Dear Penny: How Do I Save for Retirement on a Teacher’s Salary?

Dear Penny,

I’m 51 years old and don’t have a large nest egg. I’m a single parent with three kids. I’m a second career middle school teacher, so there is not a lot of money left over each month. 

How much money should I be saving to be able to retire in my 70s? Where should I invest that money?

-B.

Dear B.,

You still have 20 years to build your nest egg if all goes as planned. Sure, you’ve missed out on the extra years of compounding you’d have gotten had you accumulated substantial savings in your 20s and 30s. But that’s not uncommon. I’ve gotten plenty of letters from people in their 50s or 60s with nothing saved who are asking how they can retire next year.

I like that you’re already planning to work longer to make up for a late start. But here’s my nagging concern: What if you can’t work into your 70s?

The unfortunate reality is that a lot of workers are forced to retire early for a host of reasons. They lose their jobs, or they have to stop for health reasons or to care for a family member. So it’s essential to have a Plan B should you need to leave the workforce earlier than you’d hoped.

Retirement planning naturally comes with a ton of uncertainty. But since I don’t know what you earn, whether you have debt or how much you have saved, I’m going to have to respond to your question about how much to save with the vague and unsatisfying answer of: “As much as you can.”

Perhaps I can be more helpful if we work backward here. Instead of talking about how much you need to save, let’s talk about how much you need to retire. You can set savings goals from there.

The standard advice is that you need to replace about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Of course, if you can retire without a mortgage or any other debt, you could err on the lower side — perhaps even less.

For the average worker, Social Security benefits will replace about 40% of income. If you’re able to work for another two decades and get your maximum benefit at age 70, you can probably count on your benefit replacing substantially more. Your benefit will be up to 76% higher if you can delay until you’re 70 instead of claiming as early as possible at 62. That can make an enormous difference when you’re lacking in savings.

But since a Plan B is essential here, let’s only assume that your Social Security benefits will provide 40%. So you need at least enough savings to cover 30%.

If you have a retirement plan through your job with an employer match, getting that full contribution is your No. 1 goal. Once you’ve done that, try to max out your Roth IRA contribution. Since you’re over 50, you can contribute $7,000 in 2021, but for people younger than 50, the limit is $6,000.

If you maxed out your contributions under the current limits by investing $583 a month and earn 7% returns, you’d have $185,000 after 15 years. Do that for 20 years and you’d have a little more than $300,000. The benefit to saving in a Roth IRA is that the money will be tax-free when you retire.

The traditional rule of thumb is that you want to limit your retirement withdrawals to 4% each year to avoid outliving your savings. But that rule assumes you’ll be retired for 30 years. Of course, the longer you work and avoid tapping into your savings, the more you can withdraw later on.

Choosing what to invest in doesn’t need to be complicated. If you open an IRA through a major brokerage, they can use algorithms to automatically invest your money based on your age and when you want to retire.

By now you’re probably asking: How am I supposed to do all that as a single mom with a teacher’s salary? It pains me to say this, but yours may be a situation where even the most extreme budgeting isn’t enough to make your paycheck stretch as far as it needs to go. You may need to look at ways to earn additional income. Could you use the summertime or at least one weekend day each week to make extra money? Some teachers earn extra money by doing online tutoring or teaching English as a second language virtually, for example.

I hate even suggesting that. Anyone who teaches middle school truly deserves their time off. But unfortunately, I can’t change the fact that we underpay teachers. I want a solution for you that doesn’t involve working forever. That may mean you have to work more now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How Tapping Home Equity Can Pay the Taxes on a Roth IRA Conversion

Single Family Home with Beige Clapboard Exterior and Trees in Autumn Colors (Foliage) in Sleepy Hollow, Hudson Valley, New York. OlegAlbinsky/iStock

The benefits of incorporating a Roth IRA into your retirement strategy are often praised by financial advisers, citing the ability for money to grow tax-free for decades and provide tax-free income in retirement. While a Roth IRA conversion is one way to take advantage of this savings tool, the tax implications of converting investments from a traditional retirement account to a Roth IRA typically deter most people. Yet the effects of new legislation and persistent market volatility make a Roth IRA conversion worth considering, and paying for it doesn’t have to break the bank.

A Roth IRA conversion uses assets from a traditional or rollover IRA, 401(k), SEP or Simple IRA to fund a Roth IRA. Unlike regular contributions to a Roth IRA, which are constrained by income limitations and annual contribution caps, there are no restrictions when converting retirement assets to a Roth IRA. Any amount can be converted regardless of your age, income, or employment status. But the Roth IRA conversion doesn’t come without a cost.

