Baby boomers getting finances in order for retirement

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) As baby boomers approach retirement, many are taking steps to ensure they're ready financially.

Those on the leading edge of the baby boom turn 58 this year, and experts say it's a good time to start gathering financial records and adopt strategies for spending their money after they stop working full time. For some it also means thinking about part-time jobs or volunteer positions for their retirement years.

''It's definitely time for the boomers to get their ducks in a row,'' said financial planner Robert Reby of Danbury, Conn. ''When it comes to retirement, you don't want surprises.''

For Paul Patrick of Ridgefield, Conn., that has translated into starting a business.

Patrick, 51, spends his weekdays as chief sales officer for a technology company and his weekends managing a packaged ice business he launched last year.

''It's clearly fulfilling a personal goal of mine, which was to start a business and maybe sell it for a profit at some point,'' Patrick said. ''And it's a way to protect against income erosion and possibly for something (to do) after retirement.''

Reby, the financial planner, applauds such a move and believes many boomers will have to make work in some form a part of their retirement.

''Baby boomers have demonstrated they're among the greatest consumers in history,'' he said. ''As a result, many of their retirements are going to be underfunded because they lack savings.''

That doesn't mean all is lost, he added. ''They can start now looking for a job they enjoy more, whether consulting or starting a small business or working in the golf club,'' he said. ''The key is to start early in lining things up.''

Susan Hirshman, a vice president and planning strategist at J.P. Morgan Fleming Asset Management, said older boomers should be working now to organize financial documents and consolidate accounts, including 401(k) retirement accounts or stock holdings they may have left with former employers.

''We find with many people, they have a little over here, a little over there and that makes it difficult for them to develop a comprehensive investment strategy because they don't have a handle on what's going on,'' Hirshman said.

The added benefit of doing a financial inventory, she said, is that boomers can begin to develop cash withdrawal strategies that take income taxes and estate planning into account.

She said, for example, some boomers may actually land in higher-than-expected tax brackets after retirement if they receive high pension payouts or withdraw large sums from Individual Retirement Accounts in their early retirement years to fund housing purchases, travel and other activities.

''The key is to put some framework in place and make some educated decisions now,'' Hirshman said. ''Things can be adjusted on an ongoing basis once a plan is in place.''

Don Silver, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., isn't thinking about retiring. But he's thinking a lot about financing it.

''Being a baby boomer and hitting 50 makes you stop and think,'' he said. ''Wouldn't it be great to retire early if you had to, or you could?''

Silver, a public relations executive with Boardroom Communications, believes part of getting ready is maintaining a thrifty lifestyle.

''My wife Donna and I have always tried to live at or below our means so we could save and invest,'' he said. Their son, Alex, is 5-1/2, so they've had to think about college savings plans, too.

Silver said he hasn't taken the time to project retirement needs and isn't sure it would make a difference in his behavior.

''I already max my savings, and I think that's the best thing you can do,'' he said.

Ben Tobias, a financial planner in Fort Lauderdale, believes boomers would do well to sit down and re-examine their lifestyles.

''Some are making well into six figures, say $200,000 to $500,000 a year, but they don't have enough set aside to carry them based on what they're spending for more than two or three years in retirement,'' he said. ''They have to decide, 'am I always going to work to maintain this lavish lifestyle, or am I going to decide what's really important to me and what's not and start saving more?'''

Tobias encourages boomers ''to avoid credit card debt at all costs'' and to try to have their home mortgages paid off before they stop working.

G. Patrick McGunagle, 54, of Rye, N.Y., credits good luck and good planning with being able to retire last year from his career as a banking and insurance executive. He said that starting four or five years ago, his financial adviser helped him aggregate his savings and develop a more conservative investment strategy that put more emphasis on bonds and less on stocks. He also purchased a retirement home and is moving to pay off his mortgage in the next couple of years.

McGunagle now spends most of his time working with his local planning board, serving as an adviser to a New York City group that assists former convicts and conducting a housing needs survey.

''I do some part-time consulting for financial service companies just to keep my hand in and for fun,'' he said. ''But my real passion is public administration, which I studied in school. Now I can be active in the community, and I'm really enjoying myself.''

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