If thinking about retirement stresses you out, you're definitely not alone. A recent Transamerica survey found that nearly 95% of respondents had at least one major worry about retirement, the three most common of which are outlined below. While I'd like to be able to tell you these concerns are overblown, the truth is, they're not. Any of these troubles could affect you, and there's no way to guarantee they won't. But with careful planning, you can reduce the odds of them derailing your retirement.
1. Outliving your savings and investments
The No. 1 retirement concern, shared by 40% of workers surveyed, was that they'd run out of savings. That's understandable when you consider that for some people, retirement will last for more than three decades and require more than $2 million. Building a nest egg that large is a tall order, which is why it's important to prioritize investing for retirement at every stage of your life.
Though all your retirement contributions matter, your earlier ones are most significant because they'll remain invested for the longest time, and thus have the potential to generate more growth than your later contributions. So saving what you can right now, even if it's only a few dollars a month, is better than waiting until later when you think you'll be able to contribute larger amounts from each paycheck.
If you are able to save a lot for retirement every year, that's great. In 2021, employees with 401(k)s may contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if they're 50 or older. You can also open an Individual Retirement Account on your own and contribute up to $6,000 for the year, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older.
But what if you can't afford to set aside as much as you know you'll need to? In that case, rethinking your retirement plans is probably your best move. You may not want to, but it's better than running out of cash.
Among your options, you could push back the age at which you plan to retire, giving yourself more time to save while also reducing the length and cost of retirement. Or you could plan to work part-time in retirement so you'll have a steady stream of income to supplement your savings. Play around with a few different scenarios and run some numbers until you find a strategy that works for you.
2. Social Security will be reduced or will cease to exist
I can put half of this fear to rest. While Social Security's definitely in some trouble, it's not going to disappear anytime soon. This myth got started because the Social Security Trust Funds are projected to be depleted in not so many years. According to the Trustees' latest report, they will run dry in 2035, but other projections forecast that happening even sooner.
But the Trust Funds aren't the only source of funding for the benefit program. They aren't even the main one. The bulk of the money paid out in benefits still comes from the payroll taxes that all workers pay on their income, and those are going to continue rolling in as long as we have people working.
The problem is, these taxes alone are no longer enough to cover all seniors' Social Security benefits. That's why we're about to spend down those Trust Funds -- and it's the scenario they were accumulated over the decades to prepare for. Once they are gone, however, it's expected that annual payroll taxes will only provide enough funding to cover 79% of scheduled benefits. So unless Congress passes legislation to fix matters fairly quickly, benefit cuts at that point are a real possibility. And there isn't much you can do about that.
That said, you will still get some money from Social Security as long as you've worked long enough to qualify for benefits or married someone who did. But you should be prepared to cover the bulk of your retirement expenses on your own.
You should also think carefully about when you're going to apply to start collecting Social Security. Claiming your benefits as soon as you're eligible at 62 can be tempting because you'll get more checks and it may allow you to retire earlier. But every month you delay will increase the size of your checks, at least until you turn 70. If you live longer than average, you could get significantly more out of the program over the course of your retirement by waiting to sign up.
3. Declining health that requires long-term care
If you need it, long-term care can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's enough to derail most carefully crafted retirement plan. And there's no way to be sure you won't need it. You can't know what health issues will crop up for you as you age.
But you can reduce the odds of needing long-term care somewhat by prioritizing your health as you age and taking advantage of whatever preventive-care services and health screenings your insurance covers to catch problems before they become serious.
You can also look into purchasing a long-term care insurance policy, but these can be expensive. Still, they give you a predictable monthly cost you can plan for instead of the possibility of an unknown, large expense in the future.
Retirement is never going to be risk-free, much as we would like it to be. But there are usually things you can do to reduce the major financial risks -- if you start planning far enough in advance. If you have concerns other than those listed above, write them down and then brainstorm strategies to help mitigate those risks so you can enter retirement prepared and confident.