5 Retirement Struggles Nobody Talks About — And How to Beat Them

By Carrie Kirby on 4 December 2017 0 comments

If you have ever sat down with a financial planner, you know that one of the main questions that comes up is, "How much income do you think you'll need when you retire?"

When I was asked this question, the first answer that popped into my head was, "Hardly any!" In the retirement scenario in my mind, my kids were independent and my home was paid off, leaving few financial obligations. When pressed, I acknowledged that I might need some money for taking fun vacations with all that free time I'll have, and for buying gifts for my grandchildren.

While it's true that a lot of the big expenses of our working lives have ideally been paid off by retirement, retirees still face a lot of financial obligations. Retirement is not all learning to paint or strolling on the beach — despite what prescription drug ads may lead you to believe. A 2016 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that retirees on average spend 77 percent of what they spent while they were working, with spending declining decade by decade as retirees age. (See also: 9 Unexpected Expenses for Retirees — And How to Manage Them)

Let's go through some of the retirement expenses you may not have accounted for, and how to deal with them.

1. Health care

While other expenses shrink after retirement, medical care spending increases. In the present day, the increase is modest. The same U.S. General Accounting Office report found that retirees ages 65 to 79 spend an average $5,000 a year on health care, compared to $3,900 for workers aged 50 to 64. But predictions for future health care expenses in retirement are dire.

HealthView Services' 2017 Retirement Health Care Costs Data Report predicts that medical costs will rise 5.47 percent per year for the foreseeable future — meaning that today's 65-year-old may be spending $10,000 or more per year on health care by age 75, on top of Medicare coverage.

"Health care will be one of the most significant retirement expenditures; however, the savings required to cover this expense may be modest — especially if one has been utilizing an income replacement ratio (IRR) of 75% to 85%," warns the report.

HealthView recommends talking to your planner not just about income replacement, but also about what you expect medical expenses to be based on your current health. Look at optimizing your retirement portfolio to address those needs. For example, some advisers recommend saving for retirement medical expenses using a health savings account — although these are only available to workers who have high-deductible health plans. (See also: How an HSA Could Help Your Retirement)

Managing health conditions proactively can also make a big difference in expenses over a lifetime.

"A 50-year-old male with type II diabetes can save (an average of) $5,000 per year in pre-retirement health expenses by shifting from Poorly Managed to Well Managed care," the report says.

2. Taxes

You might expect your income tax to disappear or decline steeply when you retire, but remember that withdrawals from 401(k) plans and traditional individual retirement accounts are taxable, as are most pensions and some Social Security benefits. If your retirement plan involves collecting rent on properties you own, well, that's taxable too. And if you have paid off your mortgage before retiring, remember that you just lost a big tax deduction in the form of mortgage interest payments.

The problem of taxes during retirement is the reason many workers also invest in a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) plan. Unlike a regular retirement account, which you fill with untaxed income, only paying taxes on withdrawals, a Roth takes income you already paid taxes on, and withdrawals are tax free. Since no one knows how tax rates when you retire will compare to tax rates today, many advisers recommend spreading investments across both kinds of accounts to hedge your bets. (See also: Here's How Your Taxes Will Change When You Retire)

Another thing to consider when retired is whether you plan to make charitable donations part of your estate plan. If you were going to give away thousands of dollars to charities in your will, for example, discuss with an accountant setting up a schedule of giving while you're alive, instead, so that you could take annual tax deductions that could reduce or eliminate taxes you owe.

3. Inflation

In recent years, inflation has been low, but the long term average annual rate of price increases is 3.22 percent. That means that if you retire with benefits and savings designed to cover 80 percent of your current income, those same benefits will cover a smaller portion of your current spending each year, if not invested to grow at a rate faster than inflation. This is why financial planners never advise keeping your life savings in cash, stuffed in a mattress.

Of course in retirement you don't want to take on big risks with investments, since you can't earn more money to replace what you lose. But you also can't be too conservative or you risk having inflation shrink your savings each year. With interest rates as low as they are, you can't count on earnings from certificates of deposit to surpass inflation. For most retirees, that means you must have some money in stocks, bonds, or other investments. And you must stick to your investment plan, even if the market gets rocky. (See also: 7 Reasons to Invest in Stocks Past Age 50)

4. End of life

When you plan your retirement, you're likely thinking more about all the golf you want to play or the traveling you want to do, not so much about spending your final years in a nursing home or planning your funeral. Unfortunately, those less fun expenses must also be planned for.

Take a realistic look at how much assisted living and nursing homes cost. If you are still young enough to get it, look into long-term care insurance. Discuss with your family whether they expect you to move in with them if you need more care later in life, or if they would prefer you plan for nursing home care or assisted living. If long-term care needs seem imminent, meet with an attorney who specializes in making Title XIX plans; they can help you learn what assets can be shielded from being liquidated to pay for care. (See also: Is Long Term Care Insurance Worth It?)

Medical expenses tend to jump in the final years, costing about $7,000 to $8,000 more per year in the last two years of life, according to HealthView Services.

Consider prepaying funeral expenses so that it's not a cost hanging over your head as you enjoy retirement. And certainly meet with an estate planner as part of your retirement planning to make provisions for the distribution of wealth after you are gone. (See also: 9 End-of-Life Cost Savings Your Survivors Will Thank You For)

5. Mandatory withdrawals

The moment you turn age 70 and a half, you are required to take minimum distributions from your IRA, 401(k), and other retirement accounts on a schedule set by the IRS. This doesn't sound like a problem — after all, this is what you saved all that money for. But what if you don't need to spend the required distribution this year? Unfortunately, you still have to withdraw it, and pay taxes on it, or the IRS will confiscate 50 percent of the money you were supposed to withdraw in the form of a tax penalty.

While you can't change the IRS's schedule for required withdrawals, and you can't roll the distribution into a different tax-deferred account, you can plan for this requirement and schedule income and spending around it. For instance, you can avoid selling real estate or other investments, or scale back work hours if you are still working, and allow the income you are getting from your retirement account to replace other income. And of course, you can always invest your distribution outside of retirement accounts, if you don't need to spend it.

Another way to conquer the mandatory distribution is to plan for it while saving for retirement, for example by putting some income into a Roth IRA, which doesn't have required distributions. As you approach retirement, if your IRA distributions look like they will be too large for you to use, you may also talk to a planner about converting a traditional account into a Roth.

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5 Retirement Struggles Nobody Talks About — And How to Beat Them

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