12 tips for your retirement planning

| September 4, 2015 | 1 Comment

PrintRetirement might be years off or just around the corner, but whatever your personal situation, some basic planning elements apply to just about everyone.

Mary Harens, with 20 years of experience in the financial field, offered a dozen items to consider when planning for retirement. Harens, a parishioner of St. Louis, King of France in St. Paul, often advises those preparing for their golden years.

Mary Harens

Mary Harens

Here are 12 areas she suggests to think about as you do your own preparation:

  1. Retirement is a very personal entity. “Every family, every couple, every person has a different scenario,” Harens said, and a strategy that works for one’s friends and acquaintances might not work for you.
  2. Have a good sense of your monthly bills and spending. “Know what you’re doing now with your money,” Harens said. Software that is readily available, or even a simple spreadsheet, can help you track your expenses.
  3. Pay down debt. “Lose the credit card debt!” she stressed. Whether you should withdraw money from your assets (savings, retirement account, investments) depends on your situation: See No. 1 above. Rule of thumb for withdrawing from one’s 401K to pay bills: If you are younger than 59 1/2, don’t do it.
  4. Be current on tax laws. Tax laws change, and knowing the tax consequences of your decisions can spare you grief and expensive mistakes, Harens said. Consult a CPA with any questions.
  5. The cost of living has a personal dimension. “Some expenses we have control over, some we don’t,” Harens said. How much people travel or spend on entertainment is under their control; health care insurance and medical and dental bills might not be. “There is a difference between needs and wants,” Harens warns.
  6. Health care. “Typically health care costs will increase, not decrease,” she said. This is important to consider especially for those whose health care insurance has been provided as part of their employee benefits and will be no longer. “Look into long-term care insurance,” Harens suggested; it might be something you need.
  7. Take care of yourself first. “Think of this not in a selfish way but in a prudential way,” Harens said. Trying to give financial help to children for college might backfire in the not too distant future. Get creative on funding for a child’s college education, but not at the expense of your own retirement. Remember what they say on airplanes; Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others so that you will tbe able to help them.
  8. Learn what you need to about Social Security. Preregister for a Social Security account, something that can be done at http://www.socialsecurity.gov. Know that the process to begin receiving Social Security funds takes several months. “There are decisions to be made, and there are resources to help with those decisions,” including information on the Social Security website, Harens said. Professional help from a financial advisor or elder care attorney is available. In Minnesota, know that there may be tax consequences that impact your Social Security payout, depending on how much income you make from a part-time job, for example.
  9. Understand how your retirement accounts work. Knowing the dynamics of your 401k, Roth IRA and other retirement funds, because “it’s a different game when we retire,” Harens said. “Withdrawals all impact our income, which effect our tax scenarios.” Every penny, nickel and dime in this country has a relationship with the IRS.
  10. Think carefully about your investments. “Conventional wisdom is that we should spread our investments differently as we age,” Harens said. “As we get older, prudence says put more into guaranteed or conservative accounts.” Personal tolerance for risk comes into play here. “No risk and no fees is nice,” Harens said.
  11. Don’t delay estate planning, and update documents as needed. Review your wills, trusts, life insurance, investments, etc. Keep beneficiaries current. “Know who your beneficiaries are,” Harens said. “It’s easy to update.”
  12. Consult a professional. A trustworthy financial planner can help you avoid costly missteps with many of the points above. Your bank or credit union might be a source to consider, and Harens suggested consulting a few professionals, including those recommended by friends. You want to know how long they’ve been in the industry. Ask friends why they trust the people they recommend. “I always check the back of Catholic church bulletins, ads in The Catholic Spirit, or Relevant Radio,” Harens said. “If I have to start somewhere, I like the idea of a faith-based resource. At least I know right away that they support something I support!”

And one more thing

Along with the above elements of planning, Harens added an important suggestion: Plan to give of yourself.

“Volunteer. Mentor someone. Give of your time and talent,” said Harens, who volunteers herself on the board of the Cathedral of St. Paul Heritage Foundation as well as at her own parish.

“Retirees have a a wealth of experience and knowledge galore to share with those of us coming up behind them.”

Mary Harens is a sales representative of Catholic United Financial in St. Paul. Reach her at (651) 295-2040 or mharens@catholicunited.org.

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Category: Family Finances