Ideally, retirement is an idyllic time during which you can relax and do all the things that you've always wanted to do. But getting to the point where you can pay for the retirement you want isn't easy; it requires hard work and sacrifice during your working years. And if you fall for any of these common retirement myths, then all that effort you put into saving over the years may be for naught.
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1. 65 is the right age for retirement
Once upon a time, 65 was considered "full retirement age." This was the age when many people both retired and filed for Social Security benefits, because they were now entitled to receive the full benefit amount for which they were eligible. However, as the average lifespan has climbed, the Social Security Administration has pushed the full retirement age forward a bit. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. For those born in the following years, retirement age creeps up by two months per year, meaning that someone born in 1955 would have a full retirement age of 66 years, two months. Everyone born after 1959 has a full retirement age of 67. If you claim Social Security at age 65 under the mistaken belief that that's the best time to file, your benefits will be permanently reduced because you claimed them before your actual full retirement age. And without the help of Social Security benefits, most people wouldn't be able to afford retirement at age 65 without putting a dangerous strain on their retirement savings.
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2. Stocks are too risky for retirement investments
Stocks are definitely a riskier investment than, say, government bonds or bank savings accounts. However, stock investors are rewarded for taking on risk by getting a comparatively high average return over the long haul. Without the help of that high average return, you'd need to save much, much more money during your working life to get enough retirement savings built up. For example, let's say you've saved $1,000 per month (which adds up to $12,000 per year) and put it in government bonds, getting an average annual return of 2%. At the end of 30 years, you'd have $496,553 saved up -- which is nowhere near the amount the average retiree needs. On the other hand, if you'd put that same $1,000 per month in stocks and gotten an average annual return of 7%, you'd have $1,212,876 saved up after 30 years. That's enough to finance a very comfortable retirement indeed. The most significant risk factor with stock investments is their volatility: while they show terrific returns over the long term, in any given year they can climb or fall dramatically in value. Thus, as you approach retirement, it's wise to shift most of your retirement funds over to bonds instead. That way you can have your cake and eat it too: enjoy the high returns of stocks, yet enter your retirement with a much safer portfolio of bonds in hand.
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3. I don't need retirement savings, I can live on Social Security
Social Security is tremendously helpful for retirees, there's no doubt about that. However, few retirees can reduce their expenses to the point where they can comfortably live on nothing but their Social Security benefits. As of January 2017, the average monthly Social Security benefit is $1,360. Could you really live on that much money and still enjoy the retirement you want?
4. Medicare will cover all my healthcare costs
Like Social Security, Medicare is a wonderful program -- but it's not a cure-all. Original Medicare will cover some hospital and doctor related medical expenses, but there are large gaps in its coverage. For example, Medicare will only pay for the first 100 days in a nursing home. If you need to stay longer than that, you'd better be prepared to pay a great deal of money; according to AARP, the average cost for a nursing home is over $50,000 per year and about 1/3 of nursing home residents pay all of it out of their own pockets. And that's just one example of where Medicare can fall short. Plus, several components of Medicare require you to pay monthly premiums, including Medicare Part B. It's important to set aside part of your retirement budget to cover the (inevitably increasing) medical costs you will incur.
5. Once I retire, I won't have to worry about taxes
You've probably heard the saying about death and taxes. As long as you live, the federal government -- and possibly your state as well -- will continue to present you with an annual tax bill. But once you retire, you won't have an employer to take that money out for you every month and send it to the IRS. You'll be responsible for calculating and paying your taxes yourself. This means that your tax challenges will likely increase rather than decrease once you retire. And you should definitely budget for the taxes you'll be paying on part if not all of your retirement income.
6. I can keep working as long as I have to
Anyone who's ever been through an unexpected layoff knows that job security isn't what it used to be. The days when someone could expect to work for the same company for their entire career are long gone. And if you think that hustling up a new job on short notice during your 30s and 40s is tough, think how hard it would be when you're in your 60s. Even if your employer doesn't kick you out of the nest, you could run into health problems or other challenges that would require you to leave your job earlier than you anticipated. Thus, it's wise to plan for a retirement date somewhere in your 60s and save accordingly. If all goes well, you may indeed end up stretching out your working years into your 70s and beyond -- but if all doesn't go well, you'll have the funds to take care of yourself.
Keep calm and carry on
Preparing for retirement can be a challenge, but it's not as difficult or as complicated as you might believe. If you're setting aside around 15% of your income in retirement savings every month and are investing the funds in a reasonable way, you should be fine once retirement time finally rolls around.
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