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Medicaid Planning Basics

Medicaid Planning Basics

The best time to plan for the possibility of nursing home care is when you’re still healthy. By doing so, you may be able to pay for your long-term care and preserve assets for your loved ones. How? Through Medicaid planning.

Eligibility for Medicaid depends on your state’s asset and income-level requirements

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides medical assistance to various low-income individuals, including those who are aged (i.e., 65 or older), disabled, or blind. It is the single largest payer of nursing home bills in America. It is the last resort for people who have no other way to finance their long-term care. Although Medicaid eligibility rules vary from state to state, federal minimum standards and guidelines must be observed.

In addition to you meeting your state’s medical and functional criteria for nursing home care, your assets and monthly income must each fall below certain levels if you are to qualify for Medicaid. However, several assets and a certain amount of income may be exempt or not counted.

Medicaid planning can help you meet your state’s requirements

To determine whether you qualify for Medicaid, your state may count only the income and assets that are legally available to you for paying bills. That’s where Medicaid planning comes in. Over the years, a number of tools and strategies have arisen that might help you qualify for Medicaid sooner.

In general, Medicaid planning seeks to accomplish the following goals:

  • Exchanging countable assets for exempt assets to help you meet Medicaid eligibility requirements
  • Preserving assets for your loved ones
  • Providing for your healthy spouse (if you’re married)

Let’s look at these in turn.

You may be able to exchange countable assets for exempt assets

Countable assets are those that are not exempt by state law or otherwise made inaccessible to the state for Medicaid purposes. The total value of your countable asset will determine your eligibility for Medicaid. Under federal guidelines, each state compiles a list of exempt assets. This list includes such items as the family home, prepaid burial plots and contracts, one automobile, and term life insurance.

Through Medicaid planning, you may be able to rearrange your finances so that countable assets are exchanged for exempt assets or otherwise made inaccessible to the state. For example, you may be able to:

  • Pay off the mortgage on your family home
  • Make home improvements and repairs
  • Pay off your debts
  • Purchase a car for your healthy spouse
  • And prepay burial expenses

Irrevocable trusts can help you leave something for your loved ones

Why not simply liquidate all of your assets to pay for your nursing home care? After all, Medicaid will eventually kick in (in most states) once you’ve exhausted your personal resources. The reason is simple: You want to assist your loved ones financially.

There are many ways to potentially preserve assets for your loved ones. One way is to use an irrevocable trust. Property placed in an irrevocable trust will be excluded from your financial picture, for Medicaid purposes. If you name a proper beneficiary, the principal that you deposit into the trust will be sheltered from the state and can be preserved for your heirs. Typically, the trust must be in place and funded for a specific period of time for this strategy to be an effective Medicaid planning tool.

For information about Medicaid planning trusts, consult an experienced attorney.

If you’re married, an annuity can help you provide for your healthy spouse

Nursing homes are expensive. If you must go to one, will your spouse have enough money to live on? With a little planning, the answer is yes. Here’s how Medicaid affects a married couple. A couple’s assets are pooled together when the state is considering the eligibility of one spouse for Medicaid. The healthy spouse is entitled to keep a spousal resource allowance that generally amounts to one-half of the assets. This may not amount to much money over the long term.

A healthy spouse may want to use jointly owned, countable assets to buy a single premium immediate annuity to benefit himself or herself. Converting countable assets into an income stream is a plus. This is because each spouse is entitled to keep all of his or her own income, in contrast to the pooling of assets. By purchasing an immediate annuity in this manner, the institutionalized spouse can more easily qualify for Medicaid. The healthy spouse can enjoy a higher standard of living.

Beware of certain Medicaid planning risks

Medicaid planning is not without certain risks and drawbacks. In particular, you should be aware of look-back periods, possible disqualification for Medicaid, and estate recoveries.

