Michele Clark
Clark Hourly Financial Planning - Chesterfield, MO Advisor
1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 255
Chesterfield, MO 63017 USA
Work 636.264.0732
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Should we pay off our mortgage?

June 29th, 2012

“We have a lot of cash in our savings account.  Should we pay off our mortgage or invest the money for retirement?”

When you give financial advice “by the hour” you get asked questions like these.  And the answer is… it depends.

It depends on;

* your attitude about owing money

* how much of a nest egg you have accumulated for your retirement because you will need cash to pay bills after you stop working and therefore stop getting paychecks

* what other financial goals you have and if you are on track to achieve them

* what interest rate you will pay on the mortgage and the assumed rate on the investments, and other assorted mathematical inputs

“Should we pay off our mortgage?” is a question that is more than a math calculation.  After the math is figured, take it a step further and think about how you will feel during retirement with and without a mortgage payment.

No mortgage in retirement

I have never heard anyone say they regret paying off their mortgage.  And there are ways to tap into a portion of the home equity if needed.  However, many retired folks have shared with me that they wished they had been wiser in their approach to mortgage debt so they didn’t have a mortgage while retired.  I have sometimes noticed during an initial meeting when I meet with a couple who have a mortgage, they seem more concerned about market fluctuation than other couples who do not have a mortgage.

Mortgage in retirement

There are a few couples that I can remember meeting with that have a mortgage in retirement and they were comfortable with it.  They outlined the math in a logical way and how it made sense for them.   They liked that it left them with more available cash in retirement.  I agreed with them, that it seemed to work for them.

When to pay it off? 

If your last mortgage payment is due after the day you would like to retire, jump on one of the many financial calculator websites and figure out the extra payment you would need to send each month in order to time your last mortgage payment with your retirement date.  You might be surprised to find how little additional money needs to be sent in order to pay the loan off by your retirement date.  How great would that feel?  Be sure to call your mortgage servicer to be certain that you do not have a pre-payment penalty, pretty unlikely, but just in case.  Make sure that you can still afford to make enough of a contribution to retirement accounts so that you can retire on time!  And that you are able to save for any other financial goals that are important to you.

What not to do

What I think is unfortunate, is to see a young couple that has heard that it is good to pay off your mortgage sending every available dollar to the mortgage company – with no emergency fund!  And they have not been saving in the company retirement plan, no savings for vacations or other goals.  A balance is needed.  Get the emergency fund created first!  Then create a prioritized list of goals and send money to each based on your priority.

The mortgage problem

The mortgage problem of having a large mortgage when retirement time rolls around isn’t usually created with the starter home, it usually happens when people move up into a series of bigger and bigger homes or take out cash to remodel.   That is when it is especially important to check to see if you can afford to pay the mortgage off by your target retirement date.

What To-Do?

Write down the approximate date that you would like to retire.

Write down the date that your mortgage payment will be done.

If the mortgage will be done after you retire, satisfy your curiosity and find out how much extra you would need to send in to pay your mortgage off in time for retirement.

You could call your mortgage company and ask them.  Or you could use an online mortgage payment calculator and the amount of principal left on your loan, how many months or years until retirement, the interest rate on your loan and find out for yourself.  Just remember that the monthly payment it quotes you is just the principal and interest, if you have your taxes and insurance escrowed you would add that on top of the principal and interest.

Invest just a few minutes, and you could be on track to having your mortgage paid off in retirement.

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Retirement Plan: 10 Expenses to Consider

June 24th, 2012

Part of the process of determining if you can afford to retire, is to run the numbers to see if the amount of money you have saved plus any expected income you may receive from pensions and Social Security will cover all of your expected expenses throughout retirement.

After working with people for so many years, the one thing I have noticed is that many people have faithfully kept spreadsheets of their day-to-day living expenses and have used those figures to help create their retirement plan.  People often come to me to check their thinking, when they are a few years away from retirement, to make sure they are on track to retire.

However, I often discover that people overlook the irregular expenses when planning for retirement on their own.   And it is the irregular expenses that can derail a retirement plan, and cause stress and sleepless nights.  The tricky thing of course is trying to see into the future and figure out what possible expenses can occur.

Here is list of some of the potential items that you might consider adding to your retirement plan.  They won’t all pertain to you, but I hope they will get you thinking about what your retirement could look like, and help you plan for your future.

Replacing cars

I often hear people say that they will just use the same car throughout retirement.   And if you do not work with retired people on a regular basis like I do, I can see where you might think that.  When you are pre-retirement age, retirement seems like a phase of life that is a mysterious unknown.  So I ask them how often they replace their car, and I usually hear answers like every 6 years or every 10 years, and everything in between.  A married couple that retires at 65 and drives until 85, replacing cars every 6 years,  will buy 6 cars in retirement.  I wrote a blog about the impact of inflation on car prices in retirement, many people are very surprised when I show them the expected price of the last car they will buy in retirement.

