Your Retirement Survival Plan for 2024: The Future Is Now

It’s Christmas, a day that’s supposed to be about peace and love. Let’s take a break today from the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, and the freak show that’s American politics. It’s prudent for investors to sometimes step back and think strategically.

Worried that you’ll outlive your savings? Stocks rallied in the latter part of 2023 and they’re probably poised for healthy gains in 2024, but risks haven’t simply gone away.

Don’t allow unexpected setbacks to deter your wealth-building efforts. As the new year rapidly approaches on the calendar, here’s a four-point checklist to protect your retirement investment strategy.

1) Pick a Specific Date to Retire

Don’t leave your retirement date up in the air, as many people typically do.. If you enjoy your job, would you prefer to keep working (and saving) a little longer? It’s tough to get back into the working world once you’ve left it behind.

Are you slated to get a defined-benefit pension from your job? Are you fully vested? If so, you may not need to make significant changes in your investments.

Make an assessment of your future spending needs. Will you sell your home and move to a lower-cost area? What are the tax consequences of this? After you set a specific target, you can start formulating your strategy for getting there.

2) Don’t Count on Social Security

Congress returns from its holiday recess on January 8. Republican leaders in the House are determined to cut Social Security in 2024. They’ve overtly stated as much. The popular program is likely to survive because the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, but benefits might still get curtailed.

When are you eligible for full Social Security benefits? This varies depending on when you were born. If it was in 1960 or later, you will have to wait until age 67. If you start to collect your benefits earlier, your monthly payments will always be lower than if you had waited.

3) Don’t Make Willy-Nilly Withdrawals

Create a withdrawal plan that’s structured to your needs. It’s usually best to let your wealth compound tax-free for as long as possible. The greater variety of accounts you have, the more opportunities to diversify your tax savings.

As a general rule, you should withdraw cash from taxable accounts first. Later on, focus on tax-deferred accounts such as traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and annuities.

Leave accounts with tax-free withdrawals for last. An example of such an account is the Roth IRA, which allows taxpayers, subject to certain income limits, to save for retirement while allowing the savings to grow tax-free.

Taxes are paid on contributions, but withdrawals, subject to certain rules, are not taxed at all. Early in your retirement, converting currently taxable assets to spending money makes sense because little or no additional tax likely will be due.

First, take dividend income and any mutual-fund distributions in cash instead of reinvesting them. You pay tax on these payouts even if you reinvest them, so this step won’t cost you anything.

Next, sell investments with no cost basis or the highest basis and therefore no or low taxable gain.

4) Don’t Leave Your Family in the Lurch

If you don’t take measures ahead of time, Uncle Sam will take a huge bite out of your inheritance via the capital gains tax. Your heirs will suffer.

One of the few ways to sidestep the substantial capital gains tax is to make a gift of property to a charitable organization. When you do so, you may take a deduction based on the full fair market value of the property, rather than just its cost.

The tax savings will largely depend on the amount of appreciation. In turn, you can reap greater income by investing these tax savings.

The most popular types of charitable giving plans are the annuity trust, revocable trust, pooled income fund, gift annuity, and life estate agreement. Consult your tax accountant for details, to find the plan that’s precisely right for you. But do it now.

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John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily.

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