When you apply for Medicaid, the state has the right to review, or look back, at your finances for a period of months before the date you applied for assistance. In general, a 60-month look-back period exists for transfers of countable assets for less than fair market value. Transfers of countable assets for less than fair market value made during the look-back period will usually result in a waiting period before you can start to collect Medicaid. If you give your house to your kids the year before you enter a nursing home, you’ll be ineligible for Medicaid for quite some time.

Also, you should know that Medicaid planning is more effective in some states than in others. In addition, federal law encourages states to seek reimbursement from Medicaid recipients for Medicaid payments made on their behalf. This means that your state may be able to place a lien on your property while you are alive. Or, seek reimbursement from your estate after you die. Make sure to consult an attorney experienced with Medicaid planning and the laws in your state before taking any action.

If you’re thinking of starting your medicaid planning, contact one of our advisors today

At Sterling Group, we offer complimentary financial consultations. Our advisors can review your current financial plans and help you plan for the future. Contact us today for your complimentary review!

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Evaluating an Early Retirement Offer

Evaluating an Early Retirement Offer

In today’s corporate environment, cost cutting, restructuring, and downsizing are the norm, and many employers are offering their employees early retirement packages. But how do you know if the seemingly attractive offer you’ve received is a good one? By evaluating it carefully to make sure that the offer fits your needs.

What’s the severance package?

Most early retirement offers include a severance package that is based on your annual salary and years of service at the company. For example, your employer might offer you one or two weeks’ salary (or even a month’s salary) for each year of service. Make sure that the severance package will be enough for you to make the transition to the next phase of your life. Also, make sure that you understand the payout options available to you. You may be able to take a lump-sum severance payment and then invest the money to provide income, or use it to meet large expenses. Or, you may be able to take deferred payments over several years to spread out your income tax bill on the money.

How does all of this affect your pension?

If your employer has a traditional pension plan, the retirement benefits you receive from the plan are based on your age, years of service, and annual salary. You typically must work until your company’s normal retirement age (usually 65) to receive the maximum benefits. This means that you may receive smaller benefits if you accept an offer to retire early. The difference between this reduced pension and a full pension could be large, because pension benefits typically accrue faster as you near retirement. However, your employer may provide you with larger pension benefits until you can start collecting Social Security at age 62. Or, your employer might boost your pension benefits by adding years to your age, length of service, or both. These types of pension sweeteners are key features to look for in your employer’s offer–especially if a reduced pension won’t give you enough income.

Does the offer include health insurance?

Does your employer’s early retirement offer include medical coverage for you and your family? If not, look at your other health insurance options, such as COBRA, a private policy, or dependent coverage through your spouse’s employer-sponsored plan. Because your health-care costs will probably increase as you age, an offer with no medical coverage may not be worth taking if these other options are unavailable or too expensive. Even if the offer does include medical coverage, make sure that you understand and evaluate the coverage. Will you be covered for life, or at least until you’re eligible for Medicare? Is the coverage adequate and affordable (some employers may cut benefits or raise premiums for early retirees)? If your employer’s coverage doesn’t meet your health insurance needs, you may be able to fill the gaps with other insurance.

What other benefits are available?

Some early retirement offers include employer-sponsored life insurance. This can help you meet your life insurance needs, and the coverage probably won’t cost you much. However, continued employer coverage is usually limited or may not be offered at all. This may not be a problem if you already have enough life insurance elsewhere, or if you’re financially secure and don’t need life insurance. Otherwise, weigh your needs against the cost of buying an individual policy. You may also be able to convert some of your old employer coverage to an individual policy, though your premium will be higher than when you were employed.

In addition, a good early retirement offer may include other perks. Your employer may provide you and other early retirees with financial planning assistance. This can come in handy if you feel overwhelmed by all of the financial issues that early retirement brings. Your employer may also offer job placement assistance to help you find other employment. If you have company stock options, your employer may give you more time to exercise them. Other benefits, such as educational assistance, may also be available. Check with your employer to find out exactly what its offer includes.

