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Retirement planning crucial for small business owners

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(ARA) - Planning for retirement is crucial for everyone, and it is especially critical for small business owners, the business leaders many cite as the life blood of the American economy.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business owners employ half of all private sector employees, pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll, and have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.

The challenge before American small business owners is keeping their companies financially healthy long-term. This is so that small business owners do not over-rely on the sale of their business alone to take care of them in retirement, and so the business will continue to remain a viable employer in the communities it serves.

Because small business owners and entrepreneurs are busy every day working to keep their businesses running strong, their schedule can often interfere with planning for the future. But in this economy, planning is a must in any business strategy. Without it, business owners may be surprised to find that the ultimate sale of their business may not leave enough for them to live on. This is because the sale timing might be off, or their finances are not strong enough to cover a full retirement.

"Setting a target number - or dollar figure of what is needed to live on for the rest of your life - is important, and it should be determined at least 10 years before you're ready to retire," says Tara Reynolds, corporate vice president with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). "And as you approach retirement, it's also a good idea to re-calculate what the business is worth with a proper business valuation to determine how you will need to fund your non-working years, if the value has changed. Having this plan and expectation in place can help you determine the best way and time to retire from your business."

The average business owner expects to retire at age 68, according to a survey conducted by GfK Custom Research North American for MassMutual in 2011. Yet only one-third of the respondents had a sound retirement strategy to ensure income for life, having access to income when needed, managing potential health care expenses and leaving a legacy to the next generation.

MassMutual financial professional Katheigh Degen of Kansas City offers the following tips to help small business owners stay financially secure during the run up to retirement.

* Anticipate needs - Traditionally, most people need about 70 percent of their current annual income to live comfortably in retirement. Know what your business is worth - both as one entity, and also broken down into smaller parts. Only about 10 percent of business sales involve the entire business as one lump sum.

* Save on the side - You've probably heard about diversifying your portfolio, and the same is true with diversifying your retirement plan. Put aside 20 to 25 percent of your gross income in savings outside of the business. This provides you with flexibility as you plan your exit from the business. For example, if you have an heir or employee interested in purchasing the company, they might not be able to afford it all at once, but could take over the helm with smaller payments over a period of time. Having additional savings can help you tide over in retirement while you also receive payments for the business.

* Explore options - As you near retirement, selling off your business in one setting would make everything easy. But as mentioned earlier, it doesn't always work that way. Knowing your business' value can help you evaluate offers that come your way, so you can make an educated decision on whether to sell and live comfortably in retirement, or keep working and pursue a better offer.

* Don't wait too long to find a buyer - Within three to five years of retirement, business owners should start to find a buyer for the business. Of course, this plan demands that the owner set an expected retirement date and stick to it. By waiting too long, owners may begin to experience poor health and low energy, which could affect productivity and potentially the profitability of the company.

Planning for retirement is so crucial, and owning a business can often add complications in timing the retirement perfectly.

"Business owners put so much hard work into building the business and making it strong and viable in the market," says Degen. "With additional planning in retirement strategy, a good business owner can retire and see the business continue to succeed even after it has been transitioned over to new owners."

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