Retirement Ready? Financial planning should start sooner than you think, experts say

HARLINGEN — Planning for 23 years of retirement sounds about right, says a local financial adviser.

But those years can be a lot easier with a little planning in your 50s, says Jason Carter, a financial adviser for the past 16 years who works for Edward Jones in Harlingen.

“In my experience, at least the 23 years of retirement, anecdotally, that average does feel right,” Carter said. “The people I work with, and I deal with a lot of couples, you definitely can count on one of the two living into their 80s … I think that’s pretty accurate.”

Carter advises his clients to begin thinking and planning for retirement as early as possible, whether you’re in your 20s or mid-50s.

“The most important thing, the most common thing for all individuals, is at least five years or more before pulling the trigger on retirement is to have done some work to actually calculate and estimate what your monthly or annual living expenses are in order for you to live the way you want to live,” Carter said.

“I’ve had people come in who hadn’t really put too much thought into it, and they’re tired — I understand that — and say they just can’t do this anymore,” he added. “But there’s not a lot that a financial professional can do, and often what you see is people really having to compromise their quality of life. They’re not able to live like they were before.”

Carter said most people, on realizing this, aren’t in a state of shock, but rather hope against hope their calculations are somehow mistaken. Usually, they’re not, he said.

He also said whether a client is aged 25 or 55, strategies remain the same.

“But if I’m a person who’s beginning my planning at age 55, I guess we have to be a little bit more realistic and practical about what our possibilities are,” Carter said.

“If I’m beginning the process of planning in my early 20s, you really can shoot for the stars and you really can think about maybe an ideal retirement, doing everything that you wanted to,” he added. “But if you’re only beginning the process in your 50s, it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice everything, but you have to be prepared that there may be some tradeoffs you have to make because you began the planning process a little bit later.”

Carter said for those retiring in their 50s or early 60s, health care coverage can take a large chunk out of a retirement package when a person doesn’t yet qualify for Medicare. He said understanding that, and being knowledgeable about Social Security and pensions, are three of the most important areas to consider when planning a retirement.

Not understanding the latter two, he said, is “where we see the biggest mistakes.”

And then there are those people whom Carter has to advise, “keep working.”

“Sometimes, we have to tell them that, yes,” he said.