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Old 09-11-2008, 02:44 PM   #1
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I'm a 52-year old single and have been working for my city government for 23+ years. I had been hoping to retire at age 55, but a recent consultation with a financial planner has me doubting whether this will be possible.

Retired City employees receive a defined-benefit pension (based on age & # of years of service). I also have some tax-deferred retirement savings and a Roth IRA, but my main question has to do with the pension. It increases 1.5% yearly, but is guaranteed not to go lower than 65% of its original purchasing power. If I did the math right, at (constant) 3.5% inflation it would take 23 years to shrink that much, and after that would keep pace with inflation.

I asked the financial planner to determine whether I had enough in pension benefits and personal savings to fund a bare minimum budget until age 100. (Social Security was to be left out of the calculations to provide a cushion and because I figure in order to keep the system from going bust either benefits will be reduced or taxes will be raised.) The difficulty is that my financial planner's Monte Carlo software is unable to model the 65% guarantee. According to the results she has given me, not only is my current savings rate inadequate, in order to retire even by by age 57 (=30 years of service=maximum pension) I would have to save an impossible amount on top of making maximum contributions to my Roth and tax-deferred savings. She says the only thing she can do to estimate the effect of the guarantee is raise the annual rate of increase on the pension above 1.5%, but I thought that would overstate the amount of money available in the early years of the scenario, which would then adversely affect accuracy in the later years.

I've run a number of scenarios using "Flexible Retirement Planner" (I found this group via a link from their support forums). Replicating the figures I gave to the financial planner on FRP as closely as I was able to, and using a "no COLA" pension for the full length of the scenario, gave about the same probability of success as she reported to me. (The "no COLA option is roughly equivalent to the FP's projection--she raised the needed income 1%/year faster than inflation, and that was OK with me since medical expenses go up faster than the general inflation rate.) I also tried several pairs of scenarios with and without the 65% guarantee on the later years of the scenario. That single change often raised the percentage of successful scenarios as much as 20 percentage points, compared to a "no COLA" pension for the entire length of retirement. I'm not surprised that the guarantee makes a difference, but I am kind of surprised at how much difference it made, and I'm wondering how much confidence I should place in my own calculations (and the Flexible Retirement Planner site's) vs a CFP's.:confused:

Has anyone else run into this situation? Did your financial planner (if you used one) have a way to include in any projections the guarantee that the pension wouldn't shrink beyond a certain point, and if so, how? Is there a way to model my pension accurately in a software program that will only accept a single COLA? My planner is fee-only, so I don't want to keep dinking around trying this idea and that, at umpteen dollars an hour.

Karen
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Old 09-12-2008, 12:41 AM   #2
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Karen,
....Financial planners have a financial interest in telling you that you need to work longer and invest money with them while you do. The best retirement planning software is still only a guess based upon estimations of what the future will bring. There is no guarantee that any of us will have financial success in retirement even if retirement planning software says our probability is almost certain. Your requirement to run it to age 100 and without SS makes it difficult for the software to predict a high percentage probability of success. Try running Firecalc here and use any other online calculators you can find and run it to age 85 and 100 and with and without SS with various different guestimations of the inflation rate. The complication of your partial COLA protection makes it impossible to insert the right numbers but try it with 1.5 annual increases and see how that works. Yes you may live beyond age 85 but there is also a very good chance that there will be something available from SS for you. In the end you are gonna have to make your retirement decisions based solely upon how YOU feel about it.
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Old 09-12-2008, 06:50 AM   #3
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It would be easier for the thread to evaluate your situation if you gave some ballpark numbers of what your pension is to be, what your estimated living expenses will be etc etc

My vibe from you post is that you are VERY conservative and need to think more realistically. Social Security will be there for you in a major way in all probability. There is probably a far greater chance that you will pass away before 90 than SS will go bye bye.

If we had some hard numbers we could run some scenarios.
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Old 09-12-2008, 09:00 PM   #4
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Karen,
....Financial planners have a financial interest in telling you that you need to work longer and invest money with them while you do.
that's why I used a fee-only planner this time. She gets paid by the hour. Most of my retirement savings are in my tax-deferred plan at work. I don't think there's any way she can make money by advising me about how much I should be contributing to it, or what my asset allocation should be, or how much I need to see on the bottom line in order to quit my job.