Can you afford to retire early?

To decide if you should accept an early retirement offer, you can’t just look at the offer itself. You have to consider your total financial picture. Can you afford to retire early? Even if you can, will you still be able to reach all of your retirement goals? These are tough questions that a financial professional should help you sort out, but you can take some basic steps yourself.

Identify your sources of retirement income and the yearly amount you can expect from each source. Then, estimate your annual retirement expenses (don’t forget taxes and inflation) and make sure your income will be more than enough to meet them. You may find that you can accept your employer’s offer and probably still have the retirement lifestyle you want. But remember, these are only estimates. Build in a comfortable cushion in case your expenses increase, your income drops, or you live longer than expected.

If you don’t think you can afford early retirement, it may be better not to accept your employer’s offer. The longer you stay in the workforce, the shorter your retirement will be and the less money you’ll need to fund it. Working longer may also allow you to build larger savings in your IRAs, retirement plans, and investments. However, if you really want to retire early, making some smart choices may help you overcome the obstacles. Try to lower or eliminate some of your retirement expenses. Consider a more aggressive approach to investing. Take a part-time job for extra income. Finally, think about electing early Social Security benefits at age 62, but remember that your monthly benefit will be smaller if you do this.

What if you can’t afford to retire? Finding a new job

You may find yourself having to accept an early retirement offer, even though you can’t afford to retire. One way to make up for the difference between what you receive from your early retirement package and your old paycheck is to find a new job, but that doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your former line of work for a new career. You can start by finding out if your former employer would hire you as a consultant. Or, you may find that you would like to turn what was once just a hobby into a second career. Then there is always the possibility of finding full-time or part-time employment with a new company.

However, for the employee who has 20 years of service with the same company, the prospect of job hunting may be terrifying. If you have been out of the job market for a long time, you might not feel comfortable or have experience marketing yourself for a new job. Some companies provide career counseling to assist employees in re-entering the workforce. If your company does not provide you with this service, you may want to look into corporate outplacement firms and nonprofit organizations in your area that deal with career transition.

Note: Many early retirement offers contain noncompetition agreements or offer monetary inducements on the condition that you agree not to work for a competitor. However, you’ll generally be able to work for a new employer and still receive your pension and other retirement plan benefits.

What will happen if you say no?

If you refuse early retirement, you may continue to thrive with your employer. You could earn promotions and salary raises that boost your pension. You could receive a second early retirement offer that’s better than the first one. But, you may not be so lucky. Consider whether your position could be eliminated down the road.

If the consequences of saying no are hard to predict, use your best judgment and seek professional advice. But don’t take too long. You may have only a short window of time, typically 60 to 90 days, to make your decision.

If you are presented with an early retirement offer, let us help

At Sterling Group, our motivation is helping you meet your financial goals. Contact us today for your complimentary financial review. Our expert advisors can help you make the best decision for your financial future and determine if early retirement is possible for you.

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Health Insurance in Retirement

Health Insurance in Retirement

At any age, health care is a priority. When you retire, however, you will probably focus more on health care than ever before. Staying healthy is your goal, and this can mean more visits to the doctor for preventive tests and routine checkups. There’s also a chance that your health will decline as you grow older, increasing your need for costly prescription drugs or medical treatments. That’s why having health insurance is extremely important.

Retirement–your changing health insurance needs

If you are 65 or older when you retire, your worries may lessen when it comes to paying for health care. You are most likely eligible for certain health benefits from Medicare, a federal health insurance program, upon your 65th birthday. But if you retire before age 65, you’ll need some way to pay for your health care until Medicare kicks in. Employers may offer extensive health insurance coverage to their retiring employees, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If your employer doesn’t extend health benefits to you, you may need to buy a private health insurance policy. Or, extend your employer-sponsored coverage through COBRA.

