I am a 65-year-old widow in good health, and just started collecting my late husband’s Social Security benefit of $4,000 per month. When I turn 70, I will switch to my benefit since it appears it will be around $100 higher every month at that time. My current expenses are running high at about $10,000 per month due to some house maintenance projects I am doing. My son and his family will inherit everything when I’m gone.
I estimate my monthly expenses will drop to $5,000-$6,000 within the next year. I supplement my monthly income by drawing off interest, dividends and some profit-taking from my traditional IRA account which is worth about $2.5 million. I also have a Roth IRA of about $60,000 and bank CDs of $200,000. I also have another traditional IRA account worth $350,000, which I have designated as my long-term healthcare account in case I have to go into a nursing home at some point.
“‘I’m not sure if it makes sense to wait two to five years to collect my pensions if I am going to be drawing my RMD just a few years later.’”
I have two pensions that I am debating about when I should start collecting. If I collect now, I will receive $1,400 per month. If I wait until I am 67 it will be $1,620 and at 70 the pension will pay $2,100 per month. However, when I turn 73 and start my minimum required distributions from my IRA, the annual RMD along with my Social Security should be more than enough for me to live on.
I’m not sure if it makes sense to wait two to five years to collect my pensions if I am going to be drawing my RMD just a few years later. If I collect my pensions now, then it would reduce the amount of money I need to siphon off of my investments and could leave them relatively untouched for a few more years.
“‘Money was always tight for us growing up and a struggle for my parents as they got older and needed healthcare assistance.’”
So the question is, should I collect my pensions now and reduce the amount of money I am currently drawing off of my IRA? Or wait a few years and get the higher monthly payout? Everything I read encourages people to wait as long as they can to collect their retirements. My calculations show that if I collect now, my break-even point is about age 82. If I live longer than that, then waiting to collect would pay me more over the long term. Both my parents lived into their early 90s so longevity is a potential concern.
I realize that I’m in a good financial situation, which is the result of my husband and I working extremely hard all of our lives and consistently saving and investing during good times as well as during recessions, job losses, and raising a family. But money was always tight for us growing up and a struggle for my parents as they got older and needed healthcare assistance, so I don’t think I will ever shake that off. I worry about outliving my money. I just want to make the right decision.
Thank you for your help.
To Withdraw or Not Withdraw
Dear Withdraw or Not Withdraw,
Let’s start with the good news. Whatever you do — start withdrawals now or wait — you are in a pretty strong financial position. If you can afford to wait — and you can — and you expect to live into your 90s, do that. That extra $700 a month will give you comfort as you age. You have $2.5 million in your IRA, and you will pay tax on those withdrawals regardless, but you can afford to use that as a buffer before your higher pension payments kick in.
A financial adviser will help you crunch your numbers, but $4,000 a month in Social Security is a good start. Cutting your $10,000 monthly expenses to $6,000 is smart, and an adviser can help you see where you could make further cuts in your expenses, especially as you age. For some perspective: This survey found that working Americans ages 45 and older on average believe it will take $1.1 million to retire comfortably, yet only 21% say they’ll reach $1 million.
Another reason to withdraw from your IRA now? Gains from an IRA, as you know, are taxable. Gains from a Roth IRA are not taxable if the account has been up and running for five years and you are over 59½. One of the big advantages to a Roth is the flexibility it affords. If you have a medical emergency, you could use your Roth IRA as a backup. (CDS are not typically useful for this as cashing out early results in a penalty, which could negate your interest earned over the period of the CD.)
“‘Whatever you decide will be the best decision for you at this time.’”
Dan Herron, a partner at Better Business Financial Services in San Luis Obispo, Calif., agrees you should wait. “Since longevity appears to be on your side thanks to good genes from your family, it is probably beneficial to postpone taking benefits as long as you can to maximize your pensions,” he says. “The reason being is that given the uncertainty surrounding Social Security, your pension may be your best hedge against any potential Social Security cuts down the road.”
He also sees the tax benefits in siphoning funds from what is already a very healthy IRA. “While you draw from your IRA now, you are reducing the balance of the IRA, which then (potentially) reduces the required minimum distribution amounts,” he says. “This could potentially be beneficial from a tax perspective.” And he suggests staggering your pension benefits, making withdrawals from one in two years, while leaving the other until you hit 70.
Whatever you decide will be the best decision for you at this time. No future is guaranteed, but your No. 1 priority right is peace of mind to secure a long and healthy retirement.
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