most relevant for those with lower levels of education.
Current workers recognize that they do not have a good idea of what their future retirement benefits will be. Forty-nine percent of our survey respondents declare having no knowledge about their benefit amount.
The average expectation bias for monthly retirement benefits in our sample is $307, which equals 27% of the average forecasted benefit for this sample (in current dollars).
Men display lower expectation bias and are less likely to overestimate their retirement benefits.
How to avoid these misconceptions? You need to estimate benefits based on the age you intend to claim them and your earnings record. A good place to start is Social Security’s benefits estimator tool.
Since people are living longer and are generally healthier in older age, the Social Security Administration raised the full retirement age to 67 for people born in 1960 or later, up from 65. You can apply for benefits as early at 62, although your benefit would be reduced by 30%. On the other hand, if you can wait until age 70, you will get 124% of the monthly benefit because you delayed getting benefits for 36 months.
Consider how each scenario might impact your retirement planning. Preparing for different outcomes now is the best way to help protect your savings – and peace of mind – down the line.
Planning today can make a big difference in your retirement lifestyle tomorrow. Once you leave the workforce, the years that follow can be all that you want them to be—if you pave the way with a comprehensive financial plan that includes your Social Security income.
Your plan should be based on what you know today and flexible enough to adapt to any changes—like unforeseen personal circumstances or developments that come out of Washington.
Social Security can be a valuable tool to help bridge any gap you may have between your expected sources of income and your expenses.
POINTS TO KNOW
Social Security has features for retirees that other retirement savings plans don’t have.
When creating your retirement plan, be sure to include your Social Security benefits as an income source.
It’s important to have a retirement budget: Itemize your income sources and expected expenses.
Savers under the age of 40 can open a pension or a Lifetime Isa, and use them to save for retirement with help from the taxpayer. In an ideal world, having both would be the best option, but if savings are limited there are clear advantages in maximizing workplace pension savings first.
Higher rate taxpayers will also get a bigger bonus from pension saving. That said, savers should consider both options. There are a number of important factors to take into account when choosing how best to boost retirement savings with taxpayer handouts.
What to weigh up when deciding how to save for retirement
1. Free money from your employer
For employees, joining a workplace pension offers the added advantage of a tax-free employer contribution. Employees earning over £10,000 a year, between the age of 22 and 66, must be offered a pension scheme, with the employer paying 3 per cent of earnings. The employee pays 4 per cent and tax relief adds a further 1 per cent.
Many employers offer more generous schemes and not joining or opting out is giving up ‘free money’. Employers cannot pay into a Lifetime Isa.
2. Higher earners benefit from pensions
Those paying tax at a higher rate get a bigger bonus from pension savings. A higher rate taxpayer sees £6 saved grow to £10, and for a top rate taxpayer, £10 saved costs just £5.50.
Should you open a Lifetime Isa?
How they work, and what’s on offer to young savers hoping to get on the housing ladder? Read a This is Money guide here. Taxpayers resident in Scotland can gain an extra 1p in the pound as they pay tax at 21 per cent if income is over £25,159, 41 per cent if income exceeds £43,430, and 46 per cent if income is over £150,000.
For nil or basic rate taxpayers, the Lifetime Isa and pension offer the same taxpayer bonus of 20 per cent, so that £8 saved is worth £10 invested. Both offer the same tax-free roll up of funds, with no tax to pay on fund growth or income.
When the money is paid out the Lifetime Isa has the advantage of offering a tax-free income, whereas 75 per cent of the pension paid out is treated as taxable income.
3. Pending (and possible) rule changes
There is speculation the Budget on 3 March could end higher rate tax relief for pension savers. Should this happen then or in the future it will increase the attraction of the Lifetime Isa, which pays a tax-free income in retirement.
This may increase further in line with the rising state pension age 10 years later. Lifetime Isas can pay out from the age of 60. A narrowing gap between the age at which savers can gain penalty-free access makes the choice less clear, especially as Lifetime Isas pay out tax-free but pensions are partly taxable.
