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Execs have lots to consider as retirement approaches


The more money you have, the more you have to worry about. That’s what makes retirement planning a special challenge for many executives, according to Terry Vrieze, chief executive officer of Successful Resource Management Ltd.

When it comes time to leave the corporate world, an executive needs to have a well-thought-out plan to deal with pension money and possibly stock options, in addition to the more common 401(k) and Social Security components. Here are some factors to consider:

Vrieze has found that many people who are approaching retirement are unaware of the concept of “pension maximization.” “We talk about this quite a bit,” he said.

In the typical situation, a married pension plan participant has to make a choice upon retirement between taking the maximum monthly income for the rest of his or her life or taking a reduced monthly payment that continues throughout the lifetime of the retiree and his or her spouse.

Most people feel compelled to take the reduced payment, just to make sure the surviving spouse derives a long-term benefit from the pension. However, the reduction in monthly income can turn into a substantial loss over time, or if both spouses dies within a short span, little benefit is realized by taking the “safe” route, and in any case, heirs receive no benefits.

The pension maximization alternative is to take the higher monthly payment and also purchase permanent life insurance in an amount that would provide the survivor or other heirs with a similar monthly benefit.

“Just make sure the insurance is in place before you take the higher-paying option,” Vrieze cautioned.

Handling stock options presents an unending stream of variables, but the solution is fairly straightforward. Most retiring execs would do well to find a reliable advisor ahead of retirement and trust that person to provide sound advice.

“You typically have five to eight years to exercise stock options” after retirement, Vrieze said. Picking the right moment to act requires monitoring the price of the stock and taking into account all of the tax ramifications.

Executives who love their work want to keep going beyond 65, but those who dream of moving on to something else often aim to retire before 60, Vrieze said. For the latter group, it’s good to know about the Internal Revenue Service’s 72(t) rule.

Most 401(k) account holders know about the10 percent penalty imposed for withdrawing funds before age 591/2. However, the 72(t) rule gives early retirees a way to draw on that IRA money.

The rule allows “equally substantial distribution” payouts with no penalty. In simple terms, you would roll your 401(k) into an IRA and then apply for a 72(t) equally substantial disbribution. The IRS will offer you three payout options based on your age, the age of your beneficiary, the amount of money you have, the percentage rate used in the calculaton and your life expectancy.

Once the 72(t) payouts begin, they must continue until the recipient reaches age 591/2 or for five years, whichever comes last. For example, if you start receiving 72(t) payments at age 56, they will continue until age 61. If you start at age 50, the payments continue until you reach 591/2.

Vrieze said his company manages 401(k) accounts for a number of executives. “They’re really busy people, and if you’re invested in sectors, you’ve got to watch your money all the time like a baby,” he said.

“They come in and say, ‘Oh, I was going to change that account when I got the statement, but I was so busy.’”

Vrieze usually prefers to meet with a client two or three times in the six months leading up to retirement and said, “I want the couple in here together; I want the spouse to understand the pension options.”

In general, he tells clients that they will need 80 percent of their working income when they retire. He figures that works out to no drop in income at all, because most of his clients contribute the maximum to a 401(k) account, usually about 15 percent of their pay, and nearly 8 percent goes to FICA deductions.

Money matters aside, he likes to offer this advice: Don’t retire from something, retire to something.

“I know an executive who retired and got a job doing manual construction work,” he said. “He says, ‘At the end of the day, I can stand back and see what I did.’ He’s getting a lot of satisfaction from that.”

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