Avoiding the financial emergency room

Buz Livingston | Walton Sun Columnist

Understand you could live longer than you expect, perhaps significantly longer. A 65-year-old woman in normal health has a 25 percent chance of living to age 96 while her male counterpart has the same chance of living to 93. Protagonists for taking Social Security early argue a premature death means they won’t get the money they paid into Social Security. True, but you won’t care, you will be dead. Having to start Social Security early due to health reasons is one thing, but each year you delay increases your benefit by 8 percent. Delaying retirement by six-12 months improves success rates, too.

John Prine once lamented all his friends “turned out to be insurance salesmen.” Insurance is essential, but it’s inferior to mediocre as an investment. For loss prevention or mitigation and income protection I’m on board, but for retirement, you need a key to reality.

Deducting huge capital losses or high amounts of mortgage interest can help lower your tax bill, but either of them is a danger sign. Capital losses are limited to $3,000 of other income, outside of capital gains. New tax laws limit mortgage interest deductibility plus the higher standard deduction, albeit temporary, may render it useless.

Buying an equity-indexed annuity inside your IRA hurts your financial health. Sure you bought it because it had a guaranteed floor (and a great salesperson), but there’s no free lunch. Guarantees from equity-indexed annuities/fixed income annuities can be illusory, and they are expensive. Plus the “index” companies use to calculate returns often omit dividend income. With the death of the fiduciary rule for 401K plan rollovers, equity-indexed annuity sales spiked — enough said.

Everyone wants the best for their kids but co-signing a college loan puts you on the hook if they can’t make the payments. A college student should never have more debt than the expected first year’s salary. Begin the college financing conversation when they are in middle school.

If your friends are jealous of everything you own or your kitchen looks like something from HGTV, you might have a problem. Remodeling your home is not the equivalent of real estate investing, not even close. In complete disclosure, we remodeled our kitchen eight years ago, and while it needed revamping, I also wanted to impress my aunts, so I’m GUILTY. Don’t think of a home as an investment while ignoring maintenance, insurance, tax, and transaction costs.

“Watch me” often prefaces emergency room trips. Ignoring inflation may not be as foolhardy, but it’s close. With costs increasing 3 percent annually, if you retire at 63 and live to 87, your expenses will double; it’s algebra Mrs. Moran tried to teach me in junior high, but I didn’t listen then. Three percent inflation is too low for Medicare and other retiree healthcare costs. Instead, we use 5.05 percent.

You can’t always get what you want but Buz Livingston, CFP can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.