Assessing Your Finances At Age 50

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I’m turning 50 this week, probably the most significant milestone after birth. It’s a good time to assess progress on all fronts–physical, emotional, spiritual–and of course financial. If you are close to either side of 50, I’d like to outline the ideal scenario to help you make your own financial assessment.

We should have been saving 15% of our income regularly. Even if we don’t want to retire until age 70, by 50 we should be well on our way toward securing our retirement. We have managed to save about eight times our annual lifestyle spending. With a $100,000 per year lifestyle, that means we should have saved about $800,000 toward our retirement.

Our savings should be in after-tax account such as a Roth or taxable account. Pre-retirement accounts must be discounted by about a 30% tax rate. Thus $800,000 in after-tax dollars is equivalent to about $1.14 million in traditional retirement accounts.

We are probably at the point where our children are in college or have recently graduated. When college funding is complete, it’s time to reevaluate and perhaps drop term life insurance coverage depending on our individual circumstances. We purchased the insurance to make sure our children would have enough money to complete their education. When term premiums rise and college accounts are fully funded, we should probably drop our coverage.

Our estate plan should be in place and fully implemented. Various assets are handled differently. A thorough review at age 50 is in order to ensure the titling and beneficiary designations are correct on each asset from our Roth account to our Health Savings Account.

If we haven’t been saving enough or were not invested wisely, we have one last chance after children and before retirement to catch up. Age 50 is the first year we are allowed to take advantage of increased savings and catch-up provisions. Maximum savings in a 401(k) or 403(b) account increases from $16,500 to $22,000 at age 50. Roth contributions also increase from $5,000 a year to $6,000. If we don’t have eight times our lifestyle spending saved, now is the time to press these limits.

Saving well is half the battle; investing well is the other half.

At 50 we still have a significant amount of time before retirement. Even if we retired early at age 62, we would still have several years of growth before we needed to start taking withdrawals. At age 50 and even well into retirement our portfolio should still be invested aggressively in equities. An average asset allocation might put 81.6% in appreciating equities and only 18.4% in stable fixed-income investments.

A typical asset allocation at age 50 might be 3% short money, 7.7% U.S. bonds, 7.7% foreign bonds, 31.2% U.S. stocks, 35.3% foreign stocks, and 15.1% hard asset stocks.

At 50, men have an average life expectancy of 28 more years. Women get an extra 4 years. If we are fortunate, those numbers will be even greater. Age 78 is average, but with healthy life choices and medical advances, we may enjoy an even longer life. Those of us with the longest 20% longevity will live well into our 90s.

Of course life is too short to ignore meaning at any age. But for many people 50 is a milestone that reminds us to stop and reevaluate. There is still time for a whole new life of significance.

If we’ve been careful in our savings we could retire at age 50 and pursue a new calling regardless of its potential pay. We could retire at age 50 if we could live off 3.64% of our net worth. To retire with a $100,000 per year lifestyle we would need $2.75 million.

Financial independence can open exciting possibilities that were otherwise out of the question. If we don’t need the money, we are free to do anything with our lives. People of purpose usually don’t choose 28 years of recreation. Not when we finally have the time and the wisdom to make a difference in the world.

Counting retirement as a new career is a perspective we encourage. Beth Nedelisky and I teach an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course each spring, “Financial Planning for Success and Significance in Retirement.” In the first class we explore finding meaning in retirement and defining success. We use Marc Freedman’s book “Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life” in the class. His book encourages everyone passing 50 to find their calling in the second half of life and focus on what matters most.

I asked Freedman what he considers the most significant aspect of those over 50 finding a calling for the second half of their life. He answered, “When you reach the point in your life where you can celebrate the freedom to work instead of the freedom from work, that’s success. If just a fraction of people in the second half of life turn their experience, time and talent to our nation’s most pressing challenges, imagine the progress we could make.”

Although you can have that attitude at any age, it is especially powerful when redefining the second half of life.

Photo by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash

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David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. Favorite number: e (2.7182818...)