Most people imagine spending their golden years relaxing, traveling the world with family, and enjoying the fruits of a near-lifetime of labor. But for many, retirement is becoming increasingly unattainable.
The cost of retirement continues to rise. The days where retirement was defined by the company pension are over and the cost of retirement continues to rise. In fact, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) now advises that a healthy retirement savings will require having well over $1,000,000 socked away.
Some estimates are much higher, but Americans are increasingly falling behind. According to the Government Accountability Office, the average person only has $107,000 saved between the ages of 55 and 64.
With so much catching up to do, it’s imperative that you maximize your savings now and invest wisely. It’s best to consult with a financial advisor and work out a strategy that ensures you avoid these common mistakes.
1. Simply Not Having a Plan
Whether you have the means to hire a financial planner or not, there is no shortage of insight and research available on retirement planning. A number of websites are dedicated to personal finance and many different online services offer investing tools and budgeting help.
AARP, for instance, has a retirement calculator that allows you to adjust for several different factors to determine how much you need to save. Many other websites offer advice on how to plan for social security, health care costs, or even what alternative investments to consider.
In fact, many successful retirees eschew traditional 401k programs or pensions and invest in real estate for their retirement. Many others set up various passive income streams that require nominal attention while generating thousands of dollars a month to cover retirement costs.
2. Passing Up “Free” Money
While there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there is such a thing as an employer matching your 401k contribution. Most employers that offer a 401k retirement program will match your contribution up to a certain percentage of your pay. This is typically in the 2-5% range, but with the maximum allowed contribution of $19,000 for 2019 this can add up to serious money.
Another way employees pass up “free” money is by not paying attention to an employers vesting schedule. For example, they may require you to work there for two years before you qualify to walk away with their contribution. Take the time to research this before you consider changing jobs.
3. Relying Solely on Social Security
In 2018, the average social security recipient received a monthly check for $1,400, which works out to about $16,000 a year. While this might seem like a reasonable income in some parts of the country, the costs of retirement should not be underestimated.
However, this assumes you retire at 67 to receive the full benefits, but those who retire when they first become eligible at 62 will receive around 75% of their benefits. This is to account for the fact that they’ll be enrolled in the program for a longer period of time overall.
4. Delaying Retirement Savings
When it comes to saving money, time is your friend. The sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to accrue interest on your savings. Since interests compounds, the more you are able to save at the beginning, the more you savings will compound at the end.
For example, someone who invests $10,000 a year from ages 22 to 30 will earn over 40% more than an investor who contributes the same amount from ages 31 to 65 (assuming a constant return). Even though the second investor contributed over four times as long the wait to get started put him behind.
5. Don’t Underestimate How Long Your Retirement Will Be
One of the largest drivers of the rising cost of retirement is lifespan. People are living longer and as a result, need a nest egg that provides for these extra years. Not only is this needed for cost of living, but health care and many other associated costs increase too. Even inflation becomes a much larger factor when considered over 25 to 30 years of retirement.
6. Utilizing Retirement Funds for Emergencies
When between jobs, or faced with a financial emergency, many people are tempted to withdraw funds from their 401k or pension, and even sell their home to come up with cash. While there are programs that do allow funds to be withdrawn and repaid with little consequence, this can lead to disastrous consequences.
Pulling funds from a 401k early can result in a hefty tax penalty and many plan administrators will withhold a certain percentage of funds anyways for this contingency. This can also include state and local taxes that can add up significantly and if you are not fully vested the total amount may not be yours to walk away with. In other words, research this carefully and consider your other options before you pull the trigger.
7. Diversify Your Accounts
Many pensions or companies will provide equity, or retirement funds, tied to company stock. For some, this can make up the vast majority of their retirement savings. Any wise financial manager will advise you on the importance of diversifying your investments. For your retirement, this is a must.
Aside from company stock, you should also hold a mix of bonds and alternative investments. Typically as you age you will rebalance your portfolio from more aggressive investments, like stocks, to safer ones, like bonds. Real estate is also a popular alternative, which could mean anything from owning real property to investing in real estate trusts.
8. Not Enrolling in Medicare
It has been mentioned several times that medical costs will play a big role in retirement expenses. Fortunately, Medicare is provided for everyone over the age of 65 and is a significant factor in keeping medical expenses down. But you must enroll on time.
You are eligible to enroll in the three months leading up to your 65th birthday and in the three months after. This is your open enrollment period and if missed you will not be eligible for another year. That missed year can result in premium increases of up to 10% a year.
However, there is one large loophole: if you are already receiving social security benefits you should be automatically enrolled for medicare.
9. “Setting and Forgetting” Your Retirement Account
Many people start a plan or open a retirement savings account and forget to check up on it. As your life changes your planning for retirement should as well.
For example, if you get a raise, contribute more to your 401k; if you get a new job, roll your old account over into a new one.
There are many things you need to be doing to keep on track. Long story short, never take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to retirement planning.
10. Being Unprepared for the Unexpected
You may be kicking back and relaxing during your retirement, but remember: unexpected issues and emergencies can — and likely will — continue to crop up.
The economy could falter, medical expenses happen, unexpected home repairs occur, and all sorts of things that we can’t foresee could place a toll on your finances. Even though you planned properly, budgeted your expenses, and adequately saved for them doesn’t mean a disaster could strike and leave you short.
Build some cushion in your budget, set aside cost of living adjustments, and be flexible in your retirement plans. Not everyone will completely stop working either, but you also can’t expect to keep making the same income. Plan for the unexpected and give yourself the ability to make changes along the way.