4. What if you have no earned income
Those without earnings can save £4,000 a year into a Lifetime Isa. However, if they have no earned income, they can save only £2,880 into a pension, so the taxpayer subsidy is up to £720 a year in a pension but up to £1,000 in a Lifetime Isa.
5. What if you do earn income or profits
Where more than £4,000 is available for saving long term, those with earnings or self-employed profits can save in a pension the lower of their earnings/profits in the year or £40,000 into a pension, but only £4,000 into a Lifetime Isa.
6. Age restrictions
Lifetime Isa savers can pay in and earn the bonus only between the age of 18 and 50. Pension savers can start at birth and continue until 75. Starting a Lifetime Isa before the age of 40, then funding a pension from the age of 50, could provide a good combination of tax-free income from the Lifetime Isa and taxable income from the pension.
If the pension and other sources of income fall below the personal allowance for income tax (currently £12,500), all the income could be tax-free.The Lifetime Isa offers access before the age of 60, with a lower penalty than applicable if a pension was accessed prior to age 55 (57 from April 2028).
7. Leaving funds to loved ones
Lifetime Isas cannot be continued beyond death and form part of the taxable estate.Pension funds can be left to others to continue, with tax-free investment, and do not usually form part of the taxable estate.
8. Choice of products
It is easy to open a pension, or simply not opt out if your employer auto enrolls you into one. Choice of Lifetime Isa providers is more limited and most offer only a cash deposit option. For long term saving for retirement a stocks and shares Lifetime Isa has more potential to maintain its purchasing power alongside inflation, but could go down in value in the short term.We run down what’s available here.
Advisors warn against cutting marketing budgets at the risk of plunging into obscurity. However, that spend should deliver a decent return on investment (ROI).
Giving into Facebook’s prompts to boost a post might seem harmless, but it’s an easy way to burn through cash.
Not targeting ads effectively is akin to pouring good money down the drain. Determine who your ideal customer is, which media they consume and when they’re most likely to buy. Then tailor your ads accordingly.
Have a plan and a budget and stick to them.
Efficiencies are the holy grail in business – doing the same thing (or better) for less money. Yet, some are less obvious than others.
Improving employee welfare and workplace culture can reduce staff turnover – saving on recruitment, training and exit payouts while stemming the loss of skills, experience and intellectual property.
Don’t confuse busyness with productivity: teams should work on revenue-driving activities, not administration. Look for ways to simplify operations, freeing staff to work on core tasks.
Avoid sacrificing existing clients for new ones. It’s more expensive to attract new customers than to give existing ones more attention and value.
Automate inventory control and staff rosters to reduce errors. Running out of stock or being short-staffed ultimately means lost sales.
Streamline business finances and develop strong financial foundations. Invoicing promptly means money coming in sooner, while paying bills and taxes on-time eliminates interest and penalties.
“Prevention is better than cure” typically applies to health, but the same goes in business.
Review your risk mitigation strategies and stress test them for weaknesses. Risk mitigation includes:
insurance against business interruption and loss/damage/theft
contingency plans for key staff absences
automatic back-ups of essential software and data
security protocols, password management and staff cyber training to avoid fraud and hacks
work-from-home capabilities should staff be unable to attend the business premises (as COVID-19 has demonstrated)
Insurances and staff hours spent on these are up-front costs, but they’ll save big bucks should disaster strike.
4. Misplaced cost-cutting
Why slash the stationery budget only to blow those savings elsewhere? It sounds silly, yet many businesses fall into this trap. It’s important to deliver real savings.
For instance, stop paying rent on unused space – downsize to smaller premises or sub-let surplus space to subsidise the cost.
Upskill employees in revenue-generating activities to boost income, rather than fire them and face hefty exit payouts.
Don’t overlook taxes when looking for cost savings. Claim legitimate depreciation of business fit-outs, office furniture, vehicles and equipment. Update vehicle logbooks to claim eligible mileage allowances. Apply for relevant tax concessions and COVID stimulus.
