Saturday, November 16, 2013

Post-FRA Acronyms

Some months before I retired and almost a year before I reached Full Retirement Age (FRA), I wrote a blog post about the acronyms for retirement jargon, including FRA. It turns out that post-FRA there are new acronyms I need to deal with.

Last week I had my mid-year checkup. I was feeling pretty good about it. I’d lost 28 pounds from my visit six months earlier and my blood pressure (BP) was down to 120 over 80. It had crept up to the 140 over 90 range before I lost the weight. Then I noticed the column on the report of my visit headed “Conditions” and saw that I’m still overweight. Well (thought I), at least it doesn’t say “obese.”

My goal had been to lose another 10 pounds, maybe 15. I decided to go on-line to find out where I need to be so that I’m no longer overweight. I’ve reached the age where I’ve been shrinking a bit each year, and I was prepared for my target weight to shrink along with my height. Shrink, yes, but wither to something not realistically attainable, no. There are tons of websites that claim to help you calculate your ideal body weight.

You have and There’s and Also the basic and the ever-popular Some of the sites require you to input your body frame (small-boned, average, large-boned). To do this accurately, you’re supposed to use calipers and measure your elbow thickness, or else try to wrap your fingers around your wrist. I took the easy way out and went with average frame.

On that basis, some of the sites still label me obese. They all claim that I need to lose at least 25 additional pounds to reach normal weight for my current height. What’s worse, one site actually had the temerity to tell me that I can consume just 896 calories a day if I want to lose weight. As if. I lost the 28 pounds eating 1100-1200. Did I say "eating?" I meant "starving."

The culprit in these calculations is the BMI (Body Mass Index). That acronym was not unfamiliar to me, but I had paid it little mind, and I certainly didn’t know how to calculate it. For those who care: divide your body weight in pounds by your height in inches squared. Then multiply that times 703. A normal BMI is 19 to 24.9, give or take a pinch, depending on the website.

I used to joke that no husband should be allowed to weigh less than his wife. My husband is extremely thin, so despite my extra baggage, I always felt he was partly to blame for the disconnect in our poundage. Now I see that it’s all my fault. When I reach my proper weight—notice I say when, not if—I will finally weigh less than he does.

By the end of the week, the euphoria of my official weight loss and improved BP had morphed into the depressing realization that it could be six more months before I can resume visiting my wine rack once a week. You would think I would have left well enough alone and settled in with a good book. You would be wrong. I returned to the Internet to do research on yet another post-FRA acronym: RMD.

I will turn 69 next year and that has put RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) on my radar. It’s the amount one must withdraw from ones IRA after age 70½. Well, not exactly. According to a variety of websites (including Uncle Sam’s), you have to start withdrawing the money by April 1 of the calendar year after the year in which you turn 70½ (not 70). I determined that to be April 1, 2017 for me. How much one has to withdraw turns out to be not so straight-forward either.

The government’s Uniform Lifetime Table (ULT) calculates your Life Expectancy Factor (LEF). It plugs that into a chart to show the percentage of your IRA you have to withdraw. Each year longer that you live, your projected longevity gets extended, so the percentage changes every year. In other words, you can’t just sit down when you hit 70½ and figure out how much to take out for each of the next five years, calculate the taxes you’ll owe and determine how much you’ll have left to buy really fine wine.

If I had not known how high my BMI is, the RMD based on the LEF in the ULT would have driven me straight into the arms of a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to lower my BP. Instead I find myself in front of an open refrigerator, communing with a jar of baby dill pickles (5 calories each). It’s a cruel world.

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