Q. I am a 63-year-old elementary school principal. I plan on continuing to work for an additional 3 to 5 years before retiring. My husband is 75. He began drawing his Social Security at age 62. He receives about $1,200 a month. My current salary is about $82,000. If I were to retire this year, my Texas Retirement System monthly stipend would be around $4,500, before taxes. I have listed below savings plans and available monies for both my husband and myself:
- 403b = (1) variable annuity ($129,165) and (2) American Funds ($44,874)
- The 401(a) TERRP Plan for my school district = $18,186
- Husband’s Vanguard Retirement 2015 Fund = $51, 258
- Federated Funds = $12,555
- Savings Account = $109,000
Our house is paid for. We have no outstanding debt other than a car lease payment of $540 a month. We also have Long-Term Care insurance through John Hancock ($214/month). My questions are:
- Should I continue to pay into my current 403(b) plan through my school district or would it be more beneficial for me to roll it over into something else giving a bigger return and lowering fees? In other words cut myself off completely from this 403(b) plan and put all existing money plus additional monthly savings into something else that would work better for us.
- Where could I put the savings account money that would earn higher interest but not have a big risk?
—S.M., by email
A. There is no guarantee that rolling to a lower cost custodian and investment program— such as Fidelity, Vanguard or Schwab— will result in higher returns. But it will certainly result in lower fees. Those lower fees, in turn, increase the probability that your long-term return will be higher than your return will be if you continue paying high fees.
Long term, the odds are that a low-cost index fund based investment plan will provide a higher return than about 70 percent of the more expensive managed plans. This is particularly true for the high cost insurance-based plans that dominate the products available to Texas educators. Of the 75 certified companies on the TRS list, 42 are insurance companies.
In your 403(b) plan you have an insurance product that is relatively expensive. You also have some American funds, which are relatively low cost, but more expensive than index funds. A rollover would allow you to cash out of the insurance product while retaining the American Funds investments. You could replace the insurance product with a low-cost fund such as Vanguard Wellington or Vanguard Balanced Index and save over 2 percent of assets a year in fees. This is a more assured way to “find” a higher yield on your money than looking for higher interest rates.
A better alternative to doing a rollover would be stay in the 403(b), cash out of the insurance product and buy more American funds. That would probably cut costs by about 1.5 percent a year. You’ll want, I believe, to stay in the 403(b) plan to continue receiving the 401(a) benefits, which are contingent on your 403(b), plan contributions. You should check this with the HR person for your school district.
Another possibility is to move your Federated Funds and Savings Account to another platform. At a later date you will be able to do a rollover and see most of your financial assets in one online statement, make transfers, and have a related checking account.
Sadly, there is no happy answer to your second question. Interest rates are low all over. The only way to get a higher yield is to take risk in non-guaranteed investments. But if you look at your investments as a whole, you've got about $365,000 in financial assets. At a 4 percent safe withdrawal rate for a long retirement this means you might draw about $15,000 a year from your nest egg.
Yet you have a bit over $121,000 in near cash. That’s more than 8 years of your likely withdrawal rate. You could move $90,000 of that money to be invested in a balanced fund. This would increase both the current income and the long-term return— and you would still have 2 years of expected cash withdrawals on hand. That same $30,000 is equal to a cash reserve of 4 months of your annual income of about $84,000 from pension, Social Security and investments.
You can be safe while being less conservative.