“It’s cheaper to do it myself”, many business leaders claim. But are you sacrificing your ability to earn more in the process?
Outsourcing could involve delegating tasks to new or existing employees, hiring contractors or implementing new technologies.
6. Buying power
Consider how to get the best value for your money.
Interest rates are at record lows, making money cheaper to borrow to upgrade equipment or expand. Refinancing debts could also slash repayments. However, plan your finance needs ahead of time – cash flow quick-fixes like short-term loans typically cost more.
Could you buy the business premises in a self-managed super fund (SMSF)? That way, your retirement fund receives the rent rather than a third-party.
And avoid the “lazy tax”: annually reviewing subscriptions, utilities, loans and insurances can net substantial savings. Often, you don’t even need to change providers – just ask for a better rate or get them to price-match a competitor!
Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and author of – On Your Own Two Feet Steady Steps to Women’s Financial Independence. Helen is among the 1% of financial planners who hold a master’s degree in the field.
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Who among us isn’t ready to bid good riddance to the year 2020? The pandemic has upended life across the globe and that includes creating financial chaos and stress for people of all walks of life. The good news is that 2021 is just around the corner. The bad news is that there will be pandemic fallout to deal with in the year ahead, and that could mean a continued rocky ride for your personal finances.
That doesn’t mean postponing or eliminating financial plans and goals altogether. And it doesn’t mean 2021 will be a bust. Instead, you’ll need to be more focused, savvy, and strategic about money goals in the coming year, which is why we asked financial experts across the country to weigh in and provide tips and insights about how to prosper financially in 2021 despite all the uncertainties that lie ahead.
In times of uncertainty, it’s a good idea to create what’s known as a rolling budget, which is a budget that’s dynamic and changes throughout the year. This type of budget typically focuses on the near term, rather than the long term.
“You can’t always foresee every stumbling block in your financial future, so make sure to keep your budget bendable, not only judging the numbers you see at the moment but also make room for the surprises,” says Roy Ferman, founder and CEO of Seek Capital. “Keep a rolling budget and forecast that accounts for potential fluctuations — positive or negative.”
In other words, budget in a way that accounts for multiple real-world scenarios, says Ferman, creating a plan A, B, C, and possibly even D. “You want each plan fully mapped out as if it was plan A to keep you on top of any discrepancies. Allow yourself to come up with different variations, and allocate for those variations.”
Establish More Than One Stream of Income
Depending on how you define the data, anywhere from 20 million to 30 million people were unemployed or had their income affected by the pandemic, says Marco Sison, financial coach for Nomadic FIRE. To help protect yourself against the impacts of unemployment or reduced income, it’s a good idea to establish multiple streams of income.
“If one job or income stream is cut off, you still have other sources coming in to live off of,” says Sison. “Ideally, these income streams are passive: dividends, rental property, digital side businesses. If your hours get cut, or you lose your job, you can reduce your expenses and live off your side hustles without tapping your emergency fund.”
Budget for Saving
Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying “If you want to make saving a priority, take a look at how you budget. Do not save what is left after spending; instead spend what is left after saving.”
If you truly want to make saving a priority, particularly amid challenging economic times, you cannot plan to simply set aside what is left over, says Robert Johnson, a professor of finance, at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. “You don’t successfully build wealth by simply taking what you have left after all your expenses,” says Johnson. “We accomplish what we prioritize. Prioritize savings and invest those savings. Saving should be a line item on your budget.”
Develop an Investment Policy Statement
Anyone who makes investments should create what’s called an investment policy statement (IPS) and follow it, says Johnson at Creighton University. “An IPS is a written document that clearly sets out an investor’s return objectives and risk tolerance over that investor’s relevant time horizon, along with applicable constraints such as liquidity needs and tax circumstances,” explains Johnson. “The whole point of an IPS is to guide you through changing market conditions. It should not be changed as a result of market fluctuations.”
