1. Do I have enough to retire?
Leon C. LaBrecque, chief growth officer, Sequoia Financial Group: “I usually then ask: ‘What are you going to do in retirement? Where? With who? For how long? What if you live to 100? What monkey wrenches will change your plan? Kids moving in? Illnesses? Aging parents? What are we missing? How do we optimize your four phases of retirement?’ The first question is math, based on the loosely held assumption that we have a percentage-of-income ratio. The follow-ups are what gets into the real issues.”
2. How much can we spend in retirement?
Danny Michael, principal, Satori Wealth Management: “The rule of thumb in financial planning circles is to withdraw no more than 4-5% per year of your total portfolio assets to help ensure you don't withdraw too much and outlive your assets. However, the truth is that every year withdrawal rates change as fixed income sources change and your withdrawal rate can be 2-3% in some years and 5-6% in other years. To truly understand how much can be spent, you need to run cash flow projections to determine the income shortfall/surplus in every year of retirement.”
3. Am I going to run out of money and die?
Tim Doehrmann, president, Eagle Ridge Wealth Advisors: “They obviously don't say it quite like this, but this is the question they want the answer to. It's a legit question too. Throughout our history, humans have never really had the option to retire. ... With the ‘work until you die’ mindset ingrained in our DNA, now that some fortunate souls have the option to retire, it's in our nature to worry what will go wrong. When we determine this is the question that the client is really asking, we use our process to show them their present financial situation and what they can afford, in dollars and cents, moving forward.”
4. I’m getting near retirement. What do we have to address in our portfolio?
Jon L. Ten Haagen, CEO and founder, Ten Haagen Financial Group: His typical response: “This is an important milestone in your life and we should get together and sit down and discuss what you have and what, if anything, should be changed based on your age at retirement and the health of you and your family in the past. Is your family long-lived or not?” In other words, do folks in the clients’ families tend to live an especially short, especially long or average number of years?
5. Will I have saved enough money to maintain my lifestyle in retirement?
Lawrence Heller, president, Heller Wealth Management: “I sometimes give them an estimate such as if your withdrawal rate is between 4-5% you should be OK. But for a more accurate analysis, putting together a cash flow projection that includes variables such as spending, inflation, life expectancy, Social Security, investment rate of return and more would be better.”
6. How much do I need to save for retirement?
Jeffrey N. Tomaneng, director of financial planning, Sapers & Wallack: “My answer is: ‘You have to tell me what lifestyle you realistically want to live and how much it's going to cost. Then we can figure it out.’”
7. Am I on track?
Edward J. Snyder, president and co-founder, Oaktree Financial Advisors: “I respond by telling them that’s why they need to plan. The plan will let them know if they’re on track. Only then can we use the investments towards their goals.”
8. What age can I retire?
Daniel P. Lash, partner, VLP Financial Advisors: “My response is always to create a plan to determine the age you can retire based on your lifestyle needs/wants and current and future savings.”
9. What else can I do to make sure I have enough to retire?
Rose Swanger, principal, Advise Finance: She tells clients, “‘I don't know until we do a financial plan.’ You can't just look at a portfolio number and say, ‘You're good to go.’ Just because the general population does not understand the variables that can thwart a seemingly good plan, financial planners should know better. Use the most quoted example that a $1 million portfolio could last three decades for a couple whose annual living expense is about $30k. But what if the couple's annual budget is $250k, will the same $1 million portfolio last for four years or a decade?”
10. When can I retire?
Laura Bereiter, director of tax and financial planning, White Oaks Wealth Advisors: “Our answer is often in the form of another question: ‘What does it cost to maintain your lifestyle today?’ We work to educate our clients that for every $40,000 of gross spending (including taxes), they need $1M in investment assets. ... Rarely do we see clients reduce lifestyle in retirement so our main goal is to help people understand what their spending is today, which can be very challenging, and go from there.”
11. Am I at risk of outliving my money?
D. Vance Barse, wealth strategist, Manning Wealth Management: “Clients nearing or in retirement painfully remember 2008 and are aware that the U.S. hasn’t had a recession in over a decade. This is a fear-based question that crosses many people’s minds and is a great opportunity to revisit core planning principles to help put them at ease. When this question arises, I conduct a behavioral exercise during which we discuss: recession concerns, portfolio allocation, Social Security, health care costs [and] other income sources.”
When it comes to retirement planning, a significant number of Americans continue to be completely unsure about when they can and should retire, as well as how much money they’ll need when they decide to stop working — at least on a full-time basis.
After all, many Americans opt to continue working at least a few hours a week even after they retire. Some do it to remain active and avoid boredom, or just to make sure they don’t drive their spouses nuts. But all too many Americans continue to work after retirement because they have to — often because they failed to save enough money for retirement.
Therefore, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that when ThinkAdvisor asked advisors what the number one question they got from clients regarding retirement planning was and how they responded, several of the advisors who responded told us their clients most often asked variations on the same basic questions.
Visit the slideshow gallery above to see, in no particular order, the top 11 retirement planning questions clients ask and how advisors answer them. Some answers have been edited for length.