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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.

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. Generous 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 (which will be costly) 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, 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) 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 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, including the annual co-payments and deductibles that apply to certain types of care, 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.

At Sterling Group, we are happy to help you create a financial plan that fits your retirement goals, and takes your future health and wellness into account. Contact us today to learn more about our services and meet with a financial advisor.

Estimating Your Retirement Income Needs

Estimating Your Retirement Income Needs

You know how important it is to plan for your retirement, but where do you begin? One of your first steps should be to estimate how much income you’ll need to fund your retirement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because retirement planning is not an exact science. Your specific needs depend on your goals and many other factors.


Use your current income as a starting point

It’s common to discuss desired annual retirement income as a percentage of your current income. Depending on who you’re talking to, that percentage could be anywhere from 60 to 90 percent, or even more. The appeal of this approach lies in its simplicity, and the fact that there’s a fairly common-sense analysis underlying it: Your current income sustains your present lifestyle, so taking that income and reducing it by a specific percentage to reflect the fact that there will be certain expenses you’ll no longer be liable for (e.g., payroll taxes) will, theoretically, allow you to sustain your current lifestyle.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t account for your specific situation. If you intend to travel extensively in retirement, for example, you might easily need 100 percent (or more) of your current income to get by. It’s fine to use a percentage of your current income as a benchmark, but it’s worth going through all of your current expenses in detail, and really thinking about how those expenses will change over time as you transition into retirement.


Project your retirement expenses

Your annual income during retirement should be enough (or more than enough) to meet your retirement expenses. That’s why estimating those expenses is a big piece of the retirement planning puzzle. But you may have a hard time identifying all of your expenses and projecting how much you’ll be spending in each area, especially if retirement is still far off. To help you get started, here are some common retirement expenses:

  • Food and clothing
  • Housing: Rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners insurance, property upkeep and repairs
  • Utilities: Gas, electric, water, telephone, cable TV
  • Transportation: Car payments, auto insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs, public transportation
  • Insurance: Medical, dental, life, disability, long-term care
  • Health-care costs not covered by insurance: Deductibles, co-payments, prescription drugs
  • Taxes: Federal and state income tax, capital gains tax
  • Debts: Personal loans, business loans, credit card payments
  • Education: Children’s or grandchildren’s college expenses
  • Gifts: Charitable and personal
  • Savings and investments: Contributions to IRAs, annuities, and other investment accounts
  • Recreation: Travel, dining out, hobbies, leisure activities
  • Care for yourself, your parents, or others: Costs for a nursing home, home health aide, or other type of assisted living
  • Miscellaneous: Personal grooming, pets, club memberships

Don’t forget that the cost of living will go up over time. The average annual rate of inflation over the past 20 years has been approximately 3 percent. (Source: Consumer price index (CPI-U) data published annually by the U.S. Department of Labor.) And keep in mind that your retirement expenses may change from year to year. For example, you may pay off your home mortgage or your children’s education early in retirement. Other expenses, such as health care and insurance, may increase as you age. To protect against these variables, build a comfortable cushion into your estimates (it’s always best to be conservative). Finally, have a financial professional help you with your estimates to make sure they’re as accurate and realistic as possible.


Decide when you’ll retire

To determine your total retirement needs, you can’t just estimate how much annual income you need. You also have to estimate how long you’ll be retired. Why? The longer your retirement, the more years of income you’ll need to fund it. The length of your retirement will depend partly on when you plan to retire. This important decision typically revolves around your personal goals and financial situation. For example, you may see yourself retiring at 50 to get the most out of your retirement. Maybe a booming stock market or a generous early retirement package will make that possible. Although it’s great to have the flexibility to choose when you’ll retire, it’s important to remember that retiring at 50 will end up costing you a lot more than retiring at 65.


Estimate your life expectancy

The age at which you retire isn’t the only factor that determines how long you’ll be retired. The other important factor is your lifespan. We all hope to live to an old age, but a longer life means that you’ll have even more years of retirement to fund. You may even run the risk of outliving your savings and other income sources. To guard against that risk, you’ll need to estimate your life expectancy. You can use government statistics, life insurance tables, or a life expectancy calculator to get a reasonable estimate of how long you’ll live. Experts base these estimates on your age, gender, race, health, lifestyle, occupation, and family history. But remember, these are just estimates. There’s no way to predict how long you’ll actually live, but with life expectancies on the rise, it’s probably best to assume you’ll live longer than you expect.


Identify your sources of retirement income

Once you have an idea of your retirement income needs, your next step is to assess how prepared you are to meet those needs. In other words, what sources of retirement income will be available to you? Your employer may offer a traditional pension that will pay you monthly benefits. In addition, you can likely count on Social Security to provide a portion of your retirement income. To get an estimate of your Social Security benefits, visit the Social Security Administration website (www.ssa.gov) and order a copy of your statement. Additional sources of retirement income may include a 401(k) or other retirement plan, IRAs, annuities, and other investments. The amount of income you receive from those sources will depend on the amount you invest, the rate of investment return, and other factors. Finally, if you plan to work during retirement, your job earnings will be another source of income.


Make up any income shortfall

If you’re lucky, your expected income sources will be more than enough to fund even a lengthy retirement. But what if it looks like you’ll come up short? Don’t panic–there are probably steps that you can take to bridge the gap. A financial professional can help you figure out the best ways to do that, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Try to cut current expenses so you’ll have more money to save for retirement
  • Shift your assets to investments that have the potential to substantially outpace inflation (but keep in mind that investments that offer higher potential returns may involve greater risk of loss)
  • Lower your expectations for retirement so you won’t need as much money (no beach house on the Riviera, for example)
  • Work part-time during retirement for extra income
  • Consider delaying your retirement for a few years (or longer)

Looking for more advice on preparing for retirement?

