More seniors than ever are staying in the workforce for longer, in part because many older Americans have little retirement savings. A number of factors are contributing to the financial shortfall seniors are facing, some of which -- like fewer employers offering pension plans with guaranteed income -- are beyond your control.
But there are also certain actions you may be taking that are likely to leave you entering your senior years with too little money to see you through. Here are five key behaviors almost guaranteed to leave you with too little savings for retirement.
1. Not making a retirement plan
Americans actually spend more time planning for a vacation than planning for retirement. Vacations are undoubtedly fun, but a few weeks in the sun pales in comparison with the travel you could do during retirement if you've built a solid nest egg. When you have a clear plan, you're far more likely to take the steps necessary to put that plan into action and end up with enough invested for your golden years.
Your plan should include determining how much income you'll need during retirement, determining what you need to save to end up with that amount at a reasonable age, and setting up automated transfers of money from your paycheck directly into a 401(k), a traditional IRA, or a Roth IRA. If you make your plan effortless and stick to it, you can retire with the money you need to take those awesome vacations or do whatever else makes your retirement a happy one.
2. Borrowing from your retirement funds
If you've actually managed to save for retirement, that pot of cash in your investment account seems awfully tempting if you have a financial emergency or a funding shortfall. But if you're thinking of taking money out of your accounts, you should think again. Withdrawing from any retirement account before retirement age generally triggers substantial tax penalties, while borrowing from a 401(k) also has big downsides.
If you borrow from your 401(k) account, you could be stuck in your job because you'd need to repay the entire 401(k) loan immediately if you left your company. If you're forced to leave your job and cannot repay the loan in full, you could owe more than 40% of the borrowed money in taxes, depending upon state and local rates. You'll be double-taxed on any money you borrow from your 401(k) because you'll repay the loan with after-tax dollars and will be taxed again on the money you took out. And, the opportunity cost from losing the investment gains you could have made -- had your money remained invested -- could be thousands of dollars.
3. Taking social security too early
You're eligible to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits any time between age 62 and age 70 . If you're counting the days, it's tempting to take your benefits right away instead of waiting until full retirement age. Unfortunately, taking your benefits early is a good way to put yourself in financial jeopardy, as benefits will be reduced by a fraction of a percent for each month you're short of full retirement age -- and this reduction lasts for life.
Benefits could be reduced by as much as 30% if you retire the maximum of 60-months before your full retirement date, which means a $1,000 monthly benefit would come down to just $700. You'd receive $42,000 in benefits from age 62 to 67 by taking this $700 monthly benefit instead of waiting. If you waited to retire until age 67, though, you'd receive $3,600 extra every year for life, once you began claiming benefits.
It takes nearly 12 years of receiving an extra $3,600 annually to make up the $42,000 in benefits you didn't receive from age 62 to 67 , so if you live longer than age 74, you come out ahead. And, if you wait longer than full retirement age before you begin claiming benefits, you'll get a boost to your benefits and your monthly income would be even higher.
4. Failing to live on a retirement budget
Close to half of all seniors are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with no cushion for a rainy day . One big reason for why money runs out by the time the Social Security check comes in: lack of a budget. If you have no plan for your spending -- and no prospects for increasing income -- you're in serious financial trouble if money goes out too fast. Going into debt or drawing down your retirement savings too quickly is the inevitable result.
Budgeting as a senior is especially important because you only receive a single monthly check from Social Security, rather than weekly or bi-weekly paychecks you may have received when you were employed. If your money runs out, there's a long wait for your next check. To allocate your cash appropriately, sit down and determine what you are spending -- and what you want to spend -- on different categories like food, housing, and healthcare. Make sure the numbers add up and your spending isn't exceeding the income you have coming in. If it is, you'll need to make lifestyle changes or move to an area with a lower cost of living.
5. Making no plans to cover your healthcare costs
When you're setting your retirement savings goals -- or making your retirement budget as a senior -- don't forget to factor in the costs of healthcare! Seniors may need as much as $350,000 during their retirement years to cover healthcare costs.
When determining how much to save for retirement, don't consider only your monthly income needs. Remember you may have costly health issues Medicare does not cover, so bump up your goal by a generous amount to pay for your care. You should also strongly consider investing in a health savings account to set aside pre-tax money to cover healthcare costs. If you opt out of taking these steps, you are at very real risk of running out of money during retirement if you get seriously sick.