But remember, Medicare won’t pay for long-term care if you ever need it. You’ll need to pay for that out of pocket or rely on benefits from long-term care insurance (LTCI). Or, if your assets and/or income are low enough to allow you to qualify, Medicaid.

More about Medicare

As mentioned, most Americans automatically become entitled to Medicare when they turn 65. In fact, if you’re already receiving Social Security benefits, you won’t even have to apply–you’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare. However, you will have to decide whether you need only Part A coverage (which is premium-free for most retirees) or if you want to also purchase Part B coverage.

Part A, commonly referred to as the hospital insurance portion of Medicare. It can help pay for your home health care, hospice care, and inpatient hospital care. Part B helps cover other medical care such as physician care, laboratory tests, and physical therapy.

You may also choose to enroll in a managed care plan or private fee-for-service plan under Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage). This is if you want to pay fewer out-of-pocket health-care costs. If you don’t already have adequate prescription drug coverage, you should also consider joining a Medicare prescription drug plan. This can be offered in your area by a private company or insurer that has been approved by Medicare.

Unfortunately, Medicare won’t cover all of your health-care expenses. For some types of care, you’ll have to satisfy a deductible and make co-payments. That’s why many retirees purchase a Medigap policy.

What is Medigap?

Unless you can afford to pay for the things that Medicare doesn’t cover, you may want to buy some type of Medigap policy when you sign up for Medicare Part B. There are 12 standard Medigap policies available. Each of these policies offers certain basic core benefits, and all but the most basic policy (Plan A) offer various combinations of additional benefits designed to cover what Medicare does not. Although not all Medigap plans are available in every state, you should be able to find a plan that best meets your needs and your budget.

When you first enroll in Medicare Part B at age 65 or older, you have a six-month Medigap open enrollment period. During that time, you have a right to buy the Medigap policy of your choice from a private insurance company, regardless of any health problems you may have. The company cannot refuse you a policy or charge you more than other open enrollment applicants.

Thinking about the future–long-term care insurance and Medicaid

The possibility of a prolonged stay in a nursing home weighs heavily on the minds of many older Americans and their families. That’s hardly surprising, especially considering the high cost of long-term care.

Many people in their 50s and 60s look into purchasing LTCI. A good LTCI policy can cover the cost of care in a nursing home, an assisted-living facility, or even your own home. But if you’re interested, don’t wait too long to buy it–you’ll need to be in good health. In addition, the older you are, the higher the premium you’ll pay.

You may also be able to rely on Medicaid to pay for long-term care if your assets and/or income are low enough to allow you to qualify. But check first with a financial professional or an attorney experienced in Medicaid planning. The rules surrounding this issue are numerous and complicated and can affect you, your spouse, and your beneficiaries and/or heirs.

Are you nearing retirement? Talk with an advisor today about your health insurance options

We welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and review your current financial situation. We can discuss what plan works best for you and your unique retirement goals. Set up a complimentary consultation today with one of our financial advisors!

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Borrowing or Withdrawing Money from Your 401(k)

Borrowing or Withdrawing Money from Your 401(k)

If you have a 401(k) plan at work and need some cash, you might be tempted to borrow or withdraw money from it. But keep in mind that the purpose of a 401(k) is to save for retirement. Take money out of it now, and you’ll risk running out of money during retirement. You may also face stiff tax consequences and penalties for withdrawing money before age 59½. Still, if you’re facing a financial emergency–for instance, your child’s college tuition is almost due and your 401(k) is your only source of available funds–borrowing or withdrawing money from your 401(k) may be your only option.

401(k) Plan loans

You need to find out if you’re allowed to borrow from your 401(k) plan and under what circumstances. Check with your plan’s administrator or read your summary plan description. Some employers allow 401(k) loans only in cases of financial hardship, but you may be able to borrow money to buy a car, to improve your home, or to use for other purposes.

Generally, obtaining a 401(k) loan is easy–there’s little paperwork, and there’s no credit check. The fees are limited too. You may be charged a small processing fee, but that’s generally it.