Travel for fun

When I ask people what they want to do when they retire, travel is one of the first things people say.  If you see travel in your future, think about how often, and what type of travel, do some internet searching to get a ball park estimate of the cost that would be involved.

Travel to see the grandkids

Don’t forget about travel to see the grandkids, I mean your adult children.  Who am I kidding?  You are taking a trip to see those adorable grandkids!  If your family is like so many these days, you might have to hop on a plane to feel those little arms wrapped around you.  With Skype, you don’t have to be there to see them anymore.  But no technology can replace an in-person visit.   Trust me; you will want to plan for this expense.

50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration

In this day and age, fifty years of marriage is an especially wonderful milestone.  Some families have a dinner reception, inviting extended family and close friends, which can be the size of a small wedding reception.  I have also seen couples treat families to Disney vacations or to cruises.  If you have dreams of recognizing a milestone with a special celebration, don’t forget to plan for it so that when the time comes, you can relax and enjoy it.

Medicare

What?  It isn’t free?  No, I am sorry to have to tell you, it isn’t.  And I find that I am often the first to break this news to people.   Because if they have never had to help a family member through the process of signing up for Medicare and they are more than a few years away from retirement, then researching “How does Medicare work?” usually hasn’t crossed their mind.   Luckily there are some good resources such as www.medicare.gov and for Missouri residents www.missouriclaim.org.

Long Term Care/Nursing Care

In 2012 the average annual cost of care in a nursing home in Missouri is approximately $55,000.  The cost of nursing care has been increasing considerably faster than inflation.   One way to offset the risk to your portfolio is to consider Long Term Care insurance that would cover a portion or all of the cost of care, depending on your risk tolerance and the affordability of the premium.  I am a fee-only advisor so I do not offer insurance products, but I have recommended that some clients get Long Term Care insurance.  Other clients have been able to self-insure, each situation is different.  But you do need to consider the impact a stay would have on your portfolio.  To learn more read my blog post Long Term Care Insurance: Protect your nest egg.

Big delayed purchases

Have you been dreaming of a cross country trip in a motor home?  Or does the water call your name so a boat is more to your liking?  Don’t forget to set aside some money for upkeep and repairs.

Home Improvements and Major Maintenance

If you are in your forever home, factoring in the large inevitable maintenance projects such as replacing a roof or HVAC system will help prevent money stress later on down the road.  Also, after a few decades, kitchens and baths tend to need updates.  Remodels with an eye toward aging gracefully in place are also becoming quite popular.  Consider the age of your home and prior remodels when planning future income needs.

College and Wedding/Rehearsal Dinner

Depending on the age of your children, you may have college and wedding/rehearsal dinner expenses in retirement.

Care for a Family Member

Will a loved one be financially dependent upon you, such as a parent or a special needs child?  If so, you might consider meeting with an elder care attorney or estate planning attorney that specializes in special needs trusts.

These are a few areas to consider in addition to everyday living expenses when you are creating your retirement plan.

 

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St Louis stock index

June 17th, 2012

Did you know that there is an index designed to measure the St. Louis economy?  You may have heard of the S&P 500 index which is a list of the largest 500 companies in the United States, and that watching the performance of this group of 500 companies will give you an idea of the direction of the overall large company market in the United States.  There is a similar list of companies that attempts to represent the St. Louis economy; the Bloomberg St. Louis Index.

Bloomberg St. Louis Index Members 

As of this date, there are 47 companies on the Bloomberg St. Louis Index.  You will notice that while most of the companies are headquartered here, not all of them are headquartered in St. Louis, but they must have a large presence here.  They also must have a minimum market capitalization of $15 million.  Market capitalization means the number of outstanding shares times the share price.

Who is Bloomberg?

When I first started in the investment business, more than 20 years ago, Bloomberg was a company that provided news and research to investment professionals through a “Bloomberg Machine”.  They were very expensive and only a few people in the firm had them.  In the places where I worked, it was usually the bond traders, because the Bloomberg Machine was also the way to find out the bond prices and one way for bond traders to communicate with other firms.  But the bond traders could also use the Bloomberg Machines to pull up news and the most amazing charts for me.  Please remember, this was before internet and e-mail.  My firms always gave me a computer with a subscription to another news and charting service called Reuters, but the Bloomberg Machines really had the good stuff back then.  But now, because of the internet, Bloomberg is so much more.  Everyone can get news and research from Bloomberg, which is the way it should be!  And, Bloomberg still has Bloomberg Machines for the bond traders and they still charge investment firms for premium research.

What does the St. Louis Index tell us?