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In the end you are gonna have to make your retirement decisions based solely upon how YOU feel about it.
Jeff
Well maybe, but that doesn't keep me from worrying about making dumb mistakes. And I am especially suspicious of myself in this case because I want my numbers to be right and the FP's to be way overestimated (due to her inability to include the guarantee). I want to downshift in a little over 2 years by continuing to do what I'm already doing (and including 1/4 of SocSec in the plan), not have to work another 7-10 years or save the equivalent of one whole paycheck per month, in order to do so.
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Old 09-12-2008, 09:17 PM   #5
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Welcome , only you know when you'll feel comfortable to pull the plug !
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A more detailed introduction
Old 09-12-2008, 09:31 PM   #6
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A more detailed introduction

Thanks for replying. I put my question in here and not much of an intro because I wrote my first post before reading—in fact before even seeing— that there was advice on what to put on this thread. I didn't notice the thread guidelines until several hours later and couldn't figure out how to edit my original post. I was just about to go rewrite my question for another thread, but since people have replied here I'll stay here.

Here's a brief overview. I am 52, unmarried and childless, and have been a city employee for 23+ years. I currently have, in very round numbers, $20K in a Roth IRA and $65K in my 457 tax deferred savings plan at work. I have been making maximum contributions to my Roth for 4 or 5 years now, and will max my 457, including over-50 catchup, for the first time this year, and plan to continue making maximum contributions as long as I work for the City. Taking everything together (including odds and ends not listed here), the asset allocation is about 30% cash, 37% US stocks, 17% non-US stocks, and 16% bonds. I have no debt except my mortgage, and about $200K equity in my house.

The retirement department won't do a formal pension estimate until you are within 3 years of retiring, but they have an online pension estimator. Pension amounts are based on your two years of highest salary and a percentage derived from your age and years of service. The calculator says to use your current salary if it will be more than 3 years before you retire, and I will admit I didn't do that. I used what my salary will be the two years before I retire, assuming a 2% COLA every year. That 2% is a contractual minimum (if the CPI is larger than 2% the COLA will be also) for 2009 and 2010, so I felt safe using it for a pension based on retiring in 2011. I also used 2% COLA every year until age 58 to calculate my pension retiring at 30 years of service. Based on these assumptions, my pension would be $36,990/year if I retire in 2011 (at age 55 ), and $47,595/yr if I retire in 2015 (at 30 years of service). After 30 years of service the percentage stays the same, so after that pension only increases as salary increases, which in my case is COLA only, unless I did a lateral transfer within the City to a job that pays more.

My bare minimum estimated living expenses after retirement are $37,480/yr. This figure is based on my actual expenses for 2004, less expenses I won't have after retirement (e.g. mortgage payment), and then inflated 3.5% per year since then. I should probably re-do the budget next year, now that gas has gone up so much.

I want to leave Social Security out of the calculations (at least at first) because I don't really want to spend nearly half of my life living at a "bare minimum" level. I've been there & done that (during the 1980's recession), and didn't much like it. I want to be reasonably sure that with my pension and savings I at least won't starve when I'm old, and then I can use whatever I get from Social Security for "plus" money, those little extra luxuries that make life so much more pleasant, and for any expenses I overlooked in my barebones budget—and I'm sure I forgot or underestimated something. It's true that leaving Social Security out makes for a low percentage of successes. I did a couple of other scenarios which included 1/4 of my projected social security along with pension and part time job, and those scenarios had a much more attractive percentage of successful outcomes. But regardless of what else I had in the scenario, there was generally a big improvement when I added the 65% guarantee. The more I think about this, the more sense it makes. How could any projection based on a shrinking pension not tell me I need a much bigger nest egg than one based on a pension that keeps up with inflation?

I've heard that we Baby Boomers should plan for age 100, because over-85's are the fastest growing age cohort in the population. I already have one aunt in that group, the second one will be joining next year, and both my parents are coming up fast. All of the above are compos mentis and reasonably healthy, considering their age, and one of my grandmothers also lived into her mid-80's. I expect at least one of my parents to live to 90 or more. So, I use 100 as a planning age because I think it's not unlikely that I will live that long, and because I have no safety net and can't hit "control-Z" and correct my mistake if I do it wrong the first time.

