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Retirement, the so-called “golden years,” may not be so golden for everyone. It’s hard not to be reminded of the retirement crisis in the US with gloomy headlines and statistics coming out on a regular basis.
According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 65% of Americans believe that they will likely have to work past their retirement age in order to save enough money. And it’s not hard to imagine why given that you’ll need to have about 80% to 100% of your final pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle when you’re not working anymore.
If retirement is just a few years away, it’s easy to second-guess whether you’re prepared to ride into the sunset with your nest egg. But if you’ve worked hard and saved smart all these years, you should feel confident in this home stretch toward retirement.
Before calling it a day at work for the last time, you have the opportunity to make one final push to boost your savings and financially secure your retirement. Here are five things for near-retirees to keep in mind as they make their way toward the finish line.
1. Shift retirement savings to high gear. With retirement around the corner, it’s a good time to fully fund those retirement accounts. Don’t worry if you haven’t been able to max out your contributions every year. The IRS offers individuals age 50 or older a chance to play catch-up. Catch-up contributions provide an opportunity for you to save beyond the standard limit and put some additional money away toward your retirement.
For 2020, the standard contribution limit to a 401(k) is $19,500, and the catch-up contribution limit is $6,500. So if you’re at least 50 years old, you can contribute up to $26,000 to your 401(k) plan. And if you have an IRA, you can put away an additional $7,000 ($6,000 in standard contribution + $1,000 in catch-up contribution). Every extra little bit helps, so consider taking advantage of this opportunity to make up for any gaps in your savings.
2. Check up on health care savings. You may still feel like a whippersnapper no matter your age. But while you’re plotting all the fun things you’ll do in retirement, long-term care is something that should also be added to your planning list. (Yeah, we’re real fun at parties).
The ever increasing cost of health care in the US can pose a real challenge for your budget in retirement. Here are some cost estimates to help provide some context.
An individual retiring in 2019 at the age of 65 could expect to spend an average of $135,000-$150,000 on health care expenses throughout retirement. That figure increases to $285,000 for a 65-year old couple.
More specifically, when it comes to long-term care, the monthly median cost for certain in-home care in 2019 is $4,385, according to Genworth, a leading provider of long-term care insurance. For assisted living, it’s $4,051. And a private room at a nursing home comes to $8,517.
Keep these health care costs in mind as you assess your retirement savings goals. If you have a high deductible health plan (HDHP) through your employer, you might look into opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) and contribute to it while you’re still working.
HSAs are popular due to the potential tax savings they could provide. Your HSA funds are dedicated toward paying for certain qualified health care expenses like prescriptions and medical copays. You can even tap into your HSA to help pay for a qualified long-term care insurance policy.
3. Know your government benefits. Depending on when you retire, you may be eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits. Medicare is a health insurance program offered by the federal government, which can help qualified individuals pay for the costs of certain health care expenses and medical services. Generally, retirees who are 65 years or older can sign up for Medicare.
You may sign up to receive Social Security benefits three months before you turn 62 – this is the earliest you can begin to collect payments. But as with other things in life, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. If you choose to collect benefits at 62, you will only receive a reduced portion of your “full retirement” benefits.
To be eligible to receive your full (read: unreduced) retirement benefits, you must wait until you’ve reached your full retirement age. The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines your full retirement age by the year you were born. So for example, if you were born before 1937, your full retirement age is 65. But if you were born in 1960, your full retirement age is 67.
Consider delaying Social Security benefits even after you’ve reached your full retirement age to really maximize your benefits. That’s because the SSA will increase your Social Security payments by a set percentage for each year that you postpone your benefits (up until you turn 70). Let’s say your full retirement age is 67 and you postpone your benefits until age 70. The SSA will increase your benefit payment by 8% for each year that you wait (in this case, 3 years). So when you finally collect your benefits at 70, you will get an extra 24% in your monthly payments (8% x 3).
Medicare and Social Security benefits can help defray certain expenses and provide supplemental income during retirement. So it’s important to review your eligibility status and plan accordingly. Remember, you’ve paid into these funds during your working years, so don’t just leave your benefits hanging out there.
4. Get smart on taxes. We’re not expecting you to start a second career in your retirement as a CPA. But knowing your tax obligations when you withdraw money from your retirement accounts can save you from some unpleasant tax surprises.
Generally, you can withdraw money from your Roth IRA with no taxes or penalties when you reach the age of 59½ (assuming you’ve had the account for at least five years). With a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, on the other hand, you typically have to pay income taxes on your withdrawals.
When it comes to taxes, there are always exceptions and special rules. Not to mention that the tax treatment of different types of retirement accounts can be mind-numbingly complex. So it’s a good idea to check in with your financial advisor and tax preparer to discuss ways to minimize your tax hits in retirement.
5. Make that estate plan. You may think only the ultra-wealthy need an estate plan. But if you own anything at all (e.g., real estate, financial accounts, furniture of questionable taste, etc.), you might consider putting together an estate plan.
Estate planning allows you to have an official say on who gets what and when after your passing. It’s about letting your family know your wishes and protecting them from any potential financial difficulties (and infighting) down the road.
Broadly speaking, getting your affairs in order can involve drawing up a will, assigning powers of attorney (this allows a designated person to legally act on your behalf), which can include an advance medical directive (this conveys your wishes regarding medical treatment if you are incapacitated).
Estate planning can be a stressful undertaking. But the key is to organize all your personal and financial records and then sit down with your family to discuss and convey your wishes in advance. When it comes to preparing for the end of life, an estate plan ensures that you are the one in control of your personal affairs and financial matters. If you don’t make these decisions, however difficult they may be, the probate laws in your state will decide for you after you die.
When you think about how you’re going to spend retirement, you might picture yourself kicking back on some beach, traveling the world or volunteering more in your local community. The possibilities are endless. That’s what’s so exciting about the next chapter: all play and no work. And you deserve it! However you choose to spend your golden years, now is the time to check up on your finances, shift your savings into high gear and get yourself across the finish line.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.