I would like to spend more time volunteering when I retire, but I know that finding meaningful work isn’t always easy. Any suggestions how to go about this? - JobAdvisor : JOB SEARCHING , CAREER ADVICE

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I would like to spend more time volunteering when I retire, but I know that finding meaningful work isn’t always easy. Any suggestions how to go about this?

I would like to spend more time volunteering when I retire, but I know that finding meaningful work isn’t always easy. Any suggestions how to go about this?
To start, and as counterintuitive as this might sound, put yourself first.
Yes, volunteering invariably begins with the notion of sacrifice. But a big incentive for many people—and what keeps them coming back—is what they get from the work, whether it’s a chance to go behind the scenes at the local theater, or friendships with fellow volunteers, or pats on the back.
Put another way, seek out work where you might benefit.
Volunteers at first “tend to focus very heavily on the idealism of giving back,” says Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes encore careers. But there are also “more immediate aspects that appeal to them: being part of a group or a team, giving themselves a reason to get up in the morning, or a place to go, or a schedule to live by.” Freedman adds: “The relationships and a sense of purpose are just as important as some of the more lofty ideals in getting a satisfying experience.”

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A volunteer cleans a historic aircraft at an air force museum in England. Many volunteers who donate their time to museums, historical sites, zoos and botanical gardens enjoy the educational opportunities.

Learning opportunities are a good example of this. Many people donate their time to museums, historical sites, zoos, botanical gardens and the like. The work, of course, is frequently its own reward. But these same volunteers, in many cases, also enjoy perks: lectures by curators, an early look at new exhibits, invitations to functions. Again, when sizing up nonprofit opportunities, there’s nothing wrong with considering how you might, well, profit.
Along these same lines, look for a place or organization that’s “volunteer-centric.”
All nonprofit groups and social-service agencies are structured differently. A library may have a small number of volunteers to assist visitors and shelve books. But it isn’t set up to offer frequent orientation, training, field trips and seminars solely for its volunteers.
In contrast, groups organized to train and put volunteers to work tend to offer more—more educational opportunities, more chances to mingle with fellow recruits, more social hours and more recognition—all of which may grow in importance when volunteer work replaces a career.

One retiree told us about the formal recognition she received through the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, known in some communities as the guardian ad litem program, in which volunteers speak up for abused and neglected children in the courts. After 40 hours of training, she and her colleagues went to a local court, where they were sworn in by a judge.
“The judge thanks you in court, and you feel like you’re a professional,” she says. “That’s different from some other volunteer places.”

When it comes to retirement, 60s are the new 50s
Catching up on 401(k)s
I am currently maximizing regular and catch-up contributions in my company’s 401(k) program. The regular contributions are directed to a Roth 401(k). However, the company administrator advises me that catch-up contributions can only be directed to a traditional, pretax account, based on the company’s current plan rules. Is there a reason in the tax code that catch-up contributions cannot be directed to a Roth account?
Actually, the tax code allows for catch-up contributions to be made to a Roth 401(k). I don’t know why your plan has this limitation.
Most people, in 2017, can contribute a maximum of $18,000 to their 401(k). (That figure jumps to $18,500 in 2018.) But employees age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000. This rule is designed to help people closing in on retirement beef up their nest eggs. Note: The limit on catch-up contributions for 2018 remains unchanged at $6,000.

What to do? “I would get [this restriction] in writing from the plan administrator,” suggests Ed Slott, an expert on retirement-savings accounts in Rockville Centre, N.Y. “That will at least force someone [at the plan] to check if this is actually true.”
Another possibility: There could be confusion about catch-up contributions vs. employer matching contributions, which can’t go to a Roth 401(k). “Employer matching contributions can go only to the pretax 401(k) side of the plan, so maybe that’s where the disconnect is,” Slott says. “It’s worth asking about.”
A Social Security sabbatical? Maybe not
I recently turned 62. I am currently employed but plan to change jobs. My problem is that I will need to support myself without a paycheck for at least six months while I make the transition to a new field. My question is: Can I receive Social Security benefits for a period of six to eight months, then go back to work, stop receiving Social Security and have my earnings from my new job count toward my earnings record when I eventually retire? Or is the decision to receive Social Security benefits irrevocable? Essentially, I am asking whether I can use Social Security to fund a sabbatical before I move on to a new career.
It’s certainly an interesting thought. And you are able to stop benefits after you begin collecting them. But this plan probably won’t work—at least not in the way you imagine.
Once you begin collecting Social Security, you have 12 months in which to change your mind and ask the Social Security Administration to stop payments. This is what’s known as a “withdrawal of application”; in the eyes of the agency, you are withdrawing your original application for benefits.
So, in that sense, Social Security isn’t an irrevocable decision. As with a faucet, you can turn benefits on and then turn them off. But there are several catches here.
First, you can take this step of starting and stopping benefits only once in your lifetime. Second, if you withdraw your application for benefits, you must pay back to the Social Security program all of the money you have received to date. What’s more, the mechanics of doing this (you fill out a one-page request) aren’t as easy as they appear, says Mike Piper, author of “Social Security Made Simple.”
“Many Social Security Administration employees aren’t particularly familiar with the process,” he says. And “there can be tax ramifications resulting from the repayment of benefits that you received in a prior year.”
Finally, let’s say you start Social Security during your break and simply let benefits continue once you return to work. You might not be happy with this approach, either. First, starting payments at age 62 or 63 reduces your monthly check considerably (and permanently) from what it would be at your “full retirement age,” as defined by Social Security. Second, the wages from your new job, if they exceed a certain level, could run up against Social Security’s “earnings test”; that, in turn, could reduce, or even eliminate, your monthly check until you reach full retirement age.
All of which argues for considering other ways to fund your sabbatical, even if it’s a bit of a temporary stretch.
Glenn Ruffenach is a former reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal. His column examines financial issues for those thinking about, planning and living their retirement. Send questions and comments to askencore@wsj.com.