5 Considerations when Retirement Planning for Two
Article by: Arielle O’Shea, NerdWallet, 2/21/16
Here’s a novel way to celebrate your anniversary: Pull up two chairs at your kitchen table, pop a bottle of Champagne and start talking about retirement.
What could be more romantic than planning for your future together?
Here are five considerations that should be part of that conversation.
1. Your goals
You’re saving for a shared retirement, so it only makes sense to talk about what that looks like.
“The biggest thing is actually having a plan, and most people don’t,” says Scott Frank of Stone Steps Financial in Encinitas, Calif. “What are you going to do? Where are you going to live? How much are you going to be spending?”
Not only is that kind of planning key to how much you need to save — aiming to replace 80% of your pre-retirement income is a good place to start — it also makes the process more fun. Saving for retirement isn’t exciting, but saving so you can retire on the beach is.
2. Your account choices
Once you know how much you need to save, it’s about where you save.
“You’re going to retire as a couple, so look at all of your available retirement savings options as a couple,” says Larry McClanahan of SecondHalf Planning and Investment in Clackamas, Oregon.
If you have a limited pool of money to save for retirement — as most people do — and one spouse has access to a 401(k) with matching dollars, that account is the top priority for both of you. If you each receive an employer match, aim to contribute enough to your individual accounts to fully capture both.
Then you can consider other options: non-matched employer-sponsored plans and Roth or traditional IRAs.
Along with employer-matching dollars, taxes should be high on the list of considerations when choosing where you should collectively save.
“The ideal situation is for a couple to transition into retirement with significant retirement resources of different tax treatment,” says McClanahan. That requires a strategy so that you get to retirement with tax-deferred funds in traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, tax-free funds in Roth accounts and — if necessary — already-taxed funds in a brokerage account.
Doing so will allow you to mix and match your distributions in retirement, minimizing your tax burden as much as possible.
4. Beneficiary designations
You’ve heard these horror stories in the news: Joe Millionaire forgets to update his beneficiary designations, accidentally leaving a fat 401(k) to his ex-wife.
The lesson is applicable for average Joes, too. The beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance trump your will. Keep those designations up to date.
5. Plan for tough times, too
Couples don’t just fail to plan for retirement together; many fail to talk about money, period. According to Fidelity, a quarter of couples disagree on the amount of their households’ investable assets; and 43% couldn't identify their spouse’s salary.
This is a mistake for many reasons, but here’s a big one: If your spouse dies prematurely, or you divorce, you don’t want to be left alone in the dark. You both hope those things never come, but you each need to know how and where your money is invested, along with important details like account logins and where paperwork is kept.
And while retirement assets would likely be divvied up in a divorce, both spouses should be actively saving, if possible. Even a non-working spouse can still save for retirement in an IRA, as long you file a joint tax return.
This may be an especially tough part of your romantic kitchen table conversation, but remember that you’re both in this together, for the long term.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual
This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.