Looking at the St. Louis index can tell you if the St. Louis market is moving in the same or different direction as the rest of the US markets.   The St. Louis Index has small and large companies on the list so it would make sense to look at the performance vs. a small cap index such as Russell 2000 and a large cap index such as S&P 500.  It would also give you a sense of the cycles of the publically traded St. Louis companies by tracking the performance over time.  With as diverse of an economy as St. Louis has, I would not draw too many conclusions about the overall St. Louis economy based on these 47 publicly traded companies.  Remember as you drive around town, that many of the businesses that you see are privately held and not part of an index like this.  However, it is another interesting perspective to add to your research.

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Retiring Early: One way to avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax

June 8th, 2012

You might have heard that you need to keep your money in your retirement accounts until you are 59½ in order to avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax, but did you know that if your money is in a work retirement plan, like a 401(k), that the you can take it out earlier and still avoid the penalty?

Exception to the rule

To quote directly from the IRS website explaining this exception to the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax:

“Distributions made to you after you separated from service with your employer if the separation occurred in or after the year you reached age 55, or distributions made from a qualified governmental defined benefit plan if you were a qualified public safety employee (State or local government) who separated from service on or after you reached age 50”

55 and separation from service

If you wait until the year you turn 55, then leave your employer, you can take money out of your 401(k) or 403(b) without the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax.  You will still pay income taxes of course; Uncle Sam wants that part of your retirement account.  And be careful, depending on the other income you have, the amount of income taxes you owe could be even more than has been withheld, so be sure to calculate quarterly estimated taxes so that you are not caught by surprise.

If you roll your 401(k) over to an IRA rollover account, you lose this “age 55 separation from service” exception, because it only pertains to employer plans, not IRA rollovers.

50 if you are a fireman or policeman

If you are a qualified public safety employee of the state or local government, such as a police or fireman, the age is even lower – 50 years old.

Retire early?

In general most folks need to work and continue saving their money until their mid to late 60s so that they can save enough to retire.  But for those that have been strong savers and have learned to live well beneath their means, an early retirement is a possibility.

For a lot of folks who retire as early as 55, they have resources besides retirement accounts that they tap into, for example; from the sale of a business or money they have put into regular brokerage accounts over the years after they put the maximum contributions into their retirement accounts.  If you don’t have money in non-retirement accounts that can get you through to age 59 ½, then the “age 55 separation from service” exception might be the solution for you.

Run the numbers

Only in a few situations would it make sense to tap into the retirement accounts as early as 55 years old.  One situation that comes to mind, is in the case of someone who has maxed out their contributions in their work plan since the time they started working, and they have a balance in their current employer’s retirement plan that is large enough to live off of for a four or more years.  They have run the numbers and have enough retirement assets to live off of, however they do not have enough in non-retirement accounts to live off of until they turn 59 ½, perhaps due to putting kids through college or paying off the mortgage.

Really check your numbers to make sure that you can afford to retire at 55, taking the impact of inflation into account.  Inflation has a significant impact on retirement planning.  Consider that starting to spend down your portfolio at such a young age, when you could easily live another 35 or 45 more years could jeopardize your financial future.   However, if once you have done the analysis you can afford to retire early, then you deserve to enjoy what you have worked so hard for and this “age 55 separation from service” exception to the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax is one way to help you do that.   

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Financial Doing: Because if it’s just Financial Planning, it will never happen!

June 1st, 2012

I have a theory that just about everyone has important financial To-Do items sitting on their To-Do list.  However, those financial To-Dos often just sit there because there isn’t a looming deadline to make them seem urgent (“Save for college and retirement?  Oh that’s so far away!”).  You can read more about my philosophy in      It’s on your To-Do. Let’s get it To-Done!

Let’s say you decide to address those To-Do items so you create a financial plan.  Well a plan will not help you if you do not implement it!  So let’s take you from Financial Planning to Financial Doing!  For those of you who have taken the step of creating a plan, I would like to give you some easy things to do so that you can get some momentum going on your path to Financial Doing!

Here are some quick things you can do and knock off of your To-Do list…

Social Security

If you are under 60 years old, the government does not mail you a Social Security Benefits statement any more.  Learn how easy it is to pull up a copy of your statement online in my blog post Full Social Security Statements Now Available Online.

Annual Credit Report

You know you should get your free copy of your credit report each year, but with so many advertisements you aren’t sure where to go.  I clear up the confusion in my blog post Annual Credit Report: Where to go to get your free credit report.

Lost Money

This one is just a “no brainer”; it takes only a few seconds to check to see if you have lost money.  One in ten Missouri residents does.  Are you one of them?  Missouri Unclaimed Property: Are you due some money?

Take the first step today to change your Financial Planning to Financial Doing, I promise, it will feel great to finally start attacking the To-Dos!

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