Retirement isn’t always easily attainable, especially from a financial perspective. Older Americans are faced with a number of money-related decisions when they do decide to retire, and those decisions can often feel like they’re based on savings choices that were made years — or even decades — ago.
But there are plenty of mistakes that retirees make with their money as they retire that can be easily avoided. Below are four of the top mistakes experts advise you to avoid in order to enjoy a financially secure retirement.
1. Taking Social Security Too Early
A major mistake that many Americans make at the start of their retirement is taking the federal government up on its offer to receive Social Security payments early.
Yes, you can begin receiving your monthly payments as early as age 62. But there’s a catch: your payments are dropped by a small percentage for each month that you take Social Security before your full retirement age.
Many Americans retire well before age 67 and choose to start taking Social Security payments as soon as possible. While this can obviously help to supplement your retirement income in the short term, it leaves a substantial amount of money on the table in the long term. In all, the choice can add up to as much as a 30% reduction in benefits.
Depending on how well you’ve saved for retirement, Social Security may be your only form of self-replenishing income with no chance of running out. Minimizing the amount you receive each month, even by a seemingly small percentage, can hurt you in your later years.
The easiest way around this is to avoid taking Social Security for as long as you can. In fact, the government offers incentives for Americans to receive delayed retirement credits — you can receive the largest benefit by waiting to retire until age 70.
But you don’t have to wait until your full retirement age to actually retire. One strategy to avoid the reduction in benefits is to retire from work and accept a slightly lowered standard of living until you reach full retirement age and can begin taking Social Security. Alternatively, you might push your Social Security benefits back by a few years by leaning on your savings most heavily at the beginning of your retirement.
Another option is to keep working at a reduced capacity. After retiring from full-time work, many Americans find remote or freelance work. This way they can still enjoy the freedoms afforded by retirement while maintaining a smaller — and less stressful — work schedule, bridging the income gap until they reach full retirement age.
2. Failing To Account for Health Care Costs
Health care costs are arguably the greatest expense you will face in retirement — and those costs are continuing to rise.
A dangerous mistake retirees make is failing to understand the staggering amount of money they may have to spend on health care in retirement. Consider an example: CNBC estimates that a healthy 65-year-old couple would realistically need to budget nearly $400,000 to cover health expenses in retirement.
The good news is that Medicare can and does cover much of this burden, but gaps exist in the coverage. One prudent strategy is to look into other insurance options, like Medicare Advantage and/or Medigap plans. Medicare Advantage plans offer expanded coverage beyond what’s offered by Original Medicare, and Medigap can help to cover many of the additional (and unexpected) costs associated with health care for older individuals.
Another major cost new retirees don’t always plan for is long-term care. While the decision may seem far away, Medicare does not cover extended nursing home or assisted living facility stays. If you reach the point where you need to leave your home, the expense of doing so will fall entirely on your shoulders. The earlier you plan for these costs, the more likely you are to be financially ready for them.
3. Underestimating How Long You Will Live
It’s easy to overspend in retirement when you don’t understand how long your retirement might last.
According to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity, two-thirds of men nearing retirement underestimated the current life expectancy of a modern 65-year-old man. Nearly half of those men underestimated life expectancy by five years or more. Roughly half of the women surveyed made the same mistake, greatly underestimating the life expectancy of the average 65-year-old woman.
Americans consistently fail to grasp exactly how long they’re likely to live. If money hasn’t been budgeted for the duration, this can create serious problems later in retirement. After all, one of the scariest outcomes for many aging Americans is the very real possibility of outliving their savings.
There are strategies to avoid this, even if you are already retired. One of the central ways to stretch your retirement savings is to lower your standard of living where possible. Many Americans hope to live at the same (or even higher) standard than they did before retirement, but this frankly isn’t always realistic.
Financial products like annuities also exist to help ensure that your money lasts the duration of your retirement. For this reason, annuities are extremely popular with retirees seeking financial peace of mind.
You may hold the sentiment that since you don’t know how long you are going to live, you might as well make the most of the time you have. But research proves that there’s a good chance you will live longer than you’re thinking. Spending conservatively where you can, especially in the early years of your retirement, and making wise investments can protect you from running out of money with years of life left to pay for.
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4. Burning Through Money in the Early Years
It’s only natural: you’re excited and you want to make the most of your retirement, so you spend lots of money right away. This move can come back to hurt you 10,15 or 20 years into your retirement.
Many retirees take on major expenses quickly after they leave the workforce. Vacationing frequently in retirement is a common dream, and it’s certainly expensive.
But there are many other ways seniors overspend early, too. Suddenly having nothing but free time on your hands leads to finding a lot of different ways to spend money, from putting more cash into leisure activities and events to spending on home improvements now that you’re spending more time than ever in your house.
As with underestimating your lifespan, overspending early can cause serious issues in later years. The best way to combat this is to come up with a budget and take the time to map out how you’ll need to divide your money in retirement.
It’s perfectly fine to spend more money early when you’re still physically able to travel and take part in activities that you may not be able to enjoy in 10 years. But having a clear financial plan and understanding how much money you can spare for those types of activities can make a world of difference when evaluating your financial security in the remaining years of retirement.