Best of Barron’s: Social Security Claiming, Retiring on Dividends, Info on RMDs

Barron’s Retirement’s 10 most read stories of the year include items on retiring abroad and retiring on dividends. Apologies to David Letterman and his Top 10 List segment on the ‘Late Show.’


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One of the best features of digital journalism is the ability to know what readers respond to. Barron’s Retirement tries to use that knowledge to deliver relevant stories on the topics you most want to know about when it comes to saving, investing, and living in retirement. 

The past year has delivered a lot of hits, as you’ll see below, on topics running from how to retire abroad to managing your retirement strategy amid turbulent markets to retiring on dividends.  

Still, not every story works as we hoped or reaches as broad an audience as we envisioned. Do senior readers want to know about pot? Do we not care as much about the idea of crypto in our workplace retirement accounts as the headlines would make you think? Or have we just not hit upon the right headline to draw in the broadest possible audience?

Whatever the case, here is our second annual rundown of the top 10 most read Barron’s Retirement stores of the year so far, in descending order of the number of readers who clicked on them: 

April 3

When to claim Social Security is one of the most personal, and controversial, topics in retirement coverage. Seemingly everyone has an opinion. Here, writer Tom Wilk explored his considerations on when to claim Social Security in this Living in Retirement column.

I’ve held off claiming Social Security with some reservations, but it remains a lively topic of conversation with friends who were former co-workers. After all, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, about 50% of people take Social Security before full retirement age and less than 10% wait until 70 when benefits reach their maximum.

“Get the money now. You’ll never make up the difference if you wait until you’re 70,” advised a friend, who turned 70 in September and began taking it at 66.

Feb. 21  

Barron’s Retirement launched a new mailbag feature earlier this year, taking reader questions and going to professionals for advice. This one drew a lot of readers, presumably for its headline, but secondary questions on whether to pay off a mortgage and tax-efficient ways to protect taxable investment holdings from inflation were quite informative as well. 

July 16

The long bull market that propelled 401(k) balances for more than a decade has ended amid soaring inflation, the prospect of a recession, political strife, and the war in Ukraine. What’s an anxious retirement saver to do?

To find out, Barron’s Retirement reporter Elizabeth O’Brien spoke with a number of financial pros as well as an expert in the budding field of financial therapy.

While extreme moves are a bad idea, like pulling your money out of stocks, small tweaks might actually help you stay the course, said Preston Cherry, founder and president of Concurrent Financial Planning in Green Bay, Wis., and president of the Financial Therapy Association. For example, you might feel better dialing back your 401(k) contribution rate by a couple percentage points. “If you need to raise a little liquidity, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Cherry said.

June 12

Another installment in our mailbag series, this piece looks at Congress’s plan to gradually raise the age for required minimum distributions, to age 75, over the next decade or so. It won’t happen for a while, if it gets approved at all, and in any case it won’t be enacted before this year’s 72-year-olds must take their first minimum distribution.

Plus, we had answers to your questions on Social Security spousal benefits and Social Security’s controversial Windfall Elimination Provision.

July 4

Retirement coverage needn’t be all about spending and saving strategies. Just as important as fiscal concerns are health concerns. That makes sense, as what’s the point in maximizing wealth if we’re not healthy enough or don’t live long enough to enjoy it.

Barron’s Retirement reporter Neal Templin’s latest look at how seniors can improve or optimize their health resonated with readers.

You don’t need to run marathons to derive the benefits of exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults can get the benefits with at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week plus at least two sessions of weight training. 

You can meet the CDC guidelines by going to the gym twice a week and going on 30-minute walks on the other five days, says Mary Edwards, director of fitness at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas.

Jan. 8

I’ve long wanted to write the phrase “401(k) millionaire” into a headline, and this On FIRE column, looking at the trend of savers seeking financial independence or to retire early, gave me the first legitimate chance to do so. 

Since Covid first grabbed headlines, the combination of a market rally, an increase in savings, and a decrease in borrowing has boosted retirement account balances past pre-Covid highs. Fidelity Investments, for one, reported a record 760,300 401(k) and individual retirement accounts with seven-figure sums in the third quarter of 2021.

While the influx of wealth may stir dreams of early retirement, financial planners say savers need to consider a few things. “One of the sticking points is whether you can access your money without being penalized,” says Danielle Harrison, a financial advisor at Harrison Financial Planning in Columbia, Mo. Another is whether you can mitigate the risks that come with a longer retirement.

June 4

Expat retirement is drawing increasing interest, but it isn’t as simple as picking a place and moving in. From healthcare to taxes, seniors looking to move overseas should figure on a year or so of preparation work, reporter Debbie Carlson found in this piece on retiring abroad.

April 23

Stock market downturns early in retirement often harm the durability of savings, but they can give retirees willing to do some research and steel their nerves an opportunity to juice longer-term returns.

Retirees in their 60s or early 70s with a longer time horizon can benefit from buying beaten-up, high-quality companies and dividend payers, for instance. And with planning and research there are ways to take the emotion out of buying during volatile times. 

To paraphrase billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the time to buy is when others are fearful. 

July 2

Equal isn’t always equal when parents leave retirement accounts to adult children with big differences in income, as reporter Gail MarksJarvis explored in this piece on how to manage your retirement savings to limit the tax hit on heirs.

Before the Secure Act of 2019, adult children who inherited retirement accounts had significant leeway to control what they withdrew annually and the resulting taxes. While they had to take some money out every year and pay taxes, they could limit those taxes by spreading those withdrawals over a lifetime

Now, for most adult children, IRAs and 401(k)s must be drawn down within a 10-year period after a parent dies, meaning withdrawals—and taxes—could be sizable whether the disbursements are taken in intervals or in a lump sum by year 11.

March 18

As more investors look to devote a portion of their nest eggs to the steady income that can come from dividend payers, reporter Lawrence C. Strauss talked with financial pros about how to diversify holdings, seek downturn-resistant companies, and do due diligence on fundamentals.

But retiring on dividends requires active engagement and management, so it pays to also understand the downside.

While savers need such income and growth to cover what can be a decadeslong retirement, this approach isn’t foolproof and certainly isn’t for everyone. Investors who pursue dividend stocks for income also risk losing principal or even part of the payout if there’s an economic or business downturn. And younger investors could be forgoing the longer-term potential of growth stocks by pursuing a dividend strategy. Savers also should consider a number of other potential sources of retirement income—bonds are one option, their overall low yields notwithstanding.

Write to Brian Hershberg at brian.hershberg@dowjones.com

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