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Wealth Column: Your retirement red zone checklist

It's the fourth quarter and your hometown team's quarterback makes a pass through double coverage to his favorite wide receiver.

He runs the ball across the 20-yard line before he's tackled. But it's a first down and your team has time to strategize before they attempt their end goal of scoring a touchdown — time they can take to look at all of the angles and decide on the right play after assessing all of their options.

With football on our minds, we look at what you can learn from those football stars when approaching your own retirement red zone.

Maximize Employer Benefits

We like to think of your retirement red zone as being the last five or so years before you retire. So in that time, we highly recommend maximizing your employee benefits while you still have them. If you're over age 50, take advantage of catch-up contributions, which for many of us is still over a decade from retirement, but the sooner you can start, the better. Once you hit the big 5-0, you can put away up to $24,500 thanks to the $6,000 catch up contribution. Even if that's more than you can afford to save, we recommend that you save as much as you can as you close in on the end zone of your career.

Another item to maximize is your Health Savings Account (HSA), if you're eligible. An HSA allows you to put pre-tax money into an account and withdraw the funds tax-free when used for qualified medical expenses. Sounds great, right? It gets better. On top of helping you out with medical expenses throughout retirement, after age 65, you can use that income as a traditional IRA and withdraw income for any reason without penalty. However, if the money is used for non-medical spending, you will still be responsible for income taxes. Having back up, like a well-funded HSA, can give you a better chance for victory in retirement.

Evaluate Your Retirement Income Plan

Just like the pace of the football game changes as it progresses, your retirement spending is likely to change over the years as well. You may want to celebrate your newfound freedom with a vacation or a new hobby, and those things cost money. But once the excitement wears off, you probably won't be doing those things every week, so you may see that spending goes up early in retirement, but then slowly falls off as you pay down your mortgage and settle into retired life. But withdrawing too much during those early years could mean that you don't have enough left to grow and support your during the more relaxed years. That's why having a withdrawal strategy is necessary so you don't run out of money before you run

out of breath.

Practice Makes Perfect

The athletes on the goal line have been practicing their plays for years to get it right and we suggest you practice for retirement before its game time, too. By that, we mean to practice living off of your retirement income and be sure that you can live comfortably on that income. It's better to realize now that you need to reconsider than after you retire and it's more difficult to change your game plan.

If you don't feel prepared to call the plays for your retirement, we suggest enlisting the help of a coach for help. Talking to a financial adviser can help you feel more prepared and confident knowing that a professional has your back both as you enter the retirement red zone and beyond.