3 Simple Retirement Mistakes To Avoid

Feb 21 2014, 10:53am CST | by

As with so much in life, retirement planning is an exercise in which you win by not losing.

You don’t have to be the world’s greatest stock picker or the second coming of Warren Buffett. Given a lifetime of saving and investing, you can generally reach your retirement goals by simply avoiding a handful of easily avoidable mistakes that will cost you big when compounded over the years.

And I’m not talking about trading strategies or a “surefire way” to avoid the next bear market. I’m talking about basic planning that can be done by anyone with the basic skills to balance a checkbook.

So with no further ado, here are three easily avoidable retirement mistakes that you should watch out for.

Retirement Mistake #1: Not Taking Advantage of 401k Matching

This might sound like an odd statement given my line of work, but the stock market is not always the best option for your investment dollars. If you have patience and the willingness to get your hands dirty, starting a small side business or buying rental properties can give you returns far in excess of what you can reasonably expect to earn in a 401k mutual fund portfolio.

That said, it’s hard to beat instant 100% returns. And that is precisely what you get when your employer matches your 401k contributions.

Look, unless you have a compelling investment opportunity that trumps the stock market — such as those small businesses and rental properties I was talking about — I recommend you max out your annual 401k contributions. In 2014, that amounts to $17,500. Realistically, you can expect something along the lines of 7% to 10% annual returns from your 401k, if history is any guide. But when your employer matches your contribution, you are getting instant 100% returns, not including any change in the market value of the investment.

You might not be able to afford to max out your 401k. For many Americans — and particularly young Americans — $17,500 is simply too much to part with in a given year. But you can afford to put in the 3% to 6% that your employer is willing to match. And if you can’t … well, you probably need to re-evaluate some of your lifestyle choices. That 3% to 6% compounded over a working lifetime can make the difference between retiring in style and moving in with your kids.

Retirement Mistake #2: Taking Social Security Payments Too Early

OK, this one might get a little morbid. But when you consider when to start taking your Social Security payout, you need to ask yourself how long you realistically expect to live. And I’m not talking about doctor’s estimates in a Breaking Bad scenario. I’m talking about a taking a realistic look at your family health history.

To what age did your parents and grandparents make it? Does your family have a history of heart disease or cancer? How is your health today? Have you lived a healthy lifestyle over the course of your life? Do you smoke — or did you smoke for a long period of your life?

This matters because taking Social Security early makes all the sense in the world if you have a relatively short life expectancy. But if you think that you might live well into your 90s, it makes far more sense to hold out for the larger benefit.

Take a look at this table provided by the Social Security Administration: Effect of Early or Delayed Retirement. And let’s use a person born in 1960 as an example.

A person born in 1960 is eligible for full Social Security benefits at age 67. But if you were to hold out for three additional years, you would be eligible for benefits that are 24 percentage points higher.

Let’s play with the numbers. Let’s say you’re eligible for $50,000 in annual benefits at age 67. That would mean that by age 70, you would have already collected $150,000 in benefits over the preceding three years. However, if you waited until age 70, you would be eligible for $62,000 in annual benefits. Thus, you would have to collect the higher $62,000 benefits for 12.5 years to “break even,” not accounting for the time value of money or any tax effects, and you would be ahead for any time after that. (In case you want to see the math, it looks like basic high-school algebra: 150,000 + 50,000x = 62,000x, where x is the number of years it would take to break even.)

So, if you reasonably expect to live well into your 80s, it makes sense to wait. If your family health history suggests otherwise … take the money sooner.

Retirement Mistake #3: Failing to Rebalance

The last easily avoidable mistake you should watch out for is failing to rebalance your accounts on a regular basis. An absolute nightmare scenario for any retiree is to build a retirement plan based on the assumption of, say, 4% annual drawdowns … then have a major bear market put your entire standard of living at risk.

Drawdowns of 4% are no problem at all in a raging bull market that sees the market rise 10% to 20% per year. But if you go through a prolonged bear market, taking regular drawdowns can dig deeply into the capital that you need to last for the next 20 years. The best analogy would be that of a farmer who eats his seed capital and then has nothing to plant come spring.

The traditional rule of thumb for asset allocation was to have the percentage of your portfolio allocated to equities equal to 100 minus your age. So, a 70-year-old retiree should have 30% allocated to stocks and 70% allocated to bonds and cash. (Owing to longer life expectancies, some planners suggest using 120 minus your age.)

There are a couple big problems with this rule of thumb. When it was concocted, bonds yielded significantly more than they do today. A bond portfolio yielding 5% to 7% was easily obtainable 15 years ago. That’s simply not the case today.

