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Help Me Retire: I’m 62, single and never had a retirement account. I have $100,000 to invest, but is it too late?


Dear MarketWatch, 

I am a 62 year-old single man and have never had a retirement account. I do own both my home and a rental property which are paid for and I have no other debt. I have $100,000 in savings which I would like to invest for retirement. In my current job I am saving $10,000 a month so I hope to be able to add to my retirement funds substantially, but I am a contractor working overseas in a fickle industry so there is no guarantee of how much I will be able to add in the following months or years.

After a lot of research I’ve selected a Schwab Robo Advisor account but have not yet had the required meeting with their financial planner or committed the funds. Based on my age I expect a maximum of 10 years before I’ll need to access these funds, but that’s not guaranteed either and I may need to take money sooner. I’m nervous about the markets and our world in general and my own relatively short-term (10-year) outlook during which I’ll be able to grow my nest egg. Are there any better options like high yield savings accounts, CD’s or specific treasuries that I should consider instead?

Too little. Too late. 

See: I’ll be 65 soon, have $320,000 in retirement savings and a paid-off home but I’m $46,000 in debt – should I take more money out of my investments?

Dear reader, 

I’ll start with some good news – it isn’t too late. 

Many Americans go without retirement accounts, so you’re certainly not alone. It’s great that you are looking to change that now, and you still have time. 

Truthfully, you’ll have to be a bit aggressive with your current cash flow. The ability to save $10,000 a month is one many Americans wish for, so take advantage of that amazing opportunity. You have your home and a rental property paid for, and with no debt, you should be able to store much of that income in investment and savings accounts. 

“From the savings alone perspective, he has a really good chance of building a retirement that will work for him,” said Byrke Sestok, a certified financial planner and president of Rightirement Wealth Partners. 

I will suggest – and this doesn’t have as much to do with retirement as just good general personal finance practice – that you create an emergency savings account with six months’ worth of living expenses if you don’t already have one. The unexpected is just that – unexpected – and this is especially true if you’re working in a “fickle” industry, as you said. 

Beyond that, let’s dig into some things you can do right now to bolster your retirement security. 

A robo-adviser is a great first step to investing, and if you have all of your other finances figured out, you may not be interested in working with an adviser. A human financial planner is able to talk through investment choices, help you keep your emotions around stock market volatility in check and remind you of considerations you may not have thought of yourself. But if you just want to get started right away and not waste any more time, an online platform like a robo-adviser does the trick. You just have to be very diligent

If you do decide to work with a financial adviser, vet the professional – check their certifications and ask about their fees, which may be hourly or a percentage of your assets. Also make sure they’re working in your best interest, so ask them if they follow the fiduciary standard. Here are a few more questions you can ask. 

When you’re setting up an account, regardless which service you end up choosing, make sure you think carefully and consider your timeline, your risk tolerance (that’s how much risk you’re willing to take on with your investments) and your risk capacity (that’s how much risk you need to take on to hit some investment goals. Many services provide you with a suggested portfolio, and it could end up being more heavily weighted in conservative or aggressive investment choices depending on the information you input. 

A quick note about your timeline. You mentioned you expect a maximum of 10 years before you tap into these assets, but like you said, that’s not guaranteed. Keep that in mind when you’re making your asset allocation. You may want to work with a human adviser, or chat with an investment firm, about setting up “buckets” instead of one giant portfolio. This way you can have one portion of your investments allocated aggressively – that would be the long-term bucket – and one portion of your nest egg allocated more conservatively – that bucket would be if you need the money sooner. 

Read: Is the bucket strategy superior to the 4% rule?

This is where that emergency savings account, which could be your third bucket, also plays an important role. When the stock market is acting up, it’s best not to touch investments so any losses can have the time to rebound. If you have cash, you’re leaving those assets to grow without doing any potential damage to future returns. 

Also see: I retired at 50, went back to work at 53, and then a medical issue left me jobless: ‘There’s no such thing as a safe amount of money’

There’s no magic number for how much a person needs in retirement, so you may feel stumped picking a goal when you’re popping in the data on a robo-adviser’s site. You can instead choose to input what you plan to contribute every month, and it will generate a few possible outcomes based on that information and possible rates of return.

If you’re trying to make a goal, though, take absolutely every possible financial factor into consideration. Think what income you’ll have, like this portfolio, a pension, any Social Security benefits, a side job, and so on. Also think of truly any expense you could possibly imagine… upkeep for your home or rental, taxes, healthcare, any big-ticket goals like a vacation or a boat, familial obligations or charitable donations you’d like to leave behind and beyond. Don’t forget long-term care planning, which is completely separate from your everyday medical expenses and can be quite costly. “The simple fact is as we age we have more medical bills and those are things that can’t be ignored,” Sestok said. 

Don’t miss: Planning to retire? Here’s a list of at least 14 things to account for first

You’re also living overseas now – you will probably need to research what your lifestyle will look like if you plan to come back to the U.S. or remain living abroad. If you can think of it, list it and plan for it. Here’s one calculator to help you get in the mindset for this task. 

I’ll end with this. I know you mentioned you’re worried about putting your nest egg in the markets given the current economic environment, and that’s completely valid. Investing can be scary. You’d likely see a higher return in a decade with an investment account than a savings account, Sestok said, but you also need to be able to sleep at night, which is why you might want to talk to a professional about balancing your risk tolerance with your risk capacity when building a portfolio. The last thing you want is for your feelings to get in the way of your retirement security. 

“The number one thing with investing is not to have your emotions play a role,” Sestok said. “It’s also the number one challenge.” 

Readers: Do you have suggestions for this reader? Add them in the comments below.

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