In Retirement Flux, Credit Unions Are Safe Haven: Guest Opinion
As a financial adviser specializing in retirement planning and retirement income planning, I work every day with baby boomers. So, I am acutely aware of members’ concerns about the current economy and its impact on their future needs.
I have been an adviser for more than 30 years, but the last 12 years have been the most challenging. We have had two major market crashes of roughly a 50% drop in value and members’ retirement accounts that were invested have struggled, with some seeing virtually no gains for 10 years or more.
Now, we’re in a long- term, low-interest rate environment that is devastating to those conservative savers and investors – many of our credit union members – who seek to avoid risk. They are now earning next to nothing on their savings, money market accounts and certificates of deposit.
The first baby boomers turned 62 in 2008 and began retiring. Many also began drawing Social Security payments. This wave of retirement has continued at a time when the economy crashed and retirement account values declined and interest rates fell to nearly 0%. Some have had to return to work in order to have adequate income. Many have sought safety and guarantees in unprecedented numbers.
But during these difficult times, credit union membership and deposits have grown enormously as people have become disenchanted with bank behavior and growing fees. We have become the safer, friendlier harbor in the storm.
Retirees, in general, have always been more conservative with their money; no more accumulation time, they have what they have. But the great recession and its effects are that our members want safety, guarantees and assurances and credit unions are well positioned to help them. Credit unions offer higher rates on their savings and CDs combined with lower fees on other products and services. We value our members and put their interests first. We encourage responsible borrowing where necessary and debt elimination as a goal.
Our members still need to retire, still need to save and take action. By helping them examine their whole picture of assets, liabilities, and income sources, we can help them put together plans and strategies to achieve their goals.
In the past, a retiring member may have been content to leave a large retirement account such as 401k or individual retirement account, fully invested in a balanced portfolio and chose to fund or supplement their retirement income via a 4% or 5% withdrawal annually. That approach, however, exposes the member to poor market conditions and/or downturns that can lower their income, or risk their principal, and can even risk completely running out of money.
Recently, I worked with a member who retired mid-year. The member had a large 401k, no pension, and was dependent upon the 401k account for a major portion of retirement income needs. The member was very hesitant about the economy and market risk.
Working with the member, I was able to show how to move a portion of the account to an IRA annuity that could guarantee an income flow for life that actually met the member’s basic expense needs, while leaving the rest of the member’s monies invested conservatively for modest growth to guard against future inflation and unexpected expenses. The member was able to gain a level of security on retirement, for life, in spite of the current economic uncertainty.
To meet credit union members’ needs and desires for safety and assurances, we’re equipped to use more conservative tools such as annuities and other types of investments that can offer various levels of guarantees or, are just very conservative choices.
Medicare is another sensitive topic with boomers. Many of them have parents who are on Medicare and the talk of changing it is a sensitive topic. Uncertainty is the enemy of feeling safe and secure.
I am finding most people are well aware that Medicare’s costs and the current structure may be unsustainable, but also like the general population, are equally divided about the right solution. The uncertainty is causing my members to be even more cautious and where possible, they’re taking steps to build extra savings or planning larger cushions of cash or reserves than they would have in the past. Most are more fearful benefits will be cut in the future, no matter which political party wins in November.
The looming election is another distraction and the uncertainty that most recognize has the potential for big impacts on the decisions looming, not just on Medicare, but on Social Security and taxes. Uncertainty results in decisions being put on hold, and we see that daily. The impact on the economy is people spending less, which is self-defeating in a consumer-driven economy
Given all the uncertainties, here are at least five critical things for boomers near, or within five years of, retirement, to consider:
Max out your retirement savings opportunities via your 401k, IRA or Roth IRA. Very few retire with too much savings.
Reduce your risk exposure to market downturns. Now is not the time to be aggressive. It is the time to be more about protecting assets.
If you are eligible, which means you are typically age 60, many 401k plans allow in-service rollovers to IRAs. If you are unhappy with the investment choices or performance or fees in your 401k, you can move most of the money to IRA choices that can improve those issues, while leaving the 401k account open for maxing out savings and matching opportunities until you retire.
Start planning for your health care costs and needs in retirement. Understand your retiree health care plan choices and if you have not already done so, consider the need to put a good long term care insurance plan in place.
Reduce and or eliminate debt as much as possible before your planned retirement date.
There are many steps to preparing for retirement and a great one is getting help at a credit union. Credit unions are positioned extremely well to provide the low cost, conservative approaches that our boomer members value and will likely value for years to come.
Robin Arnold is the trust liaison officer for Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union’s trust and investment services program and is vice president of wealth management with CUNA Brokerage Services Inc. Contact 803.312.7984 or firstname.lastname@example.org