How much can you borrow?

No matter how much you have in your 401(k) plan, you probably won’t be able to borrow the entire sum. Generally, you can’t borrow more than $50,000 or one-half of your vested plan benefits, whichever is less. An exception applies if your account value is less than $20,000. In this case, you may be able to borrow up to $10,000, even if this is your entire balance.

What are the requirements for repaying the loan?

Typically, you have to repay money you’ve borrowed from your 401(k) within five years by making regular payments of principal and interest at least quarterly. However, if you use the funds to purchase a primary residence, you may have a much longer period of time to repay the loan.

Make sure you follow to the letter the repayment requirements for your loan. If you don’t repay the loan as required, the money you borrowed will be considered a taxable distribution. If you’re under age 59½, you’ll owe a 10 percent federal penalty tax, as well as regular income tax on the outstanding loan balance. This is other than the portion that represents any after-tax or Roth contributions you’ve made to the plan.

What are the advantages of borrowing money from your 401(k)?

  • You won’t pay taxes and penalties on the amount you borrow, as long as the loan is repaid on time
  • Interest rates on 401(k) plan loans must be consistent with the rates charged by banks and other commercial institutions for similar loans
  • The interest you pay on borrowed funds is generally credited to your own plan account; you pay interest to yourself, not to a bank or other lender

What are the disadvantages of borrowing money from your 401(k)?

  • If you don’t repay your plan loan when required, it will generally be treated as a taxable distribution.
  • If you leave your employer’s service (voluntarily or not) and still have an outstanding balance on a plan loan, you’ll usually be required to repay the loan in full within 60 days. Otherwise, the outstanding balance will be treated as a taxable distribution. You will owe a 10 percent penalty tax in addition to regular income taxes if you’re under age 59½.
  • Loan interest is generally not tax deductible (unless the loan is secured by your principal residence).
  • You’ll lose out on any tax-deferred interest that may have accrued on the borrowed funds had they remained in your 401(k).
  • Loan payments are made with after-tax dollars.

Hardship withdrawals

Your 401(k) plan may have a provision that allows you to withdraw money from the plan while you’re still employed. This is if you can demonstrate “heavy and immediate” financial need. As well, you have no other resources you can use to meet that need. For example, you can’t borrow from a commercial lender or from a retirement account and you have no other available savings.. It’s up to your employer to determine which financial needs qualify. Many employers allow hardship withdrawals only for the following reasons:

  • Paying the medical expenses of you, your spouse, your children, your other dependents, or your plan beneficiary
  • To pay the burial or funeral expenses of your parent, your spouse, your children, your other dependents, or your plan beneficiary
  • Pay a maximum of 12 months worth of tuition and related educational expenses for post-secondary education for you, your spouse, your children, your other dependents, or your plan beneficiary
  • Pay for costs related to the purchase of your principal residence
  • To make payments to prevent eviction from or foreclosure on your principal residence
  • To pay expenses for the repair of damage to your principal residence after certain casualty losses

You may also be allowed to withdraw funds to pay income tax and/or penalties on the hardship withdrawal itself. This is if these are due.

Your employer will generally require that you submit your request for a hardship withdrawal in writing.

How much can you withdraw?

Generally, you can’t withdraw more than the total amount you’ve contributed to the plan. This is minus the amount of any previous hardship withdrawals you’ve made. In some cases, though, you may be able to withdraw the earnings on contributions you’ve made. Check with your plan administrator for more information on the rules that apply to withdrawals from your 401(k) plan.

What are the advantages of withdrawing money from your 401(k) in cases of hardship?

The option to take a hardship withdrawal can come in very handy if you really need money and you have no other assets to draw on, and your plan does not allow loans (or if you can’t afford to make loan payments).

What are the disadvantages of withdrawing money from your 401(k) in cases of hardship?

