Ready for some less-than-encouraging news? Recent reports show that the Social Security trust fund is projected to run out of money in 12 years — one year sooner than expected — as a result of the pandemic. This depletion could reduce benefit checks; some estimate future payments could be only 78% of what retirees are entitled to. That could be enough to significantly impact your retirement plans in the coming years.
While policy experts have long debated changes that could reduce the impact of the depletion, it’s also smart to prepare your finances now to obtain greater security as you age. Here’s how to start planning for retirement at any stage, even if the future is uncertain.
What to do in your 40s
A majority of American respondents of the Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey (34%) believe the best way for Congress to address Social Security depletion is to increase funding, with 25% believing a small reduction in benefits with increased funding through taxes is ideal.
Politicians have shown readiness to change retirement legislation in the past — and will likely do so to address the dwindling Social Security reserves — but let’s just say they don’t. Then what? If you’re currently in your 40s, a reduction in benefits could have a major impact on your entire retirement. So, work with a financial advisor to run several models — from worst- to best-case scenario — so you can aim to adjust your retirement savings strategy now. After all, one advantage you do have is time.
Always make sure you are contributing to your company match for any retirement savings, like your 401(k), and consider saving independently through an IRA. You should also practice good financial health now by building a robust emergency fund and investment portfolio.
Many of the traditional retirement savings accounts do have penalties — sometimes as much as 10% — for withdrawing early. If you want to have your savings available to use for different goals in the coming years, consider opening a taxable account. You can use the funds for any expenses that come up before retirement. Or, if you don’t want to withdraw the funds, another bonus is you’re not required to take minimum distributions at any time.
What to do in your 50s
If you haven’t already begun to take an aggressive approach to tackling your debt, your 50s is a time to do that. Statistics show less than half of Americans in their 60s and 70s have mortgages heading into retirement. Reducing your monthly living costs gives you substantially more flexibility as you prepare to adjust to a fixed income.
Also, resist the urge to invest emotionally, especially in businesses that have limited liquidity. A new survey shows 66% of investors regret using their emotions to make financial decisions. This could come into play if you have friends in your circle who are launching new ventures or suggest investment opportunities.
Remember to put aside your feelings and look at the balance sheet of any potential investments. And, if you invest in a private company, be prepared for your money to remain in that company long term — something that could be challenging when you retire.
If you’re behind on your formal retirement savings, use catch-up contributions to get back up to speed.
What to do in your 60s
Your 60s are when you’ll have to decide the age at which you want to start collecting Social Security benefits. Remember, putting this off until your 70s will likely mean your monthly payment will increase. If you’re concerned about a reduction in benefits paid out due to Social Security depletion, planning to collect later in life could counteract some of the negative impact.
To do so, you’ll either have to retire later or live off other investments. Consider any dynamics to discuss with your employer. If they are planning for you to retire at 65 and you’d like to work longer in some capacity, start these conversations early so you can negotiate the best scenario. If you’ll be continuing as a consultant or part time with a reduced income, this could be a good time to start withdrawing from tax-deferred accounts, as your income will be lower and you could be assessed at a lower tax rate.
In your 60s, you should also sign up for Medicare, which is available to those 65 and over. Consider whether you want to buy supplement insurance or the drug plan.
What to do in your 70s
If you have any retirement savings that require you to take minimum distributions — like an IRA or 401(k) — you’ll have to keep these in mind as you head into your 70s. Required minimum distributions start at age 72. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to spend this money. You could choose to reinvest it in other fashions.
If you haven’t already done so, take the time to create a retirement budget that suits your lifestyle. Take your retirement priorities into account so that your budget is easier to stick to. If you need to look at ways to reduce costs, now might be the time to downsize your home.
Also, keep in mind that it’s worth reviewing your medical coverage in your 70s, as your health needs might have changed since you first enrolled in Medicare. Finally, if you haven’t already, start preparing your financial legacy by deciding how you will disperse your assets at the end of your life (or before).
Jolene Latimer has her Master's in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California. She writes about personal finance, marketing and sports.
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