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10 Ways to Screw up Your Retirement

April 17, 2014

There are many creative ways to screw up your retirement. Let me show you how it’s done.

Supporting adult children. My wife Jo and I have friends with an unmarried, unemployed daughter who had a child. Our friends adopted their grandchild and are now in their late sixties raising a kid in grade school. The same daughter had a second child, and they adopted that one too. When she announced she was pregnant a third time, they finally said, “Enough! It’s time for a third-party adoption.”

Last time I spoke with them, their unemployed daughter and her boyfriend were living in their basement, neither contributing financially nor lifting a finger around the house. What began as a temporary bandage had become a permanent crutch. Our friends love their grandchildren; however, they’ve become bitter.

Jo and I also know of retirees who make their adult children’s car payments. I’m not talking about college-age kids; some of these “children” are close to 50. What’s their justification? “If we don’t make the payments, they won’t be able to go to work.” What I can’t grasp is how these adult children have iPads and iPhones, go on vacations, and do other cool things, but can’t seem to make their car payments.

You are not the family bank. There is generally a brief window of opportunity between children leaving the nest and retirement. Use it to stash away enough money to retire comfortably!

Ignore your health. I served on the reunion committee for my 50th high-school class reunion. We diligently tried to track down our classmates, but many had not lived long enough to RSVP to the party. The number of deaths from lung cancer and liver cancer were shocking. Many of those six feet under had been morbidly obese or simply never went to the doctor for checkups.

I know this sounds obvious, but your health choices really do affect how long and how well you live. Retiring only to become homebound because of health problems won’t be much fun.

Not keeping your retirement plan up to date. In the summer of 2013, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) published a survey about low-interest-rate policies and their impact on both baby boomers and Generation Xers, who are following right behind. The bottom line (emphasis mine):

“Overall, 25-27 percent of baby boomers and Gen Xers who would have had adequate retirement income under return assumptions based on historical averages are simulated to end up running short of money in retirement if today’s historically low interest rates are assumed to be a permanent condition, assuming retirement income/wealth covers 100 percent of simulated retirement expense.”

It is a sad day when people who thought they’d saved enough realize they have not. Run your personal retirement projection annually to make sure you’re keeping up with the times. Otherwise you may have to work longer or step down your retirement lifestyle—drastically.

Thinking you can continue working as long as you wish. While age discrimination is illegal, you may not be able to work forever. If illness doesn’t push you out the door, your employer might downsize (we all know who goes first) or buy you out with a lucrative lump sum.

Many companies want older employees off the payroll because their healthcare costs are high; plus, they are often at the top of the salary scale. More than one employer has made the workplace so uncomfortable that an older employee felt he had to quit. Other employers will systematically build a case to terminate a senior employee with their legal team waiting in the wings to help.

Whatever the reason, you may have to stop working even if you enjoy your job, so plan for it.

Not increasing your rate of saving. A surefire way to end up short is to pay off a large-ticket item like your home mortgage and then continue spending that money every month. Start paying yourself instead! Don’t prioritize saving after it’s too late to benefit from years of compounded interest.

Continually taking equity out of your home. Too many of my friends have been duped into taking out additional equity when refinancing with a lower-interest mortgage. If you can secure a lower rate, use it to pay off your home off faster. When you have, start making those payments to your retirement account.

Retire with a substantial mortgage. The general rule of thumb is your mortgage payment should be no more than 20-25% of your income. If you retire and still have a mortgage, it might be tough to stay within those guidelines.

Taking out a reverse mortgage at a young age. Debt-laden baby boomers are taking out reverse mortgages at an increasingly younger age. Just read the HUD reports. Many have very little equity to begin with and use a reverse mortgage to stop their monthly bank payments for pennies in return.

Locking yourself into a fixed income at a young age is a great way to kiss your lifestyle goodbye. Many of these young boomers will find themselves wondering, “Why is there is so much life left at the end of my money?”

Putting your life savings into an annuity. While annuities have their place in a retirement portfolio, going all in is dangerous, particularly at a young age. After all, your monthly payment depends in part on your age.

I know folks who put their entire life savings into variable annuities. They thought they were buying a “pension plan” and would never have to worry again. The crash of 2008 slashed their monthly checks, and they have yet to recover. Retirement without worry is not that simple.

Thinking your employer’s retirement plan is all you need. The era of pensions is gasping its dying breath. We have many friends who retired from the airlines with sizable pensions. When those airlines filed for bankruptcy, their pensions shriveled. No industry is immune to this danger, so we all need a backup plan.

Government pensions are following suit. Just ask anyone who has worked for the city of Detroit! While the unions are fighting the city to preserve their pensions, an initial draft of the plan indicates underfunded pensions (estimated at $3.5 billion) may receive $0.25 on the dollar.

Don’t fall for the trap! If you work for the government, you still need to save for retirement. Contribute to your 457 plan or whatever breed of retirement account is available to you. The federal government has over $100 trillion in unfunded promises, and many state governments are woefully underfunded. That doesn’t mean your retirement has to be.

Reverse mortgages and annuities are often the undoing of many income investors and retirees. They can be used properly, however, if your situation or the opportunity fits with your needs. With all of the misinformation out there about these two products, we decided to pen two special reports to help you decide whether these are right for you. They are The Reverse Mortgage Guide and The Annuity Guide. Check out one – or both – today and learn where, if at all, these fit your needs.