Financial security is something every retiree deserves. Unfortunately, far too many Americans believe it will never happen for them. And there are lots of reasons why people are worried about what their post-working lives will be like.
In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Northwestern, five big factors were identified as obstacles to achieving retirement security. These obstacles included a lack of savings, which 48% of survey respondents cited as a problem. Healthcare costs were also a major stumbling block listed by 48% of Americans, along with the economy, lack of planning for retirement, and uncertainty about Social Security.
All of these are undoubtedly pressing problems, but the good news is that many of these obstacles can be overcome -- especially if you start when you're young. Here's how you can make sure none of these factors stand in your way of a secure retirement.
1. Lack of savings
Americans have far too little saved for retirement, but if you're still working, you have time to course correct. You'll simply need to make saving a big priority.
To makes sure you have the money you need as a senior, your goal should be to save 15% or more of your income for retirement -- 10% isn't enough. This savings should be in a 401(k), traditional IRA, or other account that provides you with a tax break for investing for your future. You should also set up automated contributions on payday so money is immediately put into savings before you have a chance to spend it.
If you're not currently saving 15% or more of your income, which most people aren't, set that as a goal to work up to. Start by making a budget and looking for places to cut expenses so you can save more for retirement. Try to slowly increase the amount you save so you can adjust to living on less without upending your entire lifestyle. As you get raises, divert the extra cash to savings immediately before lifestyle inflation eats up the extra money. This is an easy way to boost your savings as you won't miss cash you never got used to having. And, if you're willing, consider drastic changes such as driving cheaper, used cars so you can put more money into retirement savings. Sacrificing a bit now is worth it later so you don't have to be broke as a retiree.
2. Healthcare costs
Healthcare is a legitimate worry, as various estimates suggest seniors could need $285,000 or more to pay out-of-pocket costs not covered by Medicare -- not including long-term care insurance. While these estimates make a lot of assumptions, the bottom line is experts agree you're probably going to need a few hundred thousand dollars for care during your golden years.
Planning ahead for this is imperative. The best way to do that is to invest as much as possible in a Health Savings Account throughout your career, then leave the money invested so it can grow and be used during retirement. HSAs are a great way to cover care costs because you can make tax-deductible contributions and tax-deductible withdrawals, as long as the withdrawn funds are used to pay for medical care. Unfortunately, you can invest in an HSA only if you have a qualifying high-deductible healthcare plan, so not everyone can take advantage of these tax breaks.
If you can't put money into a HSA, boost your 401(K) or IRA contributions to make sure you have enough saved for healthcare. If you're contributing to a 401(k) at work, you may decide to open an IRA dedicated specifically to building a healthcare fund. You should also look into long-term care insurance to help you pay for nursing care or home healthcare and should research Medigap and Medicare Advantage Plans to make sure you're choosing the most comprehensive coverage you can. Remember, Medicare doesn't cover lots of important services, so be prepared to pay out of pocket for things such as dental care and long-term care.
3. The economy
There's not a whole lot you can do about the economy as an individual, but you can try to make sure your security as a senior doesn't depend on the U.S. economy doing well.
How do you do that? Save enough money so if you're forced out of the workforce a little early, your nest egg will support you. Also, diversify your portfolio by investing in a mix of different assets including large and small companies in the U.S. as well as bonds and emerging markets. When you have a lot of money saved and you've got a diversified portfolio, economic downturns won't matter as much to you and won't destroy your chances of a secure retirement.
4. Lack of planning
Insufficient planning is completely within your power to overcome -- you just need to make a plan.
Aim to set specific, measurable, and achievable financial goals focused on paying off debt, building your net worth, and saving a substantial amount for retirement. Take the time to figure out how much savings you'll need as a senior -- try one of these methods -- and then set aside money each month to hit your goal. If you still feel out of control when it comes to your money, consider talking with a financial advisor. A professional can review your current financial situation and future goals to make sure you're on track to have the cash you need as a senior.
5. Social Security uncertainty
Worrying about the future of Social Security is a waste of time, as the 2019 Social Security Trustees report shows the Social Security trust fund will remain solvent through 2035. Even if no action is taken and the trust fund money runs out then, this doesn't mean benefits won't be paid anymore. Much of the money for Social Security comes from payroll taxes collected from current workers. Since these payroll taxes will continue to be collected, Social Security would still be able to pay out around 80% of scheduled benefits in 2035 and beyond. It's very unlikely changes won't be made to stave off benefit cuts before that, but even in a worst-case scenario, future retirees will still get most of their benefits.
Instead of worrying about what will happen to Social Security benefits, focus on maximizing your personal benefit. You can do that by earning as much income as possible, as Social Security benefits are based on inflation-adjusted average wages over the 35 years in which your income was the highest. You'll also want to make sure you work at least 35 years to avoid having years of $0 wages factored in when your average wage is determined. Delaying claiming benefits until at least full retirement age, and ideally until age 70, will also allow you to maximize your monthly income as claiming benefits early reduces them while waiting until 70 increases them.
Now you know how to overcome these five big obstacles
By making a plan, saving more, and learning how Social Security works, you can ensure that you have the income you need to truly enjoy life after you've left the workforce. The sooner you put your plans in place, the better your chances of being a financially secure senior -- so get started today.
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