At Sterling Group United, we are happy to help you create a financial plan that fits your retirement goals. Contact us to learn more about our services.

Best Annuities for Seniors  

Best Annuities for Seniors  

Annuities can be an important part of a senior’s financial portfolio. They can provide an avenue for developing tax-deferred savings. You can later use these funds to handle retirement costs, including everyday living expenses, healthcare, or other needs. They also offer a lot of flexibility, giving seniors the ability to choose those best suited for their unique needs. It’s impossible to say that one annuity is best for all seniors, but there are a few things to consider when selecting one.

Choose One Designed for Your Needs

What are your specific goals and needs for an annuity? Some may be a good choice because they allow for unlimited annual contributions, a key consideration for seniors who have already maxed out contributions to their IRA or 401(k).

Learn the Contract Details

Another key factor in selecting annuities for seniors is learning the details of any contract you are agreeing to. Learn the details such as any fees associated with it, surrender charges associated with it (depending on where you are securing it), and the overall value of the annuity. Read all the details about cashing in the annuity, in case you need immediate cash.

Consider Your Goals

Sometimes, seniors purchase annuities with the hopes of leaving funds behind for their loved ones. In all cases, you should know what happens to the funds if you die with it in place. You may be able to pay a fee with some forms that allow your beneficiary to keep receiving payments on it if you die while it is in place.

Know the Types

It’s important to look at the key factors that make annuities different from each other. Here’s a closer look:

  • Fixed annuities have a preset and guaranteed value. They carry lower risk and tend to be a more stable option for seniors as a result. They are predictable.
  • A variable annuity is another popular style. This one’s value is dependent on the way an investment portfolio performs. The risk is higher, but the reward is potentially higher as well.
  • An indexed annuity offers a preset minimum but does change with the market. There’s a moderate level of risk since the reward does not drop below a set level.

Are you considering the value of adding an annuity to your portfolio? If you’re a senior, take a closer look at the opportunities available to you through Sterling Financial. Our team is here to help you make wise decisions for your financial future.

Pros and Cons of a Pension Plan vs. 401(k)  

Pros and Cons of a Pension Plan vs. 401(k)  

Making a decision about investing in retirement is necessary but challenging in virtually every situation. One key consideration is to determine which is best for you, a pension plan, or 401(k). Take a look at the differences in these two plans and what they mean for you.

A Pension Plan

Pension plans are set up by employers and funded by them throughout the time you work for them. The benefit is that they can provide you with a nice continued source of income after you retire. However, many employees no longer have access to these plans. You may want to consider the following about them:

  • You have no say in the management of the funds – this is all done by the employer.
  • You have to work for the company for a specific length of time to qualify for the pension.
  • Once you reach the requirements, you are guaranteed the same payment after you retire for the rest of your life, no matter how the investments perform.

401(k) Plans

A 401(k) is one of the most sought after of retirement plans today. These plans are typically set up by an employer, but most of the contributions come from your earnings, though your employer can contribute if desired. You will need to work with the company long enough to have access to the plan. Consider the following about 401(k)s:

  • You set up the plan, and you determine how much you want to put into any specific type of investment strategy. You gain more control.
  • Many employers match your contributions up to a set amount.
  • There is no guarantee of how much you will be paid once you retire as it is dependent on how well the investments perform.

For many people, it’s important to look at the individual investment strategies that may be right for them before deciding to invest in any specific model or strategy.

Finding the Right Support Can Make the Difference

At Sterling Financial, we know every decision is unique. That is why we work closely with our clients to find the best level of support for you. Contact us today to talk about your retirement planning goals.

What Does a Key Employee Retirement Plan Look Like?  

What Does a Key Employee Retirement Plan Look Like?  

Retirement has changed significantly over the years. It used to be simple for companies to create a pension plan that offered employees financial support after they left their positions. Today, employees want and need much more. As you are working to create an employee retirement plan for your staff, there are a few key things to look for and to invest in for your team.

Flexibility in the Type of Retirement Plan Used

One of the key elements of creating an employee retirement plan is building a plan that’s designed for their individual needs and way of life. That will differ from one employee to the next. For that reason, it is beneficial for employers to consider several types of retirement accounts, including 401(k) and IRAs. Roth IRAs are another option for employees. Find out what type of plan is right for their needs.

Matching Contributions

While employees are mostly responsible for funding their retirement plans today, they want to know the company they are working with is committed to supporting those efforts through matching contributions. It’s important for you to outline when you will provide such retirement support, how your employees can use it, and when they will be fully vested.

Education

Did you know that many of your employees know that retirement plans are beneficial but don’t often understand what their options are? They may not have much experience in choosing funds and investment strategies. Provide them with a team of professionals who can actually educate them on their options.

Access Early

Also, consider providing newer employees with access to retirement benefits early on in their employment with you. Once you have a plan in place, keep it going. Companies who change their strategies often, or work with multiple companies for retirement plans, are less dedicated to supporting their employees’ needs from the perspective of the employee.

Design a Retirement Plan for Employees That Works

Building a retirement plan for your employees should not focus on cost-cutting measures or finding the lowest priced insurance. It should focus on providing employees with what they need and want. That’s what attracts and retains talent. Work with our team at Sterling Financial to determine the best tools and resources to create an effective employee retirement plan for your company.