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1 Critical Question Every Retiree Should Be Asking

By Todd Campbell - Jan 17, 2016 at 7:40AM

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Making time to consider how long your savings will last you in retirement may keep you from being unpleasantly surprised.

Source: Flickr user Garry Knight.

A lifetime of hard work and saving has allowed you to hang up your hat, but retirement doesn't mean you've reached the financial finish line. Because retirees are living longer than ever before, financial planning in retirement is just as important as financial planning during your working years. Yet most retirees fall short of asking and answering one important question: How long will my retirement savings last me?

The problem
Let's be honest. A lot of American retirees didn't plan as much for retirement as they probably should have, and most of that planning probably consisted of enrolling in a workplace 401(k) or 401(b) plan, picking some funds, and filing annual statements away in a shoebox.

As a result, many retirees' savings fail to generate the amount of income needed in retirement, leading millions of Americans to rely too heavily on Social Security income to cover their expenses.

According to the Social Security Administration, 22% of married couples and 47% of unmarried retirees count on Social Security checks for 90% or more of their income, and more than half of married couples and 74% of unmarried retirees rely on it for at least 50% of their retirement income.

That's a potentially big problem, because Social Security, which replaces about 40% of an average worker's pay after retirement, was never meant to be the main source of retirement income.

On average, a retired worker collects just $1,335 per month in Social Security, and since retirees typically require 70% to 80% of their pre-retirement income in retirement, many retirees are withdrawing more from their retirement savings than the 4% per year that's commonly recommended.

If so, then returns earned on savings may not be high enough to offset withdrawals, and that may mean that retirement savings run out sooner than a retiree expects.

Because of that risk, it's critical to calculate how long your savings will last so that you know whether you should make changes to your budget now, rather than later. Retirees can quickly calculate how long their money might last by using online calculators such as this one on Mutual of Omaha's website.

Using that calculator shows that a retiree in the 15% tax bracket with $100,000 in savings who withdraws $1,000 per month and earns a 6% hypothetical return would deplete his or her retirement savings in 10.9 years.

Source: Mutual of Omaha.

Making the most of it
If your savings aren't likely to last you as long as you'd like, it's time to dig into your budget and look for savings. Why? Because even small changes that would allow you to withdraw a few hundred dollars less per month could have a big impact on how long your retirement savings last.

For example, if the amount of money withdrawn in the previous example was reduced by $300 to $700 per month, then those retirement savings could last 18.4 years instead of 10.9 years, and that's a lot of additional years of financial security for not a heckuva lot of cost-cutting. 


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