Avoid Credit-Card Debt
Credit-card debt is a slippery slope in the best of times. And when the economy is uncertain, it’s best to avoid using credit cards as much as possible. “It’s never advised to spend money you don’t have via revolving lines of credit. And psychologically making purchases via most credit cards makes us a lot less frugal and undisciplined,” says Adem Selita, CEO and co-founder of The Debt Relief Company. “Considering that interest rates are near all-time lows, paying 20% or more on credit-card debt is a terrible financial decision to make.”
Clear Outstanding Debts
One more note about credit-card debt, if you’re able: Wipe out all existing debt. That will be the biggest favor you can do yourself in terms of meeting financial goals in 2021 and laying the groundwork for success (and beyond), says David Meltzer of East Insurance Group. “Chip off your debt bit by bit by paying off a small portion each month,” says Meltzer. “And do some belt-tightening on your spending for the time being. Take a look at your expenses and see which ones you can let go, and which ones you need to minimize, in order to help clear debt.”
Streamline Your Budget
Study your cash flow, both your income and expenses and outline a realistic household budget, says Meltzer at East Insurance Group. “Your expenses should be exclusively necessities like house bills, groceries, food, mortgage, insurance, and savings,” says Meltzer. “There’s no room for gym memberships and Netflix subscriptions on a tight budget. Most importantly, keep track of your spending. At this point, each cent counts.”
Consider Living Below Your Means
While you’re busy outlining your month-to-month budget goals for 2021 and paring back your spending, you might consider establishing a plan to live well below your means.
“By spending less than you earn, you open up funds to put into a savings account for emergency situations, such as a pandemic, or the loss of a job,” says Mason Miranda, credit industry specialist for Credit Card Insider. “The more you save now, the more financially stable you’ll be later when a crisis hits. Depending on your goals and how much you can save, you could even avoid going into debt and pay for large purchases in cash.”
Prioritize Your Goals and Be Realistic
Prioritizing all of your financial goals allows you to put them into specific categories based on which goals you want to meet first, says George Birrell, CPA and founder of TaxHub. You’ll also want to set a realistic time frame for meeting those goals amid the uncertain economic landscape.
“Setting a realistic timeframe is very important,” says Birrell. “If you set a timeline for one year, but your expenses don’t allow for meeting that timeline or you don’t have the capacity to put in extra work to earn more, you’re not going to reach that goal. Look at it objectively and realistically.”
Set Milestones Toward Larger Goals
Think of a milestone as a smaller goal that helps you get to your larger goal, says entrepreneur Thierry Tremblay, CEO founder of the online database software company Kohezion.
“They are like guideposts on the trail — smaller tasks that you can do to help you stay in line with your overall goal,” says Tremblay. If you fail at various points along the way when pursuing financial goals, think of it as an opportunity to gain valuable insights about things that work and don’t work, says Tremblay. “When you move on to the next goal you’re trying to accomplish, you have an advantage because of the things you’ve learned from your failure,” adds Tremblay.
Start With What You Have
Financial advisers often recommended setting aside three to six months’ worth of income in an emergency fund, which can seem overwhelming if you’re living paycheck to paycheck as many are right now, says Emma Healey, family finance and budgeting expert and founder at Mum’s Money. Rather than giving up on establishing an emergency savings altogether in 2021, simply start smaller.
“Start with what you have. Even if you can only spare $5 a week, stashing it aside to help pad out your budget when times are tough,” says Healey. “It is a decision you’ll never regret. Add more as you can, but the most important thing is to start.”
Automate Your Savings, Debt, and Bill Payments
It’s hard to spend money if you’ve already sent it somewhere else, says Chelsie Moore, CFA and director, wealth management and financial planning for Country Financial. Create automatic debt payments, bill payments and automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account.
“A little bit adds up over time,” says Moore. “Automatic payments may help you avoid late payment penalties, which are a waste of money, and automatic savings can add up without effort or feelings of sacrifice.”
Meeting your financial goals in the best of times can often be challenging. But when the world is topsy-turvy it can be even more perplexing trying to figure out how to accomplish your goals once you’ve defined them. A personal finance professional can help you navigate the uncertainty and plot a path to success.
