Top Retirement Prep Questions to Ask Clients

Many Americans have not saved a sufficient amount to retire comfortably. Financial advisors can help their clients determine not only when to retire, but also if they should consider working at least part-time in their early years in retirement. Here are a few questions financial advisors should ask to jumpstart the retirement planning process with their clients.

What Does Your Ideal Retirement Lifestyle Look Like?

This is a good time to have your clients dream big and visualize what they would like be doing once they retire. This could include travel, moving to a different location, doing charity and community service work or any number of activities. Today this might also mean quitting their job and starting a business in an area they are passionate about. (For more, see: How Advisors Can Manage Evolving Retirement.)

How Much Will This Lifestyle Cost?

It is important for clients and their financial advisors to understand how much their desired retirement lifestyle will cost. While there are rules of thumb regarding the percentage of their pre-retirement income retirees generally spend in retirement, everyone is different. Further, this spending is not linear. Often the earlier years of retirement tend to be more active for things like travel and these types of activities might slow down a bit as people age. The best approach is to have your clients do a budget factoring in things like where they will live, will they be downsizing (or upsizing) their house, their activities and other factors. In short, they need to prepare a retirement budget.

How Will You Fund Retirement?

Financial advisors should help their clients get their arms around all financial resources available to them to fund their retirement. This could include things such as: (For more, see: Advisors: Have Clients Try on Retirement for Size.)

There certainly could be other financial assets available for retirement as well. The key here is to help a client to determine what type of ongoing retirement cash flow their various financial assets will translate into. This is also a good time to run financial planning projections to help determine how much income can be supported and for how long. Projections out to at least age 100 are certainly wise given increases in life expectancy.

What if Your Resources Fall Short of Your Costs?

Ideally these questions should begin to be addressed at least 10 years prior to retirement and then revisited periodically as retirement gets closer. If there does turn out to be a gap between the retirement cash flow the client’s assets can support and their desired lifestyle then choices have to be made. These might include working a bit longer, working part-time in retirement, reducing anticipated expenses and saving more in the remaining years until retirement.  The longer the time until retirement the more time clients and their financial advisors will have to make any required adjustments to the client’s financial plan. (For more, see: Tips for Transitioning Your Client from Earning to Drawdown.)

Which Retirement Accounts Will You Tap First?

For clients with multiple accounts this is a critical question to address. The answer may also change over time as the client’s situation changes. Some retirees might automatically say let’s tap the accounts with the lowest tax bill first. However in terms of overall long-term retirement planning this might not be the optimal answer.

For clients who are younger than the age where required minimum distributions (RMD) kick in (70 ½) it may make sense, for example, for them to tap tax-deferred retirement accounts at least to some extent. This is especially true if their incomes are relatively low and they have room for more income within their current tax bracket. This will also serve to reduce their RMDs down the road which is helpful if they really don’t need this income. (For more, see: How Advisors Can Help Address Longevity Risk.)

Things can change year to year, for example, if the client has high medical expenses that allow for part of them to be tax deductible. They may consider taking more from their tax-deferred accounts as the medical deduction can offset the tax due on these distributions.

When Will You Take Social Security?

This is critical question and one that is (rightly) receiving more attention each year in the financial press. Social Security benefits can be taken as early as age 62. Waiting until their full retirement age (FRA) of 66 (67 if born in 1960 or later) results in a benefit that is about 30% percent higher. Waiting until age 70 adds roughly another 32% to the benefit. Not only are benefits higher but any cost of living increases will be higher as they are based off of the higher benefit amounts. (For more, see: Tips on Delaying Social Security Benefits.)

For those who are working any income over $15,720 (for 2015) will result in a $1 reduction in your benefit for every $2 in income over that amount. This restriction goes away once you reach the FRA age.

Additionally there are various claiming strategies for married couples that can work well depending upon the client’s situation. Financial advisors should help their clients determine the best timing and claiming strategy for their situation. (For more, see: 4 Unusual Ways to Boost Social Security Benefits.)

How Will You Pay for Healthcare?

Healthcare costs will comprise a significant portion of retirement expenditures for many folks. Companies offering retiree medical benefits are becoming increasingly rare. Even state and municipal entities will likely have to rethink this benefit in coming years.

Retiree medical costs must be factored into your client’s retirement planning or else they may be doomed to run out of money. One method of funding retirement healthcare costs is to use a Health Savings Account (HSA) if the client has access to one via a high deductible insurance plan in the workplace or privately. These accounts allow tax-deferred contributions and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. Ideally the client would fund the account while working and use out of pocket dollars to fund current medical expenses, allowing the balance to be used for Medicare supplements and other expenses. (For more, see: 'Medicare 'Donut Hole' Essentials for the Financial Advisor.)

The Bottom Line

Asking questions of your clients can help them ensure that they are in the best financial shape possible as they approach retirement. Addressing the questions outlined above and many others are critical to their retirement planning. (For more, see: Financial Advisor Client Guide: Retirement Plans and Insurance.)