I would advocate a more flexible approach of gradually rebalancing your portfolio away from “growth-oriented” investments to “income-oriented” investments. This would include bonds, of course. But it would also include dividend-paying stocks, master limited partnerships, real estate investment trusts and even more exotic options such as buying investment properties or pursuing a covered call writing strategy. The objective is to build a growing stream of retirement income that doesn’t require you to spend down your principal.

But one world of advice here: Be wary of exceptionally high yields, as these can often signal danger. In 2012, I wrote an article warning investors to stay away from RadioShack and to avoid being seduced by its then-10% dividend yield, as I expected it to be cut (it was). Alas, so was the dividend of one of the stocks I offered as an alternative, Spanish mobile giant Telefonica.

This brings up a complementary point: As you rebalance your portfolio toward income-oriented investments, be sure to diversify among both companies and industries. Plenty of income investorsthought they were diversified in 2008 because they owned a large number of stocks. But it didn’t matter when a disproportionate number of them were banks that all ended up slashing their dividends during the crisis.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the editor of Macro Trend Investor and chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. Click here to receive his FREE weekly e-letter covering top market insights, trends, and the best stocks and ETFs to profit from today’s best global value plays.  

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

5 features an Amazon phone might offer
NEW YORK (AP) — Rumors of an Amazon smartphone reached a fever pitch this week, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the device could be due out this year. Amazon hasn't confirmed that it has plans...
 
 
Why Drink Organic, Biodynamic And Sustainable Wines For Earth Day?
Six Organic Wines To Try Now Talking about organic wine is surprisingly complicated. When I set out to write this column I planned on rounding up some organic producers, tasting some wines and calling out the tastiest...
 
 
Washington's Anxiety as the President Heads to Asia
Anxiety is everywhere these days in the debate over U.S. policy toward Asia. Here in Washington, there seems to be deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s ability to fulfill its promise to rebalance to Asia. In...
 
 
'The Elder Scrolls Online' Hit With First Major Bug, The Infinite Dupe
When you make an MMO, you will eventually learn a hard lesson about how a single bug can derail your entire game. Right now, that’s exactly what’s happening with The Elder Scrolls Online. Players are rolling around in...
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Ryan Seacrest to quit 'American Idol'?
Ryan Seacrest is reportedly planning to quit 'American Idol.' The 39-year-old star, who has hosted the US reality singing competition since its first season in 2002, wants to jump ship before the FOX series is cancelled...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
iOS 6 Users Facing Problems with FaceTime
The iOS 6 users are getting frustrated with the FaceTime, a popular video calling software, as it is continuing to crash in their iPhones and iPads.The users have informed the problem on a thread of Apple Support...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Apple Offering Redesigned iPad Mini with Retina Display at 15% Discount
Apple brings a great offer for the iPad lovers, as the company decides to sell the refurbished model of iPad Mini with Retina display with a great discount of 15%.According to Apple Insider, the 16-GB model is being...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
SungardASVoice: Three Things Businesses Can Learn From The Decline Of American Idol
By Adam Wren Thirteen years into its prime-time run, “American Idol” is a brand in decline. But the kinds of things the show can do–and, in some cases, is doing–to change its fortunes can serve as an example to other...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Justin Bieber crashed Drake Bell's party
Justin Bieber crashed Drake Bell's album party on Thursday night (04.17.14). The 20-year-old singer - who has been repeatedly attacked by the former Nickelodeon star on Twitter in recent months - went out of his way to...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
5 features an Amazon phone might offer
NEW YORK (AP) — Rumors of an Amazon smartphone reached a fever pitch this week, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the device could be due out this year. Amazon hasn't confirmed that it has plans...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Asia's Week: Japan's Rebound Gets More Taxing
Another calamitous loss of human life gripped Asia’s attention this week, relegating economic matters to secondary notice, but they were also of concern. China’s growth pauses never cease to furrow brows but it is Japan...
Read more on Auto Balla
 
Why Drink Organic, Biodynamic And Sustainable Wines For Earth Day?
Six Organic Wines To Try Now Talking about organic wine is surprisingly complicated. When I set out to write this column I planned on rounding up some organic producers, tasting some wines and calling out the tastiest...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Washington's Anxiety as the President Heads to Asia
Anxiety is everywhere these days in the debate over U.S. policy toward Asia. Here in Washington, there seems to be deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s ability to fulfill its promise to rebalance to Asia. In...
Read more on Business Balla
 
 
Auto Balla Sexy Balla Sport Balla TV Balla Politics Balla Movie Balla Apple Balla Business Balla Ad Balla Celebrity Balla