My rough plan is to sell my house and move out near the NW coast—I already live in Western Washington state—paying cash for a house (actually I want to build it myself, but the main thing is to have no mortgage) and adding (at least) $100K from sale of my current house into my nest egg. I plan to work part time until age 70, so that I don't have to tap my retirement savings before that age, and to have more than a bare survival income.

I shouldn't really call what I want to do in 3 years "retirement" but rather "downshifting", with retirement (no job at all) by age 70. What I'm trying to figure out is, how much money do I need to have set aside at age 55, so that by age 70, without further contributions, it will (most likely) have grown into an amount that will support me for another 30 years?
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Old 09-12-2008, 11:01 PM   #7
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The unique nature of your pension certainly makes figuring this out a bit more difficult, requiring some more sophisticated financial calculations.

The fact that your FP is stumped by this because they can't do the calcs without using their software makes me think that you need to find another FP that can improvise and give you an answer. They should be able to build a spreadsheet, or modify one, that would model your specific situation.

Where to find that person, I don't know. Hopefully you didn't pay this one too much just to plug your numbers into a software program. For crying out loud, a CFP should be able to do better than that.

Ray Lucia would be outraged!
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Old 09-13-2008, 03:33 AM   #8
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The unique nature of your pension certainly makes figuring this out a bit more difficult, requiring some more sophisticated financial calculations.
I didn't think it was all that unique. Maybe it is a typical feature of public employees' pensions. My mom is a retired schoolteacher and her pension has a similar provision.

Quote:
The fact that your FP is stumped by this because they can't do the calcs without using their software makes me think that you need to find another FP that can improvise and give you an answer. They should be able to build a spreadsheet, or modify one, that would model your specific situation.
Well, maybe I should have looked at several. I just asked someone at my church who their FP was...that planner wasn't taking any more clients and referred me to this one. I thought figuring out the "magic number" was something any FP would be able to do. I mean, why else do people consult them except to find out how much money is needed for a goal (retire, kids' college, buy house or whatever) or to find out what they need to do to get from where they are to a certain goal by a certain date? It's really the Monte Carlo modeling I was after, and I figured anyone would need software to do Monte Carlo modeling. It's not her fault that the software can't cope with my pension (which maybe really is all that unique). I run into the same thing with the programs I use to do my job. With my programs at work, as I use them day in and day out, eventually a fake-out or workaround occurs to me. I've already thought of one thing that might work to model my pension even though the program will only take one inflation rate, but I was hoping that there was an already-known solution to the puzzle, and I could just tell her how to do it. Alas, I guess I will just have to wait for the light bulb to come on. Maybe in 6 months she'll be sitting at her desk and it will come to her all of a sudden. That's how the workarounds usually occur to me, not by sitting there trying to think of one.

Quote:
Where to find that person, I don't know. Hopefully you didn't pay this one too much just to plug your numbers into a software program. For crying out loud, a CFP should be able to do better than that.

Ray Lucia would be outraged!
Neither do I know where to find such a person. I don't think I paid the FP too much, but I paid enough that I don't want to go out and pay another person the same, and maybe still not find out that magic number. I will just keep playing around with those online calculators that can model my pension and when I come up with something that looks viable get back to her and see whether any workaround has come to her in the interim. Maybe if I tell her a free online calculator can do stuff her software doesn't it will put her on her mettle to think of a way to do it, or to get a program that does, or at least to vet the online calculator(s) and tell me whether its results look valid or not for scenarios that she can "compare apples to apples". If she doesn't want to get some more hourly fees enough to find a solution to the problem, I guess I will have to try someone else, but at least now I know to ask specifically whether their software can cope with my pension. Really, what I want is someone with better training in this area than I have, to look at my numbers and tell me if they look right or not, like having a house or car inspected before you agree to buy it.
Is Ray Lucia the author of Buckets of Money?

P.S. I was asked for specific numbers and forgot to include my Social Security projection. My most recent report says my benefit would be $1881/month at full retirement age, which for me is 66 + 4 months. As I described above I want to leave most or all of it for safety factor/"plus money".
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Old 09-13-2008, 04:53 AM   #9
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It sounds like you know what you income will be, you know your current debt. you need to look at your projected expenses carefully. Don't forget health care costs (and the inflation of it). Keep in mind that unexpected expenses (large ones) do occur.

Do you qualify for SS? I know some govt pensions do not allow people to double dip.