  • Taking a hardship withdrawal will reduce the size of your retirement nest egg. The funds you withdraw will no longer grow tax deferred.
  • Hardship withdrawals are generally subject to federal (and possibly state) income tax. A 10 percent federal penalty tax may also apply if you’re under age 59½.
  • If you make a hardship withdrawal of your Roth 401(k) contributions, only the portion of the withdrawal representing earnings will be subject to tax and penalties.
  • You may not be able to contribute to your 401(k) plan for six months following a hardship distribution.

What else do I need to know?

  • If your employer makes contributions to your 401(k) plan you may be able to withdraw those dollars once you become vested. Tthat is, once you own your employer’s contributions. Check with your plan administrator for your plan’s withdrawal rules.
  • If you are a qualified individual impacted by certain natural disasters, or if you are a reservist called to active duty after September 11, 2001, special rules may apply to you.

Before you borrow or withdraw from your 401(k), speak with an experienced advisor

No matter what your situation is, know that there is help here at Sterling Group United. We work closely with our clients to find the best level support for you. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Your Home as a Source of Dollars in Retirement

Your Home as a Source of Dollars in Retirement

If you own a home, you may be wealthier than you think. The equity in your home could be one of your largest assets. This is especially if your mortgage has been paid down over the years or paid off. This home equity can be a valuable source of extra income during your retirement years.

How do you tap your home equity?

There are two ways to tap your home equity if you’re retired or approaching retirement and do not want to make mortgage payments. You can trade down or you can use a reverse mortgage. Trading down involves selling your present home and replacing it with a smaller, less expensive home. A reverse mortgage is a home mortgage in which the lender makes monthly payments to you. Both of these strategies can give you substantial additional income during retirement.

You could get money from your home by taking a home equity loan, where you place a regular mortgage on your home. However, you must repay the home equity loan, with interest, like other regular home mortgages.

Trading down can give you increased income

If your home is larger than you need, trading down to a smaller place may be a good way to increase your retirement income. The difference between the price that you receive for your present home and the cost of a smaller new home can be added to your retirement funds. This can provide you with additional investment income.

The amount of cash that you can get by trading down depends on the value of your present home, the cost of purchasing a new home, and the costs involved in the trade . You should estimate these amounts to get some idea of the net amount that you will receive. To check the present value of your home, you should get an estimate of its selling price from two or three real estate agents. You should also get an estimate of the cost of your replacement home by shopping around for the type of home that you think you’ll want.

If you think that the tax consequences of trading down are a drawback, think again. You may be able to exclude from federal taxation up to $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re married and file a joint return) of any resulting capital gain. To qualify, you generally must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for a total of two out of five years before the sale. An individual, or either spouse in a married couple, can generally use this exemption only once every two years. However, even if you don’t meet these tests, a partial exemption may be available.

Trading down can reduce your housing costs

The other important financial benefit of trading down is that it reduces housing costs–often substantially. A smaller home usually means lower real estate taxes and smaller bills for heating, cooling, insurance, and maintenance costs. If your move is from a single-family house to a condominium, your costs will be reduced even more. Outside painting, roof repair, landscaping, and similar costs disappear into lower monthly condo fees. You should carefully estimate the amount of the cost savings that you’ll get from trading down. Compare the annual cost of maintaining your present home with the expected annual cost of maintaining your new home. Be sure to prorate expenses that do not occur regularly, such as indoor and outdoor painting and roof repairs.

But trading down may have disadvantages

Consider the possible drawbacks of trading down. For instance, you may not want to reduce your living space by moving to a smaller home. Or, you may not be able to find a smaller home as attractive as your present home. Another common problem with trading down occurs if you are strongly attached to your present home. You may not want to be uprooted from your home and the social network around it. Still, you may also be troubled by worries that afflict many older homeowners. For example, rising property taxes, the threat of escalating insurance, and the unexpected cost of major repairs. You may decide that trading down is warranted to lighten these worries as well as your financial burden.

