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5 Best Financial Decisions in your 50s

4 min read • January 17, 2019
30 sec brief

Now that retirement is coming into view, focusing on a few key financial moves today can ensure you will land in retirement in solid shape.

Now that retirement is coming into view, focusing on a few key financial moves today can ensure you will land in retirement in solid shape. Don’t be too proud to play catch up, while setting up tax-free income for retirement.

Play catch up. If your retirement savings isn’t where you want it to be, Uncle Sam makes it easier to close the gap. Once you turn 50 you are eligible to save more in retirement plans. In 2019, anyone who is at least 50 is allowed to save $25,000 in a 401(k) plan and $7,000 in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Even if you can’t nail those limits, push yourself to scour your spending to come up with ways to free up some more money so you can save more in your retirement accounts.

Be House Smart. With home values up sharply in many regions, now could be a good time to consider making a move. Not only might you walk away with a chunk of profit you can tuck away for retirement, think about the prospect of lowering your monthly housing costs. If you’ve got a large empty nest, making a move in your 50s could give you hundreds of dollars of monthly savings to use for other financial goals.

If you’re intent on staying put in your current home, make it a priority to be mortgage free before you retire.

Making a few extra mortgage payments a year in your 50s might be all you need to land in retirement mortgage-free. Search online for a “mortgage prepayment calculator” to see how increasing your payments can shave years off of your payback period.

Create Tax-Free Income for Retirement: Part 1:  Chances are you have done most of your retirement savings in Traditional 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs. Every penny you pull out of those accounts in retirement will be taxed as ordinary income. Moreover, you’re forced to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) once you turn 70 ½  because the federal government wants to collect that income tax.

The majority of employer plans now offer a Roth 401(k) option. Contributing to a Roth 401(k) in your 50s can be a smart way to have tax-free income in retirement. With a Roth 401(k), you don’t get any tax-break on your contribution. But in retirement, your withdrawals will be tax-free, and if you rollover your Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA — it’s easy to do – before age 70 ½ there will be no RMD.

Another option is to supplement your workplace retirement savings with contributing to a Roth IRA. In 2019, individuals at least 50 years old with modified adjusted gross income below $122,000 (and married couples with income below $193,000) can contribute $7,000 to a Roth.

Create Tax Free Retirement Income: Part 2. Medicare will pay for a lot of your medical costs, but retirees are still on the hook for about 30% of their medical costs. The good news is that with a bit of strategizing in your 50s, you could put yourself in position to cover a lot of those bills with tax-free dollars.

The first step is that you must enroll in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Once you’ve taken that step, you are eligible to save in the best stealth retirement plan available: a Health Savings Account (HSA).

Money you contribute to an HSA is tax deductible, and when you use it for qualified medical expenses it is tax free. That’s a huge advantage over having to tap traditional retirement accounts to cover bills: every penny you take out of a Traditional 401(k) or IRA is taxed as ordinary income. If you have a big medical expense one year, the needed withdrawals could end up pushing you into a higher tax bracket.

Protect yourself and your loved ones. So-called estate planning is not something only the wealthy need to focus on. It’s essential to take care of your own well–being as you age, and to make it as easy as possible for your loved ones once you pass. But procrastination in drawing up estate planning documents is a national epidemic. That’s dangerous in your 20s, 30s and 40s. It’s insanely dangerous in your 50s.

The key documents you want to consider: a durable power of attorney for finances makes it possible for someone you appoint to step in and handle your finances if at some point you need that help. An advance directive (also called a living will) spells out the level of intervention you want if you fall ill and can’t express your wishes. A durable power of attorney for health care appoints someone to be your advocate in making sure your advance directive is followed.

When you pass, leaving your family a will can avoid all sorts of confusion and arguments; you may also want to consider a living revocable trust as a way to smooth the transfer and avoid probate court.

Review the beneficiary you named on every retirement and investment account you have, and any life insurance policy. No matter what you spell out in a will or trust, the beneficiary listed on these accounts will receive the money when you die.

Financial Decision Series

Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.

About the author
Carla Fried

Carla translates business and personal finance concepts into engaging content that helps individuals make more confident choices in how they manage their money. Her work appears in The New York Times, Money Magazine, Barron's and Consumer Reports.

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