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You Won't Believe How Much the Average American Retiree Will Spend on Healthcare

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - Apr 3, 2019 at 6:32AM

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The estimate continues to rise -- here's what healthcare will cost and how you can prepare.

Each year, financial services provider Fidelity conducts an estimate of how much a newly retired couple can expect to spend on healthcare throughout their retirement. And not surprisingly, the expected tab has increased for 2019 retirees.

According to the newest estimate, a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 can expect to spend a staggering $285,000 on healthcare expenses throughout their retirement -- a $5,000 increase from the 2018 estimate. On an individual basis, this breaks down to $150,000 in healthcare expenses for the average retired woman and $135,000 for the average man. And it's worth pointing out that this is out-of-pocket expenditures beyond what is covered by Medicare.

Doctor examining older man.

Image source: Getty Images.

Also, keep in mind that these are just averages. If your health turns out to be worse than the average retiree's, or if you end up living significantly longer than the average American, your out-of-pocket healthcare costs could end up being significantly higher. Furthermore, if you end up retiring before you reach 65, you won't be eligible for Medicare, so it's important to have a plan for healthcare expenses in the pre-Medicare years.

Use your tax-advantaged accounts to their full potential

If you're still decades away from retirement, the $285,000 figure in Fidelity's estimate likely won't apply to you -- at least not exactly. There are simply too many variables that can change the cost of healthcare between now and when you retire.

Having said that, there's nothing to indicate that healthcare costs are going down anytime soon, so this cost estimate should serve as a wake-up call. After all, this is $285,000 that today's retirees will spend on healthcare in addition to the amount that they'll need for all of their other expenses.

Hands down, the best way you can prepare for healthcare expenses in retirement is by maxing out your contributions to a health savings account, or HSA, if you qualify for one. These accounts are available to Americans with qualifying high-deductible health plans and have a unique triple tax benefit for healthcare expenses.

You can read our 2019 guide to HSAs for a thorough discussion of how these accounts work, but the general principle is that money is contributed on a pre-tax basis, so you don't pay any tax now on this portion of your income. The money in the account can be invested, and all dividends and capital gains are tax-deferred. Finally, any withdrawals used for qualifying healthcare expenses are 100% tax-free. So you can place some of your retirement savings in an HSA to reduce your tax liability, and therefore your cost burden, in retirement.

If you don't qualify for an HSA, it's still important to contribute aggressively to other tax-advantaged accounts, such as your 401(k) or 403(b) at work, or to a traditional or Roth IRA.

What you can do if you're ready to retire

If you're getting ready to retire, it's obviously not an option to attempt to set aside hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in tax-advantaged accounts. However, there are still a few things you could do.

First, it's worthwhile to arm yourself with a good working knowledge of what Medicare Part A and Part B do and do not cover, so you'll know what to expect. You also may want to consider a Medicare Supplemental Insurance plan, also known as a Medigap plan, which can help keep your costs more predictable.

Also, if you're worried about having enough retirement income to cover your healthcare expenses, it can make a big difference to delay retirement (and Social Security) by a few years. Though not the most popular option, it can make a world of difference in your financial well-being after you retire. Not only will your Social Security benefit end up being larger for life, but postponing retirement gives you more time to stuff your tax-advantaged accounts with as much money as possible in the meantime.

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