Typically, as we scan the web for articles to feature here on the AgingOptions Blog, we look for ones that reflect our general philosophy about retirement planning. We gravitate toward articles that emphasize retirement planning as a holistic endeavor, where all the key elements have to work together in a well-integrated strategy. Those elements – financial, housing, health, legal, and family – are what make up an AgingOptions LifePlan.
But sometimes we like to share articles that seem to us to point in the wrong direction, which is the case with this article we discovered on the MSN website. In it, writer Kyle Boyd, a senior financial advisor with a firm in South Carolina and Kentucky, asks what seems to be an innocent-enough question: as you prepare for the future, do you need a financial planner, or do you need a retirement planner? But for reasons we’ll get to below, we think that’s the wrong question – and as Rajiv says, it betrays a complete misunderstanding of what true retirement planning should include.
Terms are Used Interchangeably
Boyd isn’t completely to blame for what Rajiv might call a shallow understanding of the role of the retirement planner. Indeed, as Boyd points out in his article, the terms “retirement planning” and “financial planning” are often used interchangeably. “But there are significant differences in the terms,” he adds. “Understanding what each means is important to creating a strong financial future.”
As we read what Boyd (and others in the industry, no doubt) have to say, the difference seems to boil down to where you are in your work life. One type of planner, he seems to suggest, focuses on accumulation, while the other is more geared toward post-work income and lifestyle. In our view the two roles represent two sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, let’s look deeper.
Accumulation and Investing vs. Income and Expense Control
“Financial planners help clients accumulate and invest money in a variety of ways during their working life,” Boyd writes. “They guide you in constructing a framework to help you reach different financial goals over different amounts of time, such as saving money for your children’s college education, getting out of debt or paying off your mortgage, and keeping your long-term retirement plans on track.” So far, so good.
But then he tries to paint a different picture for so-called retirement planners. These professionals, he says, “focus specifically on the years after you’ve stepped away from full-time work. Retirement planners are specialists who help you determine how to receive money from various sources in retirement. They also help you look in detail at all the expenses you’ll incur in retirement, and how your assets can generate income that will cover those costs.”
Boyd’s view reflects the misconception many in the financial industry have, namely that “retirement planning” is all about finances and nothing else. But that’s incorrect, says Rajiv.
Retirement Planners Need In-Depth Knowledge of Social Security, Medicare
Boyd attempts to draw an even clearer distinction between the two types of planners, but we’re not sure his arguments work. “Whereas your financial plan is based on your working income and expected income in the future,” he writes, “a retirement plan is devised with the knowledge that when you retire, you will most likely not earn the same income as when you were working.”
But we might say that surely a good financial planner has to plan the exact same way. An advisor who failed to take his or her client’s age and retirement goals into account every step of the way wouldn’t be doing what they were hired to do.
“Retirement planning specialists develop a plan that allows you to draw down on retirement income such as Social Security, pension, investments and Medicare,” Boyd goes on. “They can answer important questions that are central to a stable retirement: When should you start collecting Social Security? How much of your savings and investments should you withdraw each year? What types of investments are best suited to your retirement needs?”
In Boyd’s view, a financial planner may lack sufficient knowledge to help you retire securely – but if that’s the case, we suggest you’ve picked a poorly-equipped financial planner.
Three Areas where a Retirement Planner Shines
Boyd lists three specific areas in which retirement planners should have specialized expertise over “financial planners.” Each of these elements, he says, is vital to a secure retirement.
Decisions on retirement accounts: “Retirement planners can help you determine whether you have enough to retire now [and] how much to keep saving,” says Boyd. They can help you evaluate your retirement savings options including Roth IRAs, Roth conversions, traditional IRAs or your company 401(k). If you’re one of the few retirees who still has a pension, a retirement planner (in Boyd’s view) can help you with pension allocation decisions. Boyd doesn’t mention Required Minimum Distribution rules here, but that’s certainly an area where you’ll need the right advice or it could cost you.
Social Security: “Planners will have strategies to guide you regarding what age to begin receiving your benefits,” Boyd writes. They should be able to recommend spousal and survivor benefits that apply to your situation, and know the rules governing ex-spouses. Retirement planners, in Boyd’s opinion, should also be able to chart your tax strategy to ensure the lowest amount of taxes in your retirement years. “Some make the mistake of thinking their non-working years will provide a sizable drop in tax exposure,” he warns, “but factors like Social Security and Required Minimum Distributions of retirement accounts must be weighed carefully.”
Investment approaches: “One critical consideration is how to protect your retirement income from being hurt by market downturns,” says Boyd. A good retirement planner also needs a solid working knowledge of Medicare and issues related to long-term care.
Rajiv’s Assessment: This View is “Bloody Maddening”
Boyd’s closing point sounds good, but in our view, it maintains the same narrow focus. “Whatever stage you’re at on your journey, the most important thing you can do for your financial future is to have a plan,” he writes. “That’s where a credible planner comes in. And while the two terms, financial planning and retirement planning, should not be used interchangeably, you need both for a healthy financial life.”
Rajiv has a different view. “This line of reasoning is just so bloody maddening,” he states. “There are two things wrong here. First, people are forever thinking that all they need is plenty of money and they’ll be just fine in retirement. That is dangerous and short-sighted thinking!”
He ticks off a long list of wealthy celebrities – Glenn Campbell, Casey Kasem, Prince, Tim Conway, Aretha Franklin – who had plenty of money but whose lives ended in sadness and disarray. “A financial plan by itself is like a one-legged stool,” Rajiv argues. “It’s important – but it’s a recipe for disaster if that’s all you have to guide you into retirement.”
Second, says Rajiv, the article draws a line between the two types of planners that shouldn’t exist. “A so-called financial planner who does nothing to help you well into retirement isn’t much of a planner, in my view,” says Rajiv. “And a so-called retirement planner who is focused only on financial issues is still just a financial advisor with slightly more capabilities than one with investment focus alone.” Rajiv’s advice: find a qualified, objective financial planner who understands holistic retirement planning, and work with him or her to develop a financial dashboard – an invaluable tool to guide all your financial decisions.
In short, we disagree with the premise of this article. As we said at the outset, in most ways the question of “financial planner” versus “retirement planner” is a distinction without a difference.
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(originally reported at www.msn.com)