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Three Ways to Manage Retirement Planning Stress


David Geibel, a managing director at Girard Partners, a Univest Wealth Management Firm, was featured in U.S. News & World Reports

May 26, 2017
By Rebecca Lake, Contributor

Retirement is meant to be a relaxing time, but many Americans find planning for it nerve-wracking. In a 2016 study by Schwab Retirement Plan Services, 40 percent of 401(k) participants said building adequate retirement savings was financially stressful, particularly for younger workers.

"Despite having more time to accumulate retirement savings, millennials still named saving for retirement their No. 1 source of financial stress, above meeting monthly expenses, credit card debt and even student loans," says Catherine Golladay, senior vice president of 401(k) participant services and administration at Schwab.

Across the broader workforce, three in 10 feel stressed about retirement, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute's latest retirement confidence survey. The survey found that only about 10 percent of Americans have a written plan for reaching their retirement goals.

With so much pressure to invest for the future, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, but don't let your worries get the best of you. Pinpointing your stressors – and identifying ways to cope – can take some of the pain out of building your retirement portfolio.

Put it in perspective.

Fear of the unknown is especially a source of anxiety.

"Many investors are stressed because they don't know what retirement means to them and what they need to do," says Lou Cannataro, a partner at Cannataro Park Avenue Financial in New York. "They haven't given thought to where they want to live, what they're going to do and what income they'll need to support this new phase of their lives."

That uncertainty, coupled with the media regularly bemoaning how unprepared for retirement many Americans are, naturally produces undue stress, he says. If you haven't considered what you want in retirement, just answering that question can help quell some of your fears.

For example, does your ideal retirement involve travel or relocation to a new city? Do you plan to take up any new hobbies that may add to your budget? Is there a possibility you may need to help an adult child or grandchild financially?

Once you have an idea what shape your retirement might take, you can turn your attention to the numbers. They include how much you currently have saved, how much you'll need to fund your retirement and how much you should continue saving to hit your target.

Don't panic if you're starting late.

With retirement planning, the early bird gets the worm.

Steve Anzuoni, a retirement income certified professional and owner of Fairway Financial Insurance Agency in Boston, says investors who start early have a powerful tool working on their behalf.

"I can't stress enough that it's never too early to start saving," Anzuoni says. "Your best friend is going to be compound interest."

Anzuoni says what happens more commonly is that people don't begin thinking seriously about their financial plans until retirement is around the corner.

"Reality kicks in at age 50," Anzuoni says. "Before this point, most people are busy worrying about their career, children and college costs."

Assuming you plan to retire at 65, that would leave you with 15 years to plan and invest, increasing the sense of urgency to make up for lost time. The key, says Lane Martinsen, a financial advisor at Martinsen Equity Group in Chandler, Arizona, is to avoid getting sidetracked by past mistakes.

"Stressing over things we can't change is wasted energy," Martinsen says. "Good pre-retirement planning, especially if you're late to the game, can go a long way in helping you know clearly what you need to do and what you can do."

One way to get back on track is by investing as tax efficiently as possible. Mark Levy, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors in New York, offers a three-step formula for using tax-advantaged plans when you're behind the eight ball.

First, Levy says, start with making catch-up contributions to your employer's retirement plan if you're 50 or older. Although the annual contribution limit to a 401(k) is $18,000 in 2017, employees 50 and older can contribute another $6,000.

Next, open an individual retirement account, if you haven't done so already.

"Even if you already participate in a 401(k) or similar plan at work, an IRA can help supplement those savings and give you access to a potentially wider range of investment options," Levy says.

If you can afford it, the third element is converting a portion of traditional IRA assets to a Roth IRA. Roth withdrawals are tax-free in retirement, and there are no required minimum distributions at age 70.5.

But there's a catch. The conversion amount is taxed as ordinary income when you convert and can bump you into a higher tax bracket. Plus, the taxes must be paid using non-retirement savings to avoid getting hit with the 10 percent penalty for an early distribution.

Remember that the market moves in cycles.

Having a portfolio's substantial gains erased during a market downturn is another stressful event that investors should be prepared for.

"In volatile markets, scared investors might sell the moment the market's tanking, or buy as the market is rebounding," says Barry Kozak, a consultant with Chicago-based October Three Consulting.

Kozak says drafting a personal investment policy statement outlining how investments will be managed during market fluctuations can keep investors from succumbing to their emotions, which can wreak havoc with their portfolios.

"A statement that's crafted specifically for your circumstances can help you avoid, or at least mitigate, investing mistakes caused by stress," Kozak says.

Dave Geibel, senior vice president and managing director at Univest Wealth Management in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, says investors should be especially mindful of their risk tolerance in retirement.

"Most investors still need some degree of growth when they retire, which often equates to investment risk," Geibel says. "Retirees generally react more negatively to market volatility than in their younger years because they don't have the income from their jobs to fall back on."

Geibel says reducing risk, and the corresponding stress it often triggers, may be as simple as changing your asset allocation. He recommends having a financial planning professional run a stress test on your portfolio, based on your goals, timeline and risk tolerance.

Most important, keep a level head if you're stressed about saving. "Regardless of your emotions, now's the time to stay focused on maximizing your savings while also looking ahead to develop a plan that supports your vision for retirement," Levy says.

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Investments offered by Girard Partners, a Univest Wealth Management Firm, are not FDIC insured, are not a deposit of or bank guaranteed, and are subject to risks, including loss of principal amount invested.

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