With nearly half of retirees leaving the workforce last year sooner than they planned, financial advisors are finding themselves helping some clients deal with unexpected problems.
According to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey, co-sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc., 47 percent of retirees last year stopped working earlier than they expected. For many, circumstances out of their control, such as health issues or the loss of their job, were the reason. These retirees say they are not confident they will be able to pay basic living expenses, let alone medical or long-term care expenses. More than 1,000 people participated in the annual survey.
John Smallwood, senior wealth advisor of Smallwood Capital Management, Shrewsbury, N.J., provides two examples of clients who came to him after their retirement plans suffered severe disruptions. In the first case, a business owner counted on the future sale of his company to fund his retirement. Unfortunately, a fire consumed the building he rented and insurance did not cover enough of the lost equipment to re-start the business. As a lifelong entrepreneur, the client is reluctant to accept jobs he considers beneath him. The challenge here is to acknowledge the new reality, acquire an income and adjust the retirement plan accordingly, says Smallwood.
The second client came to Smallwood after declaring bankruptcy. This father of four had a good job and by the time he was 55 had put his kids through college. His plan was to save all the money he had been spending on college tuition and invest it for the next 10 years to fund his own retirement. That all changed when he lost his job and got sick. He now works for a nonprofit earning a quarter of his previous salary. Smallwood is helping him rebuild to achieve the best retirement outcome possible under these circumstances.
Today’s economy has also changed the nature of referrals to his advisor company, Smallwood says, “Both clients, who were in their 60s, were referred to me by their children. In the past, it was the reverse.”
Steve McCarthy, owner and principal of McCarthy Asset Management, Redwood Shores, Calif., offered a different perspective. McCarthy cites the experiences of one client who retired before age 50. However, the losses the client experienced from the 2008 financial crisis created enough stress to warrant his return to full-time employment.
One strategy that McCarthy uses to secure some stability for his clients is to set aside three years of living expenses in short term bond funds to avoid selling equities in tough times.
McCarthy says that some of his other clients could benefit from working part time to shore up depleted retirement savings and create sustainable withdrawals, but most don’t. In general, he observes that people who say they will work past age 65 do not, for various reasons, including health issues and a difficult job market.