When you convert pre-tax assets in a traditional retirement account to your Roth IRA, the conversion is treated as income and you must pay taxes on the assets converted. The amount you pay in taxes depends on your income tax bracket for the year. In some cases, a substantial conversion in one year could boost taxable income by multiple brackets. To help manage that liability, a series of partial conversions over several years could be planned to keep the distributions within a targeted tax bracket.

For many retirees, income from a traditional IRA or 401(k) can create a tax headache, especially when required minimum distributions (RMDs) raise their tax bracket. That’s where a Roth IRA comes in.

A Roth IRA provides the flexibility to take tax-free withdrawals in retirement when you want and in whatever amount you want. This is unlike other retirement accounts that have RMDs beginning at age 72. The RMDs are taxable income, which means that in addition to your tax bracket they can also impact your Medicare premium bracket and the taxation of your Social Security benefit, whereas distributions from the Roth IRA will not.

This year the CARES Act temporarily pauses RMDs from traditional retirement accounts. So, if you are 72 or older and you don’t take your RMD then your income will be lower. This provides a potential opportunity to make a larger conversion while maintaining the same income tax rate.

Additionally, since the Secure Act of 2020 eliminated the stretch provisions for inherited retirement plans, the Roth IRA is also a great estate planning tool. Non-spousal heirs can no longer take distributions over their life expectancy, but rather all distributions must be taken within 10 years. While this is true as well for an inherited Roth IRA, the distribution would not be a taxable event.

The cost of an IRA conversion can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Conventional wisdom is to pay the resulting tax bill with non-taxable assets from outside the retirement plan. Using plan assets would defeat the purpose of the conversion as you will permanently give up a portion of the capital that is accumulating on a tax-free basis. In addition, if you’re under age 59 ½, the portion of plan assets used to pay for the conversion could also be subject to a 10% tax penalty.

If you have the cash on hand, that’s likely the best way to cover the tax implications. But depending on the size of the conversion and your tax bracket, the up-front costs could be significant. Another option is to take out a loan against your life insurance policy. While this permanently reduces the policy value if not repaid, the loan doesn’t count as taxable income so long as the policy isn’t surrendered, doesn’t lapse, and the amount owed doesn’t exceed the premiums paid. If any of these do occur then the tax implications will likely be even larger than the taxes paid on the Roth IRA conversion.

Considering a reverse mortgage

Alternatively, tapping into your home equity can provide the means to pay the taxes. You could leverage current low interest rates and get a home equity line of credit (HELOC), though many banks have stopped accepting applications for HELOCs in recent months. Additionally, a HELOC will require a monthly mortgage payment, decreasing your cash flow.

For homeowners age 62 or older, a reverse mortgage could pay the tax liabilities from the Roth IRA conversion, creating tax and cash-flow flexibility and potentially a higher net worth.

With a reverse mortgage, the available line of credit grows and compounds at a value that is tied to current interest rates. This can be particularly beneficial with a series of partial Roth IRA conversions as it provides a growing resource to pay future tax bills. The line of credit also provides flexibility to convert a greater portion of your retirement assets during market plunges, so you only pay taxes on the lower value at the time of the conversion and not on any gains in the Roth IRA when the markets recover.

Since there are no principal or interest payments required for as long as you live in your home, the line of credit from a reverse mortgage provides the liquidity to pay for the Roth IRA conversion with no impact on household cash flow or the need to sell other invested assets.

A good rule of thumb is to use a reverse mortgage if your home equity is less than or equal to the value of the retirement assets you plan to convert. If the home represents a major portion of your net worth, a reverse mortgage may not be the best option to cover the tax bill. In this case, the reverse could better serve as a tax-free source of supplemental income, or to pay for in-home care, or other retirement expenses that distributions from the smaller invested assets may not be able to cover.

Evaluating the use of a reverse mortgage also depends on the projected costs in comparison with the projected returns. For example, if interest rates on a reverse line of credit are at 3%, and your home appreciates at a 3% rate, you could borrow 50% of your home equity and still maintain a 50% retained equity position throughout the duration of the loan. Even if the home only appreciated at a 1% rate, you would still have a retained equity position.

Projected returns on the Roth IRA conversion would also need to be evaluated. For simplicity’s sake, let us assume you borrow a total of $250,000 from your reverse line of credit to pay the tax bills on $1 million conversion. If you accrue interest on the line of credit balance at a 3% rate and the Roth IRA grows at a 6% tax-free rate, the return could be quite compelling over time.

Of course, there are no guarantees on any projections, which is why you should consult a financial professional and evaluate your specific situation. A number of “what if” scenarios should be considered including changes in interest and tax rates, home and investment growth rates, and legacy desires. These considerations will help determine if using a reverse mortgage to take advantage of the benefits of a Roth IRA conversion could be a retirement strategy that makes sense for you.

The post How Tapping Home Equity Can Pay the Taxes on a Roth IRA Conversion appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com