It’s not uncommon to avoid visiting a doctor when a worrisome health symptom crops up. Nobody wants to put him- or herself in the position of possibly hearing bad news.
There’s a similar phenomenon with it comes to money. It’s not always an easy or pleasant prospect to address your financial situation after years of inattention.
Plenty of people are reluctant to dig up long-forgotten statements for brokerage accounts, individual retirement accounts, annuities and insurance policies.
But as retirement approaches, many feel an urge to finally dig up the information on these accounts, to make the determination whether there really is enough money to take this big step.
Unfortunately, years of neglect can often cause problems.
For example, if you simply leave your money in an expensive annuity, long after the surrender charge has expired, you are paying unnecessary fees.
If you leave an investment account untouched for years, you may be adding risk on top of risk and probably piling up the capital gains. On the flip side, you may have missed the rally of the past decade, as you kept money parked in cash. That’s been a very common mistake, as investors were leery of facing another 2008 meltdown.
If you disregard insurance policies, you may be paying unnecessary premiums.
The list goes on.
At Better Money Decisions, we frequently meet people who worry they may run out of money in retirement. It’s an understandable fear. For a variety of reasons, many Americans don’t have enough saved. As they enter their sixth or seventh decades, they realize they don’t want to continue working, at least at their previous pace. That’s when looking to the accumulated assets becomes imperative.
I often hear people lamenting that their money was parked in cash for the past decade, in the belief their money was “safe.” On the contrary, their money languished in low-interest-rate vehicles, while the total return of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the past decade was 287.711 percent, including dividend reinvestment. That’s an annualized return of 14.512 percent.
That’s one example of how ignored accounts can come back to bite you. Even if you left your money in cash for the past three, five or 10 years, it’s not too late to make a plan for your future.
Start today. Learn how much you will need to finance your retirement over the next few decades. Where will that money come from? In all likelihood, your Social Security benefit will not cover all your expenses. Most people instinctively realize that, yet stop short of doing further analysis.
What are your yearly expenses? Can you extrapolate that out into the future, factoring in inflation, and figure out how to generate that money? Do you know the tax consequences of your future income? How to order your withdrawals from taxable and qualified accounts? Do you have a plan for your assets once you are no longer walking the earth? Many people answer, “I have a will,” when I ask them that last question. However, a will that was done 10 or 15 years ago — or more — almost certainly needs an update.
Another reason people ignore their finances is because they are waiting for some future development. Perhaps you’re waiting for your taxes to be completed, or to change residences, or return from a trip.
Sometimes the reason is more high level: You’re waiting for markets to do … something.
But even in those situations, tomorrow never comes. There’s always a reason to put off making financial decisions. But the longer you wait, the more damage you can do, when it comes to a successful financial outcome. Like a house whose repairs have been neglected, things continue to deteriorate.
Take those first steps today. Sure, it’s mid-year, but why wait until January, or until some other event? The sooner you begin to plan for your future, the better chance you give yourself of enjoying a calm, secure retirement.
Kate Stalter, founder of the independent firm Better Money Decisions, helps people throughout Northern New Mexico invest and plan for retirement. For a free report, “7 Warning Signs You Are Working With The Wrong Advisor,” email WeCanHelp@BetterMoneyDecisions.com.