What’s missing from this retirement picture?

You’ve done what you’ve always considered a good job saving for retirement. Following the suggestions of your financial planner, you began paying yourself first, putting away 10 percent of your earnings at a relatively young age, maxing out your employer matches and then some. You have remained faithful to this process, resisting the urge to withdraw money for emergencies, kids’ college, first home purchase, etc. You took advantage of dollar cost averaging and, in the process, have built up a reasonable nest egg; one that is larger than you ever dreamed possible, but it still seems vaguely inadequate. In addition, you managed to pay off your mortgage and eliminate your debt, just like the financial gurus on TV have told you to do.

Looking forward you feel hopeful that you will have what you need to live out a reasonably abundant and secure retirement, but you can’t help worrying. You had always assumed you would be able to move your savings into a portfolio of bonds and dividend-paying stocks that would create an income stream while preserving your principal. However you are now confronted with the reality of historically low interest rates and suppressed dividends. In addition the market is at historic highs. You are vaguely aware that rising interest rates could depress the market and bond prices, so you are reluctant to move your money into bonds, but you are worried if you leave the money in stocks the next correction or bear market will deplete your funds.

If you believe those financial media mavens, you should be able to leave your money in stocks, where you will continue to receive 8 percent to 11 percent for the rest of your life. But your financial planner is advising you to limit spending to 5 percent, and you’ve been reading that you should really be spending no more than 3 percent. You find that confusing. What is it? 8 percent? 5 percent? 3 percent?

Worse yet, you are being told by your tax advisor to hold off on spending any of your retirement funds as long as possible because of the tax consequences, you are reading you shouldn’t take Social Security until you are 70 years old, and now you are reading you have to prepare for up to 30 years of retirement.

You have heard about reverse mortgages and income annuities, but you are hearing vastly different opinions about them, and you don’t know whom to believe. You’ve gone to a couple of retirement dinner seminars, but the presenters always seem to have a specific agenda, which always seems to have something to do with separating you from your money. The term, “no free lunch” keeps rolling around in your head.

Welcome to retirement in the 21st Century. Over the next 20 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers a day will be turning 65. According to The Retirement Income Journal, the Federal Reserve estimates there is over $24 trillion in total retirement assets, of which nearly $14 trillion is held in employer-sponsored defined contribution plans and private plans such as IRAs. Swimming in this pool are thousands of advisors, advisory firms, stock brokers, registered representatives, annuity salesmen, registered investment advisors, TV and radio personalities, authors, “experts” and other sharks ad nauseam, who are after their share of the pie. So how do you get through all this without being eaten? Avoid it completely? Listen to family and friends? Do nothing? Do something and hope it’s the right thing?

What’s missing in all of this noise? Here’s my take. Nowhere in any of the above were you mentioned, right? Maybe that’s what the problem is. Everyone seems to be focused on the money, and no one seems to be focused on you. From my perspective, that’s where you should begin.

A good place to start is by looking for someone who seems more interested in you than your money, or themselves. When you sit down to talk with them, where is their focus? Are they asking about you, or talking about themselves? When they are talking about you, do they focus on your desires, wants, aspirations, goals and values?

Or do they jump right in with discussions about your assets? Do they have a minimum required amount of investable assets necessary to talk with you? Are they focused on a specific product (in fairness, some professionals, like reverse mortgage brokers, are limited to a single product, so make sure you are aware of this)? Do they dismiss whole categories of products like annuities, market based assets, or reverse mortgages? Do they ask you to make a purchase during the first meeting? Do you feel pressured?

What seems to be their primary driver, or purpose? Do they come across as wanting to sell, or wanting to teach and help? Do they seem more invested in outcome, or the process of providing the information you need to make a good decision? Does their workshop focus on product or you and your objectives? Are they licensed for more than one thing? Are they a fiduciary, or just a sales person? Are they knowledgeable about a wide range of issues?

Here’s what I believe is a great test. When you go in to see them for the first time, tell them you want to purchase whatever they are selling (every one of us is selling something). If they move right to the close, you know what their agenda is. If, on the other hand, they tell you to slow down, focus on understanding your needs, and make you go home to think about stuff rather than just pulling out paperwork, you may just be able to trust what they have to say.

Stephen Kelley can be heard, along with his co-host Mark Perkins, on the Free-to- Retire Radio Hour on Saturday at 7AM on 610 WGIR and Sunday at Noon on 980 WCAP. Steve conducts workshops on Maximizing Social Security and The Other 60% – More Now, More Later. He is the author of several books, his latest ones being “Ready-Set-Retire” and “Tell Me When You’re Going to Die and I’ll Show You How Well You Can Afford to Live.” His financial planning practice, Safety First Financial Planners is located at 33 Main Street in Nashua. He can be reached at 603-881-8811.