If you sell your home at a gain and aren’t eligible for the capital gain homesale exclusion, you’ll have to pay federal income taxes. The amount owed will be the difference between the selling price and your adjusted basis. This is the initial cost of your home, plus amounts you’ve paid for capital improvements, less any depreciation and casualty losses claimed for tax purposes, in the home.

A reverse mortgage can also give you increased income

If you are older and have substantial equity in your home, a reverse mortgage can give you a valuable supplemental source of retirement income. You can receive this income based on the equity that you have built up over the years in your home, without having to repay the reverse mortgage during your life. The amount of the monthly payment you receive from a reverse mortgage depends on four factors:

  • Your age
  • The amount of equity in your home
  • The interest rate charged by the lender
  • Closing costs

The older you are and the more the equity in your home, the larger your monthly payments will be. Also, a lower interest rate and lower closing costs will increase your payments.

A reverse mortgage lets you keep your present home for life

As discussed, you may not want to trade down for a variety of reasons, including attachment to your present home. With a reverse mortgage, you can increase your income and continue to live in your present home for life. The mortgage typically becomes due when you no longer live in the home.

When reverse mortgage payments last as long as you live in your home, the mortgage is called tenure reverse mortgage. You can get other types of reverse mortgages, including an annuity advance reverse mortgage. With an annuity mortgage, payments last as long as you live. This is regardless of whether you continue to live in your home.

But a reverse mortgage is not without drawbacks

With a reverse mortgage, you must mortgage your home to the lender. Each payment that you receive from the lender increases the amount of principal and interest that you owe on the mortgage. Mortgage typically does not become due while you’re still living in the home. The equity value of your home is reduced by each payment that you receive. This reduction in the equity value of your home may have a negative effect on your children’s ultimate inheritance.

If you face a retirement income shortage, this equity reduction may be preferable to a reduction in your standard of living. Also, in the rare case where the value of your home appreciates more rapidly than the mortgage loan increases, equity reduction does not occur.

A reverse mortgage may have other drawbacks, including:

  • High up-front costs: The closing costs for a reverse mortgage normally exceed the closing costs for a conventional mortgage. If you plan to remain in your home for only a few years, a reverse mortgage may not be cost effective.
  • No reduction in homeowner costs. Unlike trading down to a home with lower housing expenses, a reverse mortgage does not reduce housing costs. Since you stay in your home, you still face real estate taxes, insurance, repairs, and other costs associated with the home.

Are you considering using your home as a source of income?

Set up a complimentary consultation with one of our advisors. Contact us today to learn more about the ways we can help you achieve your financial goals for retirement.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Saving for Retirement and a Child’s Education at the Same Time

Saving for Retirement and a Child’s Education at the Same Time

You want to retire comfortably when the time comes. You also want to help your child go to college. So how do you juggle the two? The truth is, saving for your retirement and your child’s education at the same time can be a challenge. But take heart–you may be able to reach both goals if you make some smart choices now.

Know what your financial needs are

The first step is to determine what your financial needs are for each goal. Answering the following questions can help you get started:

For retirement:

  • How many years until you retire?
  • Does your company offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan or a pension plan? Do you participate? If so, what’s your balance? Can you estimate what your balance will be when you retire?
  • How much do you expect to receive in Social Security benefits? (You can estimate this amount by using your Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement, now mailed every year by the Social Security Administration.)
  • What standard of living do you hope to have in retirement? For example, do you want to travel extensively, or will you be happy to stay in one place and live more simply?
  • Do you or your spouse expect to work part-time in retirement?

For college:

  • How many years until your child starts college?
  • Will your child attend a public or private college? What’s the expected cost?
  • Do you have more than one child whom you’ll be saving for?
  • Does your child have any special academic, athletic, or artistic skills that could lead to a scholarship?
  • Do you expect your child to qualify for financial aid?

Many on-line calculators are available to help you predict your retirement income needs and your child’s college funding needs.