If you qualify for full SS... you appear to be in fairly good shape since both have a COLA.

IMHO - I would not ER unless I were debt free. I would work until I paid the mortgage off. Plus expected expenses are a bit close to the expected income. I would want a little more cushion.

But it is a personal decision.
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Old 09-13-2008, 12:03 PM   #10
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I If she doesn't want to get some more hourly fees enough to find a solution to the problem, I guess I will have to try someone else, but at least now I know to ask specifically whether their software can cope with my pension. Really, what I want is someone with better training in this area than I have, to look at my numbers and tell me if they look right or not, like having a house or car inspected before you agree to buy it.
If you really want this rigorously modeled an actuary is your best bet. But you won't want to pay what he will want to charge.

You are already doing some shortcuts, like leaving out SS. You could do a simple go-no go test, by using SS, and see if SS and your portfolio and pension modeled without the inflation escalation will go. If it does, you are OK within the likely limits of accuracy of these calculators anyway.

Ha
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Old 09-13-2008, 12:56 PM   #11
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It sounds like you know what you income will be, you know your current debt. you need to look at your projected expenses carefully. Don't forget health care costs (and the inflation of it). Keep in mind that unexpected expenses (large ones) do occur.
I have included health insurance (including an estimated amount for co-pays and prescriptions), long term care insurance, and an amount equal to the dental insurance for dental expenses. I've been planning to pay for dental out of pocket, since my last cavity was at age 11. We have a nifty option that at retirement we can either get 25% of the value of accumulated sick leave in cash, or roll over 35% tax free into a special account to use for health care expenses. I don't think this latter account has the "use it or lose it by the end of the year" feature that the flexible spending account has. I have over 1000 hours of sick leave so that will be a nice little pot of money, and maybe that will be left at one side in case of big dental expenses late in life. I don't expect them but who really knows??

Quote:
Do you qualify for SS? I know some govt pensions do not allow people to double dip.

If you qualify for full SS... you appear to be in fairly good shape since both have a COLA.

IMHO - I would not ER unless I were debt free. I would work until I paid the mortgage off. Plus expected expenses are a bit close to the expected income. I would want a little more cushion.

But it is a personal decision.
Yes, City employees are eligible for SS. I forgot to put it in my main listing but my last estimate said my benefit would be $1881/mo at full retirement age or $1358 at age 62. I'm trying to leave this income out of my basic calculations for those large unexpected expenses. I think it's Federal employees who aren't eligible.

I agree about not retiring unless debt free, but I plan to sell this house and pay cash for another (in a less expensive part of the state) to eliminate my mortgage, rather than working until this one is paid off. I just refinanced it two years ago to get money to replace my old car, which finally went to its reward at age 27. It's a 30 year fixed loan and if I don't make extra payments—which would be tough to do on top of making maximum contributions to my retirement acc'ts—I wouldn't pay it off until I'm 82.

Of course if I were going to work until age 82 I wouldn't need to be maxing out my tax deferred savings. With 28 more years to save and an anticipated retirement of only 18 years, I'd have no money worries, but 82 is not what I would call "early" retirement.
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Old 09-13-2008, 10:56 PM   #12
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I thought figuring out the "magic number" was something any FP would be able to do. I mean, why else do people consult them except to find out how much money is needed for a goal (retire, kids' college, buy house or whatever) or to find out what they need to do to get from where they are to a certain goal by a certain date?
I agree. And this one obviously wasn't up to the task. Frankly, I'd ask for my money back.

Quote:
It's really the Monte Carlo modeling I was after, and I figured anyone would need software to do Monte Carlo modeling. It's not her fault that the software can't cope with my pension (which maybe really is all that unique).
I'm not saying that she shouldn't be expected to use some specially designed software do help with the task, I'm just saying that if it doesn't suffice for the job then she ought to be able to improvise to solve the problem. You're not paying her to just plug numbers into a program, you're paying her to have some knowledge to be able to assess your situation. It's sounds like she's unable to do that. What are her credentials, experience, etc?


Quote:
or at least to vet the online calculator(s) and tell me whether its results look valid or not for scenarios that she can "compare apples to apples".
I'm not sure I'd trust her judgement since she's apparently only able to plug things into software and tell you the results. Her depth of knowledge doesn't sound very good. Of course I'm making all these judgements without very much information, so I could be wrong.

