Here's the Average Length of Retirement. Will Your Money Last That Long?

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If you're financially savvy, you're diligently saving and investing for retirement. You're probably a little uneasy about it all, though, not knowing exactly how much you need and, therefore, how on- or off-track you are.

Part of the problem is that you don't know just how long your retirement will last. Few of us have a good sense of that, but it can be helpful to know the average length of retirement and to factor that into our plans.

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The average length of retirement: 18 years

What is the average length of retirement? It was recently 18 years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the average age at which people retire these days is 63. That gives a typical retiree a retirement that lasts from about age 63 to about age 81. (The age at which most people start collecting Social Security, meanwhile, is 62 -- the earliest age at which they can do so.)

If the thought of breathing your last breath at age 81 has you depressed, fear not -- it's just an average. While, sadly, many people will die younger than that, many others will die older. An increasing number of Americans are even making it to age 100. Here are the chances of living to various ages, via the folks at Vanguard, using data from the Society of Actuaries:

Incorporating retirement lengths in your planning

There's a lot you can do with the information above. It's a good reminder, for starters, that while you might be preparing for a 20-year retirement, or even a 25-year one, if you're a man retiring at age 62, you have an almost 1-in-5 chance of living to age 90, in which case your retirement would last 28 years. You even have more than a 1-in-20 chance of making it to 95, with a 33-year retirement. That has major ramifications for your retirement planning.

Don't hyperventilate yet, though, because you probably have time to strengthen your financial position heading into retirement, and there are ways to increase your retirement income, too. A good first step is to estimate how much income you'll need in retirement. Rules of thumb vary, with some experts suggesting you can get by on 35% of your pre-retirement income, and others suggesting you'll need 70% to 80% of it. Get a pad and paper and crunch your own numbers to come up with your best estimate.

Remember that Social Security will likely provide some critical income. The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit was recently $1,404, or close to $17,000 per year. If your earnings have been above average, you'll collect more than that -- but relatively few people collect more than $30,000. So, let's say you expect about $25,000 from Social Security and you want $60,000, total, in retirement income. That leaves $30,000. To estimate how big of a nest egg you'll need to support that income, you might use the flawed-but-still-handy 4% rule, which suggests that you can withdraw 4% of your nest egg in your first year of retirement, adjust for inflation in the following years, and have a good chance of your money lasting for 30 years. Using that rough rule, here's how much you'd need for various initial incomes:

Now that you have a better idea of how much money you might need in retirement, here's how you might accumulate it -- or as much as you can -- in the coming years:

Consider longevity insurance

You might now be thinking of the fact that there's a small chance you'll have a super-long retirement, worrying whether your money will last. One good strategy to remove such worries is to buy annuity income. It can be useful throughout your retirement, if you get a good fixed immediate annuity -- but you can spend less and at least cover the last years of your life with a deferred immediate annuity. Sometimes called longevity insurance, it's a fixed annuity, but one that starts paying you later in life, not as soon as you buy it. As an example, a 70-year-old man might spend $50,000 for an annuity that will start paying him $800 per month for the rest of his life beginning at age 80.

Living longer

Finally, here's some extra good news: For most of us, the ultimate length of our life isn't entirely out of our hands. There are things we can do to increase the odds of living lives that are above-average in length. For example:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthful foods
  • Don't smoke
  • Avoid obesity
  • Keep conditions such as high blood pressure under control
  • See your doctor regularly and have scheduled screenings

With some planning and discipline, you can set yourself up for a more enjoyable and more financially secure retirement -- whether it's 18 years long or 33 years long!

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