Q. My mother has recently retired, age 79. She is deeply concerned about what to do with her retirement savings. This would not be such a problem if I hadn't recently become severely disabled and unable to work, and had gone through a messy divorce. She ended up buying me a modest house in Austin, Texas. She is also making payments on the first and secondd mortgages. The first is about $112,000 at 5.75 percent. The second is $20,000 at 7.9 percent. The total comes to about $1,200 a month.
In addition, she supplements my Social Security Disability payments of $700 a month with an additional $1,500 a month. This permits me to take care of all my monthly expenses.
Her retirement savings is roughly split in half, consisting of $180,000 in an interest-bearing account earning 6 percent interest, with the other half in a balanced fund. She has no desire to move from California to Texas, and I have no desire to move to California. She loves to visit me and now will spend about 4 months a year here with me in three or four separate visits. Recently, she was advised to draw the monthly payments she needs from her mutual fund account. She has been doing this for a couple of months now. Considering she is in excellent health, what would you advise? ---S.B., by email from Austin, TX
A. First, I suggest that she make her monthly draws from her interest-bearing account rather than her mutual fund. This will prevent her from selling assets when they are down in value.
Beyond that, you and your mom are in a precarious position. As a pair, you’re basically an accident waiting to happen. With her paying both the financing on your house and providing $1,500 a month for living expenses, she needs to withdraw money from her savings at an unsustainable 9 percent rate. She will, in due course, run out of money. Worse, she might become incapacitated and need to use some of her savings for her own care.
She’s your mom and I’m sure she is ready to make sacrifices for you. So the burden is on you to look for--- and exercise--- any options that would reduce the amount of her resources that are going to you.
One option is to examine shelter alternatives in the Austin area. Add taxes, insurance, maintenance and the other operating expenses of your house and you can probably reduce your total cost of shelter substantially. How? Think about becoming a renter. Another alternative would be to keep the house, but take on a roommate who would pay rent.
Still another option is to reconsider your desire to live in Austin. If you sold your house and moved to live with your mother, the drain on your mother’s savings would be entirely manageable. Only in recent history have we felt that each generation should live under its own separate roof.Q. I will turn 66 on February 25, 2009. This is my full retirement age. I would like to retire on January 1, 2009, and continue to work--- but on a part-time basis. Will the month between my retirement date and my birth month cause me to be penalized for having more than $12,350 income from my part-time job for the year 2009? I haven't received a clear answer from Social Security, so I'm hoping you can help. ---L.G., by email from San Antonio, TX
A. In the year you reach your full retirement age, the amount that you can earn from wages without having to give up some of your benefits is increased. Instead of $13,560, it rises to $36,100. These are the limit figures for 2008. The 2009 figures will be adjusted higher for inflation. Since you will be working only part time for the two months before reaching full retirement age, it is unlikely that you’ll have to return any of the Social Security benefits you will receive during this period.