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12 Reasons You Will Go Broke in Retirement


Jan. 24, 2017 Kiplinger

According to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, the most frequently reported retirement worry is outliving savings and investments. Across all ages, 51% of respondents cited this concern, and 41% of retirees claim the same fear. Additionally, only 46% of retirees think they’ve built a nest egg large enough to last through retirement.

Now is the time to face your fears. Take a look at a dozen ways you could go broke in retirement and learn how to avoid them. Some you can avert with careful planning; others you have little control over. But you can prepare your finances to make the best of whatever may come.

You Abandon Your Stocks
It’s true that stocks can be risky. For example, so far in 2016, Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a benchmark for many investors, has experienced several wild swings, opening with a 5% decline in January and including a headline-grabbing, single-day drop of 3.4% on June 24 in response to the Brexit. So once you’re retired, you might be inclined to move your money out of stocks altogether and instead focus on preserving your wealth.

But that would be a mistake. Despite the volatility, the S&P 500 is up about 6% year-to-date, as of mid October 2016. Without stocks, “you don’t get the growth that you need,” says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, senior vice president at Charles Schwab and author of The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty. “You need your money to continue to grow through those 20 to 30 years of retirement.” She recommends maintaining a stock allocation of at least 20% during retirement for your portfolio to outpace inflation and help maintain your lifestyle.

You Invest Too Much in Your Stocks
On the other hand, you’re right: Stocks are risky. “You don’t want to have too much in stocks, especially if you’re so reliant on that portfolio, because of the volatility of the market,” says Schwab-Pomerantz. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but for the average investor Schwab-Pomerantz recommends moving to 60% stocks as you approach retirement, then trimming back to 40% stocks in early retirement. Later in retirement, allocate 20% to stocks.

If you’re hesitant to make these portfolio adjustments yourself and don’t want to work with a financial adviser, consider investing in target-date mutual funds instead. These funds are designed to reduce exposure to stocks gradually over time as you approach (and surpass) your target date for retirement. Not all target-date funds are the same, even if they sport the same retirement target year in their names. Be aware of specific funds’ expenses and asset-allocation strategies to ensure they are affordable and fit your needs.

You Live too Long
More time to enjoy the life you love is a joy; trying to afford it can be a pain. Current retirees are expecting a long retirement—a median of 28 years, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. And 41% of retirees expect their retirements to go on for more than three decades. Women have to plan for an even longer life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a man who was age 65 in 2014 can expect to live to age 83, on average, while a woman of the same age may reach 85.5 years.

When saving for retirement, plan for a long life. But if it starts to look like your nest egg will come up short, you have to adjust your budget. For example, it might behoove you to downsize your home or relocate to an area with low taxes and living costs. You may even consider finding ways to pull in extra income, such as starting an encore career, taking a part-time job or cashing in on the sharing economy, if you can.

You Spend too Much
It might seem obvious, but most of us—retired or not—are guilty of making this mistake and could benefit from a reminder to quit it. In fact, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, nearly 46% of retired households spent more annually in their first two years of retirement than they did just before retiring.

And retirees on a fixed income are particularly vulnerable to the ill effects of committing this error. “One of the biggest mistakes, I think, is that people continue to spend the way they did in their earning years without taking a close look at their current income,” says Schwab-Pomerantz. “For retirees, budgeting is more important than ever.”

You Rely on a Sole Source of Income
Multiple income streams are better than one, especially in retirement. Case in point: Social Security is the primary source of income for 61% of retirees, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. And 44% of retirees report that one of their biggest financial fears is that Social Security will be reduced or cease to exist in the future. Based on current projections, Social Security will only be able to pay 77% of promised retirement benefits beginning in 2035.

A pension, which 42% of retirees use as a source of income, or inheritance likely can’t stand alone to support you through retirement, either. But when you put them all together, along with your self-funded retirement accounts—such as 401(k)s and IRAs—then you have a more stable and diversified financial base to rely on throughout your retirement.

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