Top Retirement Prep Questions to Ask Clients

Many Americans have not saved a sufficient amount to retire comfortably. And that's if they've saved at all. 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 of retirement. Here are a few questions financial advisors should ask to jumpstart the retirement planning process with their clients.

Key Takeaways

  • Retirement planning can be daunting, especially with individuals increasingly responsible for their own financial well-being in older age.
  • The first step is to evaluate lifestyle expectations and then set a financial goal that can meet those expectations.
  • A retirement plan should consider personal savings and investments, 401(k) or IRA-type retirement plans, and Social Security to make ends meet.
  • Talk to a financial professional to understand both how to plan and then what steps to take to start drawing down assets in the most efficient manner.
  • Healthcare is an important factor that every client should plan for and consider.

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 to do once they retire. This could include travel, moving to a different location, doing charity and community service work, or any number of other activities. Today, this might also mean quitting their job and starting a business in an area they are passionate about. 

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 pre-retirement income retirees generally spend in retirement, everyone is different. Further, this spending is not linear.

The earlier years of retirement often tend to be more active in terms of things like travel, but 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, whether they may downsize (or upsize) their homes, 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:

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.

Ideally, these questions should begin to be addressed at least 10 years prior to retirement and then revisited periodically as retirement gets closer. If retirement cash cannot support the desired lifestyle, then choices have to be made. These might include:

  • Working a bit longer
  • Working part-time in retirement
  • Reducing anticipated expenses
  • 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.

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 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 (RMDs) kick in, 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.

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.

With the passage of the SECURE Act 2.0, anyone who turns 73 on or after Jan. 1, 2023, must take RMDs as of April 1. The age was raised when the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act for people who turned 72 between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2022.

When Will You Take Social Security?

This is a 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 and two months (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 on the higher benefit amounts.

For those who are working, any income over the Social Security minimum limit 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 different claiming strategies for married couples that can work well, depending on the client’s situation. Financial advisors should help their clients determine the best timing and claiming strategy for their situation.

How Will You Pay for Healthcare?

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

The Bottom Line

Asking questions of your clients can help ensure that they are in the best financial shape possible as they approach retirement. Addressing the questions outlined above and many others is critical to their retirement planning.

Article Sources
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  1. Scientific American. "Humans Could Live up to 150 Years, New Research Suggests."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics — Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)."

  3. U.S. Congress. "H.R.2617 - Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023." Division T: Section 107.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Plan and IRA Required Minimum Distributions FAQs."

  5. Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits: Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early."

  6. Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits: Delayed Retirement Credits."

  7. Social Security Administration. "Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information for 2022."

  8. Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits: Receiving Benefits While Working."

  9. Health Insurance Marketplace. "Glossary: Health Savings Account (HSA)."

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses," Pages 5-15.

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