“Seek the advice and guidance of a financial professional who has the expertise to assist you,” says Tracey Bissett, CFA and president of Bissett Financial Fitness. “The best way to find one is to seek recommendations from someone you trust and then interview potential advisors to find the best fit. You should feel comfortable talking to the professional and asking them questions.”
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s important to remember as you embark upon 2021, and any year for that matter, that financial fitness is a lifelong journey. “Take small, imperfect actions daily to increase your financial knowledge and movement towards your goals. If you make a misstep, be kind to yourself and get back on track,” says Bissett.
Happiness, experts say, is U-shaped: generally speaking, we are happy/full of life satisfaction as young adults but, as we reach middle age, we become less satisfied, with a trough in one’s early 50s; from this trough we rebound to ever-increasing satisfaction levels as we age. It’s remarkable, really, considering the physical infirmities we face, plus financial worries, loss of loved ones, and more. What explains this? We become wiser and we are able to see all of life’s ups and downs with a greater sense of perspective.
But what if that’s not true?
A new working paper by Peter Hudomiet, Michael D. Hurd and Susann Rohwedder, researchers at RAND Corporation, suggests an entirely different answer: older individuals have greater life satisfaction because the less-satisfied folk have been weeded-out. And by “weeded-out” I mean that they’re dead or otherwise unable to reply, because the likelihood of dying is greater for those who have less life satisfaction. When they apply calculations to try to strip out this impact, the effect is dramatic: rather than life satisfaction climbing steadily from the mid-50s to early 70s, then remaining steady, they see a steady drop from the early 70s as people age.
Here are the three key graphs (used with permission):
First, life satisfaction plotted by age without any special adjustments:
And, third, the same life satisfaction graph, adjusted to take into account the impact of the disproportionality of deaths:
In this graph, the blue line represents the unadjusted outputs from their calculations, the orange line is smoothed, and the grey line adds in demographic, labor market and health controls, to strip out the impact of, for example, people in poor health being less satisfied and try to isolate the impact solely of age.
Here are the details on this calculation.
The data they use for their analysis comes from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a long-running survey of individuals age 51 and older at the University of Michigan, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. It is a longitudinal study; that is, it surveys the same group of people every two years in order to see how their responses change over time, adding in new “refresher cohorts” to keep the survey going. The survey asks about many topics, including income, health, housing, and the like, and in 2008, the survey also began to ask life satisfaction, on a scale of 1 to 5 (”not at all satisfied” to “completely satisfied”).
One simple way of analyzing the data is to look at how life satisfaction ratings vary based on survey participants’ characteristics. The average reported life satisfaction of those between ages 65 – 74 is 3.91, just slightly below “4 – very satisfied.” But those who rate their health as “poor” average out to 3.13, or not much more than “3 – somewhat satisfied,” and those who rate their health as “excellent” average to 4.34. Those who have 2 or more ADL (activities of daily living) limitations some out to an average of 3.32 vs. 3.97 for those with no such limits. Those who are in the poorest quarter of the survey group come out to 3.7 vs. 4.07 for the wealthiest quarter. (See the bottom of this article for the full table; this table and the following graphs are used with permission.)
But here’s the statistic that throws a monkey-wrench into the data:
“On average, the 2-year mortality rate [that is, from one survey round to the next] is 4.4% among those who are very or completely satisfied with their lives, while it is 7.3% (or 66% higher) among those who are not or somewhat satisfied with their lives.”
As a result, “those who are more satisfied with their lives live longer and make up a larger fraction of the sample at older ages.”
Now, this does not say that being pessimistic about one’s life causes one to be more likely to die. Nor does it say that this pessimism is justified by being in ill-health and at risk of dying. But this statistical connection, as well as further analysis of survey drop-outs for other reasons (such as dementia) is the basis for a regression analysis which results in the graph above.
