A recent report from the American College of Financial Services has me concerned about the ability of many Americans to succeed in retirement. Managing your money and understanding the systems and structures in place that can optimize your savings or potentially destroy your financial future is surely exhausting work. What the report revealed is that while people had a general handle on their finances, when it comes to more nuanced questions of financial literacy, Americans are alarmingly uninformed.
The organization administered a quiz that posed some basic but pointed questions about money management in retirement, addressing issues such as when to repay loans on reverse mortgages, how to withdraw from a 401(k), when to claim Social Security, and whether you should set up a lifetime annuity. The results? Less than 1 percent earned an A; 5 percent a B; 8 percent a C; and 13 percent a D. The remaining 73 percent of interviewees failed a relatively standard retirement financial literacy test.
In general, people understand their finances on a conceptual level. The disconnect occurs when we have to spell things out in finer detail. That seems true after you dissect the demographics of the study. It’s not misguided to assume that most of the interviewees possessed at least a base-level understanding of the concepts in the quiz. Alessandra Malito, at MarketWatch, reports that over 1,200 Americans between 60–75 years old were interviewed, and all held at least $100,000 in household assets.
To me, this is representative of the overly complex rules and regulations underlying so many of these seemingly intuitive financial strategies. Unfortunately—and as we all know too well—the gears of government grind slowly, so it’s unlikely that you will see any simplifying changes to any of these entrenched practices for the majority of your years leading to, and well into, your retirement.
Navigating these concepts and strategies poorly can have a severe negative impact on personal finances. Without the proper guidance and planning, the intricacies of 401(k)s, IRAs, lifetime annuities, mutual funds, reverse mortgages, and countless other saving and investing options (including planned giving!) can give prospective retirees analysis paralysis. Without the best answers, too many of us stay on the same path, no matter how detrimental.
So, what is the way forward for the 73 percent of retirement-age Americans who need help deciphering their retirement finances?
If you really want to guarantee a secure and successful retirement, you need to maximize the benefits of all these strategies and not leave any money on the table. Alessandra Malito spoke with Jamie Hopkins, the retirement-income-program co-director at the American College of Financial Services, who said, “People who understand this better have better retirements because they had better planning in place,” and from my experience, I agree.
Whether you just want to assure a secure and successful retirement and take care of your family, or you want to make your legacy count through planned giving, your ability to make your money act in ways that are the most impactful for your financial future leads me to two of my core principles for retirement planning: clarity and confidence.
A huge part of my philanthropy-minded financial planning philosophy is leading my clients to the attainment of clarity. I have a process that helps them crystallize their needs, wants, and goals, which then helps them understand their income and develop a comprehensive budget for their future. The big picture comes into focus. It’s not until I’ve helped my clients attain this level of clarity that we proceed to a discussion about planned giving strategies. That’s because the clarity we were able to achieve gave them confidence to act within their means, without derailing their long-term financial vision.
This kinetic chain of “clarity then confidence” doesn’t just create a new approach to planned giving—it’s a simple roadmap to financial literacy, as well. Nearly 50 percent of retirees don’t fully understand their asset allocation, and only one in four have an actual retirement plan mapped out, committed to paper.
At some point or another, we’ve all needed help to slow down and take a bird’s eye view of our situation. In retirement planning, it’s no different. Scheduling just a one-off visit with a Certified Financial Planner™ can help you get a handle on your retirement plan, allocate your assets most effectively for your situation and goals, show you how to maximize the benefits of your retirement accounts and Social Security, introduce savvy investment strategies that can set you up with a predictable income in retirement, and get you on a path to long-term success.
Knowing where your money is going, what’s happening to it, and how it’s all filtering into your long-term retirement goals—that is clarity. The confidence to act with your money in ways that maximize its positive impact on your retirement savings and income—that is financial literacy.
It’s so easy to suffer from tunnel vision on our road to retirement. Veering away from traditional saving and investment strategies can feel reckless if you don’t have considerable assets to fall back on later in life. But, with the right plan, there are ways to be productive and innovative with your money without being a millionaire or billionaire. My planned giving strategies can position you to receive significant tax deductions, avoid distribution taxes that plague 401(k) and IRA plans, and possibly even create an income that you can’t outlive. My assessment can help you determine if planned giving won’t only fit into your retirement plan, but optimize it.