Figure out what you can afford to put aside each month

After you know what your financial needs are, the next step is to determine what you can afford to put aside each month. To do so, you’ll need to prepare a detailed family budget that lists all of your income and expenses. Keep in mind, though, that the amount you can afford may change from time to time as your circumstances change. Once you’ve come up with a dollar amount, you’ll need to decide how to divvy up your funds.

Retirement takes priority

Though college is certainly an important goal, you should probably focus on your retirement if you have limited funds. With generous corporate pensions mostly a thing of the past, the burden is primarily on you to fund your retirement. However, if you wait until your child is in college to start saving, you’ll miss out on years of tax-deferred growth and compounding of your money. Remember, your child can always attend college by taking out loans (or maybe even with scholarships), but there’s no such thing as a retirement loan!

If possible, save for your retirement and your child’s college at the same time

Ideally, you’ll want to try to pursue both goals at the same time. The more money you can squirrel away for college bills now, the less money you or your child will need to borrow later. Even if you can allocate only a small amount to your child’s college fund, say $50 or $100 a month, you might be surprised at how much you can accumulate over many years. For example, if you saved $100 every month and earned 8 percent, you’d have $18,415 in your child’s college fund after 10 years. (This example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent a specific investment.)

If you’re unsure how to allocate your funds between retirement and college, a professional financial planner may be able to help you. This person can also help you select the best investments for each goal. Remember, just because you’re pursuing both goals at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that the same investments will be appropriate. Each goal should be treated independently.

Help! I can’t meet both goals

If the numbers say that you can’t afford to educate your child or retire with the lifestyle you expected, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. Here are some things you can do:

  • Defer retirement: The longer you work, the more money you’ll earn and the later you’ll need to dip into your retirement savings.
  • Work part-time during retirement.
  • Reduce your standard of living now or in retirement: You might be able to adjust your spending habits now in order to have money later. Or, you may want to consider cutting back in retirement.
  • Increase your earnings now: You might consider increasing your hours at your current job, finding another job with better pay, taking a second job, or having a previously stay-at-home spouse return to the workforce.
  • Invest more aggressively: If you have several years until retirement or college, you might be able to earn more money by investing more aggressively (but remember that aggressive investments mean a greater risk of loss).
  • Expect your child to contribute more money to college: Despite your best efforts, your child may need to take out student loans or work part-time to earn money for college.
  • Send your child to a less expensive school: You may have dreamed your child would follow in your footsteps and attend an Ivy League school. However, unless your child is awarded a scholarship, you may need to lower your expectations. Don’t feel guilty–a lesser-known liberal arts college or a state university may provide your child with a similar quality education at a far lower cost.
  • Think of other creative ways to reduce education costs: Your child could attend a local college and live at home to save on room and board, enroll in an accelerated program to graduate in three years instead for four, take advantage of a cooperative education where paid internships alternate with course work, or defer college for a year or two and work to earn money for college.

Can retirement accounts be used to save for college?

Yes. Should they be? Probably not. Most financial planners discourage paying for college with funds from a retirement account; they also discourage using retirement funds for a child’s college education if doing so will leave you with no funds in your retirement years. However, you can certainly tap your retirement accounts to help pay the college bills if you need to.

With IRAs, you can withdraw money penalty free for college expenses, even if you’re under age 59½ (though there may be income tax consequences for the money you withdraw). But with an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) or 403(b), you’ll generally pay a 10 percent penalty on any withdrawals made before you reach age 59½ (age 55 in some cases), even if the money is used for college expenses. You may also be subject to a six month suspension if you make a hardship withdrawal. There may be income tax consequences, as well. (Check with your plan administrator to see what withdrawal options are available to you in your employer-sponsored retirement plan.)

What can you do next?

Regardless of when you start, it may be possible to save for retirement and college concurrently. Contact us today to speak with an advisor who can provide you with the insights and personalized guidance you need to make informed decisions that work for you and your future plans.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.