Watch Out for These Retirement Derailers


To make sure your retirement isn’t derailed, consider these tips:


1. Start saving now. Because of the power of compounding, starting to save for retirement just a few years earlier can make a huge difference at the end.


For example, a 30-year-old puts $400 per month into a tax-deferred retirement plan (like a 401(k)), which generates $1,015 per month in retirement income for 30 years beginning at age 65. For the 35 years that the individual is saving (from age 30 to 65), she will have contributed $168,000 to the account. A 45-year-old makes the same amount in total contributions ($168,000 at a rate of $700 per month) to the same retirement account. Even though she has contributed the same dollar amount, because her savings compounded for 15 fewer years, she has about 20% less during retirement (Source: Ameriprise Retirement Calculator).


2. Save now to spend later. This is where it’s critical to make a budget for current expenditures, a retirement budget, and a plan for how to make retirement work. That plan may involve trimming current expenditures, scaling back retirement expectations, or both.


3. Prepare a retirement plan. Unless you plan to work until the day you die, a retirement plan should be an integral part of your overall financial plan — and no matter what your circumstances, a financial plan is a very important way to decrease the likelihood that your life plans will be derailed by unexpected circumstances that inevitably arise.


Think seriously about things you might want to spend money on before or during retirement — like helping out grown children or grandchildren — and then build that into your retirement plan. Obviously, unexpected circumstances do arise, but if you can anticipate that your children or grandchildren might need help and you are willing to help them, put that into your financial plan.


4. Review the implications of taking Social Security benefits before reaching full retirement age. For people near retirement age who lost their jobs when the Great Recession hit, taking Social Security at age 62 probably seemed like a far better idea than trying to get a new job. But it’s important to understand that while the government will let you start taking benefits at age 62, it will penalize you for it: for an individual born in 1960 or later who retires at age 62 instead of age 67 (full retirement age), his monthly benefits will be reduced by 30%.


5. Have a candid conversation with your parents or other family members whom you might be caring for in old age.Talk about how they’ll want to be cared for and the means they have to pay for such care. Urge them to consider long-term-care insurance, which can greatly ease the financial burden of paying for their care.


If you have already been impacted by a retirement detailer — or any other circumstance that has impacted your retirement plans —here are five ways you can get back on track:


1. Take advantage of catch-up provisions. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute more tax-deferred income to a 401(k) or IRA (these are so-called “catch-up contributions”). In 2021, you can contribute $6,500 more to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan and $1,000 more to an IRA.


2. See where you can trim expenses to save more. Boosting your savings to get back on track for retirement might be easier than you think: most of us spend more than we realize on discretionary categories like meals out, clothing, travel, and other personal expenditures. Take a hard look at your budget and see where you can cut back — even $100 per month can make a difference in your retirement savings.


3. Evaluate your investment choices. Review your current asset allocation. Many individuals close to retirement pull money out of the stock market, missing out on significant investment opportunities. That said, you want to ensure that your asset allocation is appropriate (not too heavy in equities) given your age and target retirement date.


4. Reevaluate your retirement lifestyle. Most financial advisors recommend that you be able to replace at least 70% of your pre-retirement income during retirement. So if you planned to spend 85% of your current income in retirement, you might be able to scale back and still retire comfortably.


5. Work longer. When Social Security was created in 1935, the average American 65-year-old man could expect to live to age 78 and the average American woman to 80. Today, the average American 65-year-old man can expect to live to 84.3 and the average American 65-year-old woman to 86.6 (Source: Social Security Administration, 2020). In that context, working five more years might not be such a sacrifice — and it can make a big difference in the retirement lifestyle that you can afford. For a 60-year-old who has a retirement account balance of $250,000 today and contributes $2,000 a year, pushing retirement back from age 65 to age 70 would yield an additional $158,410 in total savings (not counting Social Security) — adding $300 per month to the individual’s retirement income.