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Is Ray Lucia the author of Buckets of Money?
Yes. I think he'd have a low opinion of a CFP that relies on software as a crutch; and I agree.

You could call him at 877-PLANNER. You never know, they just might help you out, on air or off. Give it a shot, it would make for a good on air call. Or they might be able to refer you to a CFP that could handle the problem.

Good luck
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Old 09-14-2008, 04:18 PM   #13
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kyounge1956,

Sounds like you are in pretty good shape...but only you can make the call. Particularly since you indicated that you intend to work part time and you have excluded SS in your calcs...and that SS will kick in before you stop your part time work...both are conservative assumptions and it is good to be conservative.

A thought on modeling your pension and the 65% feature. Could your planner separate the 65% feature and treat it as a SECOND SOURCE of income which is triggered after the sum of inflation exceeds the effect of your fixed annual 1.5% increase? (and in the model just let the original pension with its annual 1.5% increases continue on) Or to make it even easier ( and using the numbers you gave) just start a second stream of pension income 23 years after your retirement that would represent the 65% feature. Seems like it would be doable in a spreadsheet but not sure if it would be possible within constraints of a "model"
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bd68
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Old 09-14-2008, 04:43 PM   #14
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I agree. And this one obviously wasn't up to the task. Frankly, I'd ask for my money back.

I'm not saying that she shouldn't be expected to use some specially designed software do help with the task, I'm just saying that if it doesn't suffice for the job then she ought to be able to improvise to solve the problem.
IMO this is a complex problem that not one out of 200 FPs could give a rigorous answer to . Nor should they be expected to. In the time that they would wrestle with this, and likely get it wrong anyway, they could sell 15 plans to less picky people.

Ha
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Old 09-14-2008, 08:49 PM   #15
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IMO this is a complex problem that not one out of 200 FPs could give a rigorous answer to . Nor should they be expected to. In the time that they would wrestle with this, and likely get it wrong anyway, they could sell 15 plans to less picky people.

Ha
Clearly why I've taken on the task myself and won't be seeking the help of one of those cookie cutter FPs.
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Old 09-16-2008, 01:40 AM   #16
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kyounge1956,

Sounds like you are in pretty good shape...but only you can make the call. Particularly since you indicated that you intend to work part time and you have excluded SS in your calcs...and that SS will kick in before you stop your part time work...both are conservative assumptions and it is good to be conservative.

A thought on modeling your pension and the 65% feature. Could your planner separate the 65% feature and treat it as a SECOND SOURCE of income which is triggered after the sum of inflation exceeds the effect of your fixed annual 1.5% increase? (and in the model just let the original pension with its annual 1.5% increases continue on) Or to make it even easier ( and using the numbers you gave) just start a second stream of pension income 23 years after your retirement that would represent the 65% feature. Seems like it would be doable in a spreadsheet but not sure if it would be possible within constraints of a "model"
Regards,
bd68
That was one of two workarounds I thought of. Split the pension into the 65% that keeps up with inflation and the rest that gradually declines to zero over the appropriate number of years, depending on inflation. Or, do a two-phase model, I need this amount left at age 82 (which is when the guarantee would kick in if I retire at the age she was projecting) and in order to have that much left at age 82 (given my income needs & so on), I need this amount saved when I retire.
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Old 09-16-2008, 01:51 AM   #17
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Well, I just sent her an email with pdfs of two models I ran on Flexible Retirement Planner, one with COLA and one without. I set it up as if I'm 82 now, and just had the fully shrunken pension and a tax-deferred portfolio. Without the 65% guarantee, I need $485K without the guarantee vs $365K with (which is about 1/3 more) in order to have 95% success, or to put it another way, with the guarantee, a $365K portfolio goes the distance in 95% of the runs; without it, I run out of money half of the time.

I also included the two workaround ideas that I thought of and a suggestion that if neither of those will work in her software she check with colleagues and/or technical support at the software company. Surely someone has seen one of these before! I mean for crying out loud just the City of Seattle has got something like 11,000 employees with this same pension, and heaven only knows how many retirees. I can't be the first one that pointed this out to them, can I? I said I would try some things on the online modeler and would like to verify them with her when I come up with something, will she please let me know when she has found a workaround, so we will be comparing apples to apples.

We'll see what happens.
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