Early retirement put couple in financial jeopardy

The Dallas Morning News


Many workers dream of retiring on their own terms instead of being forced off the job by the economy or bad times at their employer.

William Kingsley did just that, retiring last July after more than 25 years as a civilian procurement officer in the U.S Army.

It was the earliest he could retire and receive a full pension.

“I wanted my freedom,” said Kingsley, 56, who lives with his wife, Luchia, in Garland, Texas. “I consider procurement a ball and chain. It’s working with all these crazy regulations and frustrations and bureaucratic wrangling.”

His move may have given him more emotional peace of mind, but it also opened up a financial can of worms for the Kingsleys.

When they applied for a money makeover sponsored by The Dallas Morning News and the Financial Planning Association, they said their goal was to ensure that they had enough money for retirement.

The Kingsleys have managed their expenses well. Still, by retiring at such an early age, he has put that goal in jeopardy, said certified financial planner Patrick Dougherty.

“His mistake was retiring early,” said Dougherty of Dougherty Wealth Management in Plano, Texas, who handled the Money Makeover.

When Kingsley retired, he had $65,233 in taxable accounts such as savings and checking account and a brokerage account. He had an additional $77,314 in tax-deferred investments, which consist entirely of the Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement savings and investment plan for federal employees.

They receive $3,833 in monthly pension benefits for a total annual income of $45,996. That’s the sole source of income for him and Luchia.

Their mortgage is the only debt they have, but their monthly expenses still exceed their income by $676.

In working with the Kingsleys, Dougherty assigned a life expectancy of 75 years for William and 80 years for Luchia, who’s 46 and not working.

By retiring at age 56, Kingsley “missed out on not only salary increases, which would have substantially raised his pension amount, but he also has to fund nine more years in retirement than had he waited” to retire at age 65, Dougherty said.

“If he retired at 65 and his life expectancy is 75 years old, he would have had to worry about funding 10 years in retirement, but since he retired at 56, he’s had to fund out of savings and pensions 19 years instead of 10,” he said. “It’s kind of a double whammy.”

As a result, the couple is pulling money out of their savings and is running an annual deficit of $8,112. Neither receives Social Security benefits.

“You currently do not have sufficient income to fund your lifestyle needs,” Dougherty told the Kingsleys. “After reviewing your current expenses, it is apparent that you have implemented and follow a disciplined conservative household budget in all areas. Since there is no improvement to be made in the expenses side of your balance sheet, you may want to consider returning to either full or part-time employment until your mortgage is paid off.”

They should also stop making extra payments on their mortgage, he said. The Kingsleys have 28 more years to pay on their 30-year mortgage.

The Kingsleys are far from alone in falling short of retirement funds.

Depending largely on age and income, between 4 percent and 14 percent of Americans who otherwise would have had adequate income to cover basic expenses in retirement became “at risk” of running short because of the housing and financial crisis of 2008-09, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that studies workplace issues.

Workers considering retiring early need to do a thorough analysis of what their retirement expenses will be and how long they expect to live, Dougherty said.

Dougherty advises clients to ignore the common rule of thumb that says retirees can fund their expenses with 80 percent of their pre-retirement incomes.

“Make sure you’re funding 100 percent of your current expenses, not 80 percent,” he said. “I’d rather you have too much money when you die than not enough.”

Dougherty said he recommends a higher percentage because of the expenses that accompany retirement.

Dougherty recommends that the Kingsleys shift some of their conservative investments to stocks, and to find investments with a growth-type mode.

“This would give you the equity exposure needed to grow your portfolio, which would help to cover your lifestyle needs and provide reserves for unforeseen expenses in the future,” he said.

Kingsley said he became overly conservative in his investments after investing unwisely in stocks.

The Kingsleys have an adult daughter who’s financially self-sufficient and one grandson.

“Your daughter is an adult, and you do not have any need to plan for education,” Dougherty said. “Based on your financial status, we recommend that you not consider helping with your grandson’s education.”

Instead, they should spend time shoring up their finances, he said. He also recommended that they consider long-term care coverage.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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