Get With The Plan: January 15, 2012

Ralph, 52, and Blaire, 42, have two children in college, three properties and lots of hopes for their future. But that also comes with lots questions about their finances.

“We have lots of goals. Retirement, college, long-term care concerns, possible Roth IRA conversions, asset allocation…” says Ralph.

The couple, whose names have been changed, have set aside $318,100 in 401(k) plans, $73,300 in IRAs, $40,000 in a brokerage account, $120,000 in savings and $1,500 in checking.

In 12 years, they hope to retire and become snowbirds, using one of their investment properties, when Ralph is 65.

The Star-Ledger asked Jody D’Agostini, a certified financial planner with with AXA Advisors/ RICH Planning Group in Morristown, to help Ralph and Blaire determine if retirement is in reach.

While Ralph earns a significant salary, the couple’s savings isn’t enough to support them through their lifetimes if Ralph retires at age 65, D’Agostini says.

D’Agostini says the most viable option would be to postpone retirement until Ralph is 72.

“If they wanted to retire at an earlier age, and continue to work at some level, that would also be an alternative,” she says. “They will need to supplement the income from their retirement assets so that they would still be growing the assets.”

The couple could also make their current savings work harder for them.

“Their risk tolerance indicates that they are very aggressive investors, but their current asset mix doesn’t reflect this,” D’Agostini says. “They should rebalance their portfolio so as to achieve the projected rate of return of 8 percent over time”

They currently have saved approximately $400,000 in retirement assets. Their current mix is yielding 6.31 percent annually, and hiking their returns could go a long way in growing their retirement assets.

If the $400,000 grew at the 6.31 percent rate of return for 12 years, it would be worth about $833,000, D’Agostini says. If the same amount grew at an 8 percent rate of return for the same 12 years, it would grow to over $1 million — giving them another $167,000 for retirement funding.

“In retirement, we try to accumulate enough assets where you could live off of the growth of the account at a rate of between 4 to 5 percent annually,” she says. “Having that extra amount could generate an additional $6,000 to $8,000 annually for the rest of their lives.”

Based on the couple’s cash flow and spending patterns, D’Agostini says it appears there should be a surplus of $62,000 after expenses are paid. She recommends they save every penny of it for retirement.

Ralph is over 50 and he maxes out his 401(k) contributions with the catch-up contribution for a total of $22,000 a year, while Blaire only contributes 3 percent of her pay, or $1,944 annually. As such, she misses out on her company’s matching funds.

D’Agostini suggests the couple first max out Blaire’s 401(k) at $16,500 a year.

After that, she says they should put the rest of their extra cash flow in a non-retirement account.

“They have over three months of living expenses in fairly liquid accounts which are sufficient to cover their emergency fund,” she says. “The rest should be invested more aggressively to help to grow their nest egg.”

D’Agostini looked at the couple’s insurance policies, and she says they’re underinsured in the areas of life and disability.

They have mortgage debt, college loans and credit card debt, and their life insurance policies wouldn’t cover those expenses should something happen to one of them, D’Agostini says.

Blaire does have disability insurance through work which covers 60 percent of her pay, and because she contributes to the premium, the benefit will come to her income tax-free.

But Ralph has no disability coverage, and as the primary breadwinner, the loss of his income could be a big problem.

“As we age, the chance of becoming disabled for a significant period of time increases,” D’Agostini says. “As a worker, he pays into short-term disability, but if that disability extended for longer, this could put their finances in serious jeopardy.”

She suggests Ralph recommend to his employer that they offer a group policy, or he can shop for one on his own.

Ralph and Blaire were also interested in long-term care insurance, and D’Agostini says it’s a wise move. With current nursing home costs in New Jersey tipping over $105,000 a year, and assisted living costs averaging over $59,000 a year, long-term care insurance could be a big money-saver.

When it does come time to retire, D’Agostini recommends they postpone taking Social Security until they are at least are at their full retirement ages, which is age 66 for Ralph and 67 for Blaire.

“Each year that they delay taking the benefit will enrich their benefit by 8 percent, which if they lead a long lives, could be quite significant,” D’Agostini says.

So this couple has work to do, D’Agostini says, but their goals are not completely out of reach. They just need a little tweaking, and time.

“Although they fall short of their retirement goals, they have the time, available human capital, and the ability to earn an income,” she says. “This is one of the most valuable assets that we have.”