Retirement Myths Not to Believe

If you thought saving for retirement is tough, just wait until it comes time to live off your nest egg.

“People want to make good decisions about money and many believe they’re on the right track with their finances,” says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz (daughter of Chuck Schwab), certified financial planner and senior vice president at Charles Schwab & Co. “But often they just don’t know what they don’t know. These blind spots can lead to missteps that can undermine the best-laid plans.”

When it comes to retirement, everyone’s savings paths will differ, but we will all need diligence and discipline.

A recent survey from Charles Schwab & Co reveals that many of us are operating under money misconceptions, which means we might be jeopardizing our hard-earned money.

To help dispel some of the rumors and money myths, I spoke with Schwab-Pomerantz on how boomers can keep their finances and retirement plans on track. Here’s what she had to say:

Boomer: The survey revealed 52% of respondents identified themselves as “very” or “extremely savvy” about personal finance, how does this indicate a possible gap in their financial knowledge?

Schwab-Pomerantz: Self-described ‘financially savvy’ people were more likely to agree with common misconceptions about Social Security, Medicare, insurance, marital status and retirement accounts than those who identified themselves as less financially savvy, which indicated overconfidence in their financial knowledge.

For example, 37% of ‘financially savvy’ people incorrectly agreed that if you need cash while you’re still working, a 401(k) is a good place to turn for a loan or withdrawal, compared to 29%of the less ‘financially savvy’ people who agreed with this. Similarly, 37% of ‘financially savvy’ individuals mistakenly agreed that marital status doesn’t affect your Social Security benefits – versus the 27% of less financially savvy individuals who agreed with this misconception.

Boomer: Why is it important for both adults in a household to be involved in money management decisions?

Schwab-Pomerantz: Money management is a basic life skill, like knowing how to swim. Over the last 50 years, the financial world has changed dramatically. Increased life expectancy, the continued demise of the pension plan and the prospect of rising healthcare costs require Americans to work longer and save more. Yet, despite this more challenging retirement landscape, nearly one in three of those surveyed indicated that they do not seek input from anyone when making financial decisions.

Similarly, 43% believe that it’s better for one adult in a household to have primary responsibility for the family’s financial planning and decision-making, as opposed to sharing the responsibility across the household. The reality is that it’s critically important for both adults in a household be involved in the money management decisions.  In far too many partnerships or marriages, one spouse shoulders the primary responsibility and the other has minimal involvement. In the event of death or divorce, the ramifications of this can be devastating.

Boomer: With 3 out of 4 Americans believing it is harder to plan for retirement now than it was for their parents’ generation, how does this make them overly optimistic about their financial options in the future?

Schwab-Pomerantz: Despite the fact that Americans believe it is harder to plan for retirement today, their expectations and assumptions about their financial future may be unrealistic. For example, 39% of those still in the workforce expect to get income from a part-time job in retirement, but only 4% of current retirees actually get income this way.

Additionally, respondents (retired and non-retired) indicated that the median “nest egg” savings needed to retire is $500,000, yet among retirees, the actual median amount saved was $150,000. For contextual perspective, Schwab’s rule of thumb is that in order to generate retirement income of $40,000 a year (in addition to Social Security), you would need to have saved 25 times that amount. That means that you’d need $1 million saved.*

Boomer: What are some of the common myths/money misconceptions many Americans operate under related to retirement and financial planning?

Schwab-Pomerantz: Ninety-one percent of respondents agreed that a will is the best way to ensure that your property will be distributed the way you want. Here’s the reality: Although a will is essential, it may not be sufficient. If there is a discrepancy between the beneficiaries named on your financial accounts with those named in your will, the beneficiary designations on your financial accounts will prevail. So it’s very important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents agreed that it’s important to eliminate all debt by the time you retire. That’s not necessarily the case. There’s “good debt” (like deductible, low-interest debt) and “bad debt” (like credit cards and other high-interest, non-deductible loans). It really depends on your own personal situation as to whether it makes sense to eliminate the “good” debt as well as the bad.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents agreed that after you retire, you can always get another job if you need more money. However, competition in the job market as well as health reasons may make this more challenging than expected. According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, 32% of boomers retire earlier than expected due to health reasons alone.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed that every adult should have life insurance, but in reality, life insurance isn’t for everyone. Among those who need it: people with minor children or other dependents, and small business owners. Otherwise it may be a waste of money. In fact, for many people, that money could be better put to work in closing the retirement savings gap.

Other myths include:

Myth: You should start taking Social Security the moment you’re eligible. Reality: Most people leave money on the table because they file too early.

Myth:You should purchase long-term-care insurance when you’re in your 40s or younger.Reality: The optimal time to consider long-term care insurance is between ages 50-65.

Myth: Retirees shouldn’t have their money in the stock market. Reality: Stocks provide the best protection against inflation.

Myth: By the time you’re 50 it’s too late to make a difference in your financial future. Reality: You can have 15-20+ years of saving ahead, and catch-up provisions in the tax code can help.

* This is based on a “4% annual withdrawal guideline,” which assumes that 20% to 60% percent of your portfolio is invested in a diversified mix of stocks. It provides for annual increases for inflation and a 90% probability that your money will last for 30 years.