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For over 10 years, I have been teaching classes for couples and individuals that primarily focus on how Social Security Administration retirement benefits work and how to maximize retirement income from Social Security and other sources.

About nine years ago, after a rigorous vetting process, I became a contract instructor on these topics for Portland Community College, which has a robust and well-loved community education program. While these have been mostly in person, during the pandemic we have moved to remote classes. This has worked out well, and many people enjoy the convenience of taking the class in their homes. We are planning on testing out at least one in-person class this year.

There is a small fee for the class that is discounted by 50% for people over age 62. I have never encountered any resistance to the fee, and it just helps cover costs. I think people actually value the class more due to the fee, and attendance for those who sign up is always very high—nearly 100%.

Our target market for the classes is, pretty obviously, those nearing or already in retirement. We see a pretty healthy mix of demographics and income levels. The classes are promoted in the college’s catalog, through postcard mailings that our firm sends out, and via social media and our website. We also encourage current clients and attendees of previous classes to forward information about the classes to friends and family.

With our extensive experience working with future retirees, we know what people are thinking and we know what they’re worried about. We also know the financial myths many of them still believe. Many of these concerns and myths are addressed in our classes:

  • They’re worried about losing their savings due to market and macro risks.

  • Their current advisor is telling them to always “ride out the market,” which has led them to sleepless nights and some major portfolio losses.

  • Their current advisor is telling them that if they just accept the ups and downs of the market roller-coaster they’ll achieve an annual average 8%–10%-plus rate of return. That is very misleading and also ignores the issue of the sequence of returns.

  • Their current advisor says Social Security is going bankrupt so they should claim it now (usually age 62). We also believe this is not true and a big mistake.

During the class, we explore these topics and many others. We also provide a simplified overview of how we advise our clients to approach their retirement-income planning. Key points include the following:

  • Determining an appropriate Social Security claiming strategy for an individual or couple, factoring in appropriate longevity assumptions.

  • Analyzing immediate and longer-term income needs in retirement and potential sources of income to meet those needs.

  • Structuring a “bucket strategy” for sources of retirement income: liquid funds, guaranteed income sources, growth assets, and funds designated for estate maximization.

  • Viewing all elements of the plan through the lenses of inflation, tax exposure, minimizing investment fees, and risk management.

Teaching these classes is one of the most enjoyable things I do as a financial advisor. I feel like I have truly mastered this topic and present it well, and I think attendees sense that enjoyment and mastery. The feedback we receive is excellent. We have testimonials about the class on our website, and many attendees refer family and friends to the classes.

The classes also provide a way to introduce our firm to potential new clients. They see how I think and communicate and our firm’s qualifications. We offer every attendee an hourlong, no-obligation introductory meeting with our firm if they are interested. There is absolutely no pressure to schedule this meeting or to do business with our firm. Those who do take advantage of the meeting can speak about anything they would like. Generally, the concerns they have are about their retirement and overall financial situation. Over 50% of attendees schedule a private meeting, and about half of those end up working with our firm on the development of a financial plan.

Disclosure: Advisory services are offered through Duell Wealth Preservation & Gary R. Duell (“Duell”), an Oregon registered investment advisor firm. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial advisor and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.

Photography by Joni Kabana

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