Everyone knows that a sound retirement strategy is one of the pillars of a good financial plan, yet all too often clients can be reluctant to discuss the details. Whether it's fear of no longer having the structure and prestige of a career, uncertainty about their goals - financial and otherwise - or worry over not having saved enough, they avoid the candid talk that retirement planning demands.
As planners, we want to get them talking - and thinking seriously - about retirement. Here are some strategies for reframing the conversation.
Practice retirement: Get away from all-or-nothing thinking about retirement. Instead of talking with your clients about "when they retire," suggest that they "practice" retirement while still earning a salary. That means continuing to work, but beginning the transition by incorporating some of the activities they envision for their retirement - traveling, taking up a hobby, studying a new language or discipline. Clients who are unsure about giving up work can try out a life with a little extra leisure, without committing to it. And those who haven't saved enough can postpone retirement - ideally until 70, when they can collect their maximum Social Security benefit - while letting themselves enjoy life more. The key is that clients don't tap their nest egg and instead fund their amended lifestyle out of earnings.
Social Security skepticism: We often need to help clients understand the facts about Social Security - including how much control they have over their benefit. One common misperception is, "I've put money in, but there won't be any for me." That irrational belief can drive people to start collecting it as soon as they are eligible - even if that may not be the optimal decision. Another viewpoint planners frequently hear is, "So what? It's not that much money anyway." In truth, differences in Social Security-claiming strategies can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a retiree's lifetime.
Varying goals: Although it's a truism that all clients have unique financial goals and needs, advisors can be single-minded when it comes to maximizing Social Security income. Instead, work with clients to consider a fuller range of possibilities, thinking in terms of a specific personal goal. Is it waiting as long as possible to collect to get the maximum benefit? Is it to ensure the most income for a surviving spouse? Or maybe the goal is more concrete, such as using the income to cover housing costs upon retirement. The point is, once a goal has been identified, a planner adds value by helping a client achieve it.
Reframing retirement from an all-or-nothing proposition to one where people understand how much control they have allows them to think and plan for it differently. It also enables them to map out a transition strategy that maximizes their potential for enjoyment and financial security.
Christine Fahlund is a senior financial planner and vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services.
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