Running out of money during retirement is a concern that even folks with healthy nest eggs contend with. The last thing you want is to experience cash flow problems when you're older, but if you make any of these three mistakes, you might end up with less money than you'd like during your golden years.
1. Filing for Social Security early
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest years of earnings on record, but if you file for them too early, you could end up lowering them -- for life. You're eligible to receive your full monthly benefit once you reach full retirement age, which, depending on your year of birth, is either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months. However, Social Security allows you to start claiming benefits as early as age 62. Many seniors choose to go this route, whether because they need the money or simply wish to retire ahead of the game. But any time you take benefits ahead of full retirement age, you essentially lock yourself into a lower monthly payment for life.
Now one thing you should know about Social Security is that if you file too early, you're allowed one do-over in your lifetime that can save you from this fate. But you'll need to initiate a withdrawal of your benefits claim within 12 months of starting to receive them, and you'll be forced to pay back every dollar you receive to become eligible for a higher monthly payout later on. That's why it's generally not a great idea to file for Social Security ahead of full of retirement age unless there's a truly compelling reason to do so.
2. Not saving in a Roth account
Though it's better to save in a traditional retirement plan than to not save at all, doing so will leave you with less money when you're older, and the reason boils down to taxes. Traditional IRA and 401(k) contributions are made with-pre tax dollars, but withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income during retirement. Roth plans work the opposite way -- contributions are made with after-tax dollars but are then taken tax-free in retirement. Therefore, if you retire with a traditional IRA balance of $300,000, that money isn't all yours, since the IRS gets a piece of each withdrawal you take. On the other hand, if you retire with a $300,000 Roth IRA balance, that money is all yours to work with.
If you're saving in an employer-sponsored plan, it pays to see whether it comes with a Roth option -- an estimated 67% of today's 401(k) plans do. If you're not saving in an employer plan, you can open a Roth IRA through most financial institutions. Keep in mind that if you're a higher earner, you can't contribute to a Roth IRA directly. You can, however, fund a traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth later on.
3. Racking up debt later in life
The more financial obligations you have going into retirement, the more of your savings you'll spend keeping up with them. A good way to reduce the amount of retirement income you have available is to take on debt later in life, when you're less likely to manage to pay it off before bringing your career to a close.
Unfortunately, older Americans aren't strangers to debt. Adults aged 55 to 64 owe an average of $8,158 on their credit cards, which means many risk entering retirement with those balances still intact. If you've managed to avoid debt thus far, make a point to steer clear of it as retirement draws near. And if you're already in debt with not much time left between now and retirement, do your best to pay it off so you're not grappling with those monthly payments on a fixed income.
If there's one thing most retirees agree on, it's that they can use all the money they can get. If you make sure to wait until full retirement age or beyond to claim Social Security, put some savings into a Roth account, and stay out of debt, you'll boost your income during your golden years and avoid much of the financial stress so many seniors face.