What’s more, the original “inventor” of the concept of the life satisfaction curve, David Blanchflower, published a follow-up study just after this one. One of their key concepts is the notion of using “controls” to try to identify changes in life satisfaction solely due to age rather than changes in income over one’s lifetime, for example, or other factors, and there has been extensive debate about whether or to what degree this is appropriate, given that the reality of any individual’s life experience is that one does experience changes in marital and family status, employment status, and the like.
Having received pushback for this concept, they defend it but also insist that the U-shape holds regardless of whether “controls” are used or not. At the same time, Blanchflower is quite insistent that the “U” is universal across cultures, though (see my prior article on the topic) it really seems to require quite some effort to make this U appear outside the Anglosphere, which is all the more interesting in light of the John Henrich “WEIRDest people” contention (see my October article) that various traits that had been viewed by psychologists as universally-generalizable are really quite distinctive to Western cultures and, more distinctively, the United States.
But here’s the fundamental question: why does it matter?
On an individual level, to believe that there is a trough and a rebound offers hope for those stuck in a midlife rut. It’s a form of self-help, the adult version of the “it gets better” campaign for teenagers.
On a societal level, the recognition of a drop in life satisfaction for the middle-aged might be explained, by someone with the perspective of the upper-middle class, as the result of dissatisfaction with a stagnating career, failure to achieve the corner office, the challenge of shepherding kids into college, and the like. In fact, when I wrote about the topic two years ago, that’s how the material I read generally presented the issue.
But Blanchflower’s new paper recognizes greater stakes: “These dips in well-being are associated with higher levels of depression, including chronic depression, difficulty sleeping, and even suicide. In the U.S., deaths of despair are most likely to occur in the middle-aged years, and the patterns are robustly associated with unhappiness and stress. Across countries chronic depression and suicide rates peak in midlife.” (In the United States, among men, this is not true; men over 75 have the highest suicide rate.)
And what of the decline in life satisfaction among the elderly?
The premise that the elderly become increasingly satisfied with their lives as they age is a very appealing one, not just because it provides hope for us individually as we age. It serves as confirmation of a more fundamental belief, that the elderly are a source of wisdom and perspective on life. Although it is Asian cultures which are particularly known for veneration of the elderly, the importance of caring for those in need is just as much a moral imperative in Western societies, even if without the same sense of “veneration” or of valuing them to a greater degree than others in need.
Consider, after all, that the evening news likes to feature stories of oldsters running marathons or competing in triathlons or even just having a sunny outlook on life; no one likes to think of the grumpy grandmother or grandmother from one’s childhood as representative of “old age.” In this respect, “old folks are more satisfied with life” provided an easy to make the elderly more “venerable.” Hudomiet’s research might force us to think a bit harder.
Yes, I’m a nerd, and an actuary to boot. Armed with an M.A. in medieval history and the F.S.A. actuarial credential, with 20 years of experience at a major benefits consulting firm, and having blogged as “Jane the Actuary” since 2013, I enjoy reading and writing about retirement issues, including retirement income adequacy, reform proposals and international comparisons.
So, are you setting yourself up for true happiness as a retiree? Sure, you’re planning the money piece, and that’s important. But, there’s also the personal piece of the retirement equation that’s just as important as the money part. Read more: https://www.wesmoss.com/news/7-skills… The 4% Rule: https://www.wesmoss.com/news/the-new-… Retirement Calculator: https://www.yourwealth.com/retirement… Send me your questions directly at https://bit.ly/3dPKcvd (contact box in top right corner) You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think https://bit.ly/3kiRhXJ Money Matters with Wes Moss podcast https://spoti.fi/3jk9wL8 or on Apple Podcasts https://apple.co/3kwKvhj Twitter: https://bit.ly/2HqnWfe Facebook: https://bit.ly/3kvrHi4 Check out my website for more financial tools and articles: https://bit.ly/3dPKcvd Please note, this information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. There is no guarantee offered that investment return, yield, or performance will be achieved. There will be periods of performance fluctuations, including periods of negative returns. Past performance is not indicative of future results when considering any investment vehicle. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax, or investment advisor before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions.