If you’ve read our past blogs, you know that women have unique financial and planning needs, and that education is crucial to securing a comfortable future. The same holds true for executive women, who face a variety of distinct situations. Some take time off from their careers to raise children or care for aging parents. Some are still trying to find the secret to the perfect work/life balance — and throwing financial planning on the to-do list doesn’t seem that urgent. After all, retirement is still far enough away to plan for, right?
Yet to set yourself up for success, it’s vital to start doing what you can now. And as an executive, you likely have access to a variety of benefits that can help you plan for your future. Below are seven strategies:
1. Executive Benefits
Earning a higher level in your company often means an expanded benefits package, and it’s important to know what yours consists of. Most plans are pretty robust, but many executives don’t take the time to go through everything in their package and determine how these benefits could apply to their life. Many plans offered by public companies include opportunities around stocks, such as stock option plans, restricted stock unit plans and employee stock purchase plans (where you can purchase company stock at a discount). Educating yourself on your options and how to best leverage stock opportunities can be extremely valuable in planning for retirement.
2. Life Insurance
Some companies secure life insurance policies on key executives in order to help them through the difficult process of succession should anything happen to that executive. When you retire, you usually have the option to take the policy on as your own as a distribution, as it likely has a cash surrender value that has built up over time. There are different options to explore the cash surrender value, such as doing a tax-free exchange to combine it with long-term care coverage. Long-term care insurance can be beneficial in helping to meet your needs if you become unable to care for yourself when you reach an advanced age.
Often times the premiums paid into the life insurance policy are more than the cash surrender value, and you have a loss on the policy. One option to consider is to do a tax-free exchange with the cash surrender value into a low-cost annuity. When the value of the annuity reaches the basis (the amount of premiums paid on policy), all of that growth becomes tax-free, and you can transfer the increased value into a taxable investment account tax-free.
3. Health Savings Account
It is becoming increasingly popular to use a health savings account (HSA) as a savings strategy for high-income earners who have possibly maxed out other avenues and who may experience high medical costs such as a pregnancy. If you currently have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you’re eligible to contribute to an HSA and can defer pre-tax money directly into the account. One strategy to possibly increase the amount set aside is to use money outside the HSA to pay for medical expenses initially and let the deferred HSA money grow, and then when you retire you can reimburse yourself for previous medical expenses and take it out tax-free. This makes HSAs especially valuable for executives in a high tax bracket who are not eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA.
Learn what the 2019 HSA contribution limits are from our affiliate, Wipfli LLP.
4. Disability Insurance
Many executive benefit plans offer disability insurance, but sometimes this is not enough if you become disabled and unable to work. Executives have very specific roles, and general policies may not cover everything you desire. Look at getting an individual, occupation-specific plan, which will likely provide a greater benefit.
5. Social Security
Depending on your age, you may be skeptical that Social Security will still be around when you retire, but it is a valuable retirement asset that should be considered in your financial planning, regardless of your age and whether you’re married or divorced.
Many executives tend to be further along in their careers, and they may have maximized their Social Security already — with some able to receive a benefit worth as much as $2,000,000 if they live into their 90s. If you have maximized your benefit, you can still earn an 8% increase by waiting until age 70 to start collecting. But note that you can’t make this decision in a vacuum. Take stock of your other retirement assets and determine how you can make them work for you when you retire so that you can delay Social Security until age 70 (as you probably want to actually retire before this age).
6. Pension Plan
Many companies no longer offer pension plans, as they’ve given way to 401(k) plans, but many baby boomers who will be retiring soon still have this benefit available. Many may still be eligible for a $40,000-a-year pension, which can make a huge difference to their retirement if utilized with proper financial planning. For example, should you take a lump sum or look at a variety of annuity options? Similar to Social Security, you can’t look at your options in a vacuum. Your company will be able to provide your lump sum benefit, your single-life annuity, your joint and survivor annuity, etc. You should consider your full financial life needs more than just this information to make your decision.
7. Financial Advisor
Do you know if your executive benefits plan provides access to a financial advisor? You might be surprised!
But even if it doesn’t, the sometimes-complex financial situations and planning needs of executives makes working with a financial advisor a valuable retirement strategy in itself. A financial advisor can help you go through each one of your benefits, determine which make the most sense for you and monitor the investments you’ve made, so that you can focus on core priorities like your job and home life.
This is also valuable if you switch companies. Many people miss out on benefits available to them because they switch jobs. You have to ensure you get all your retirement funds into one place, monitor those assets and ensure they are where you need them to be when you retire. It’s challenging to do this without help, but with a financial advisor, you gain added peace of mind knowing you’ve sought specialized help.
Maximize what your company is offering you. Contact Wipfli Financial Advisors to learn more about the unique planning needs of executive women.