56% of Americans Are Clueless About Their Retirement Income Needs

Here are 3 things to think about if you're one of them.

Maurie Backman
Maurie Backman
Jul 7, 2019 at 8:16AM
Investment Planning

Many workers fear the idea of retiring not because they're attached to their jobs, but because they have no idea how much income they'll need to retire comfortably. In fact, 56% of Americans are in this boat, according to Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study. If you're one of them, it pays to put some thought into these key factors.

1. Where you want to live

Housing is the typical working American's single largest monthly expense, and it's likely to eat up more of your retirement income than any other spending category. That's why you'll need to think about where you want to live, and figure out how much it will cost you.

If you plan to stay in your current home, then landing on that figure shouldn't be too challenging. But if you hope to relocate someplace warmer, or to a major city, then you'll need to do some digging to see what housing costs are like in the area. And it's not just home prices you'll need to look at; you'll also need to see what property taxes are like if you plan to buy.

Senior couple using laptop on couch and holding arms up as if confused

Image source: Getty Images.

If you plan to buy a condo in retirement rather than maintain a stand-alone house, you'll probably need to pay homeowners association (HOA) fees. These can get expensive, so find out what to expect.

2. Healthcare

Second to housing, there's a good chance healthcare will monopolize your retirement income, especially if you have medical issues. There are different estimates out there as to what healthcare will cost in retirement. Fidelity recently put this number at $285,000 for a 65-year-old couple retiring this year when we account for out-of-pocket expenses like Medicare premiums, co-insurance, and deductibles. But HealthView Services, a cost projection software provider, has a different estimate: roughly $364,000 when we factor in the aforementioned costs.

That's a pretty large discrepancy, but if you want to stay on the safe side when it comes to medical costs in retirement, plan to spend more rather than less. If your health holds up, you'll have extra money at your disposal to spend on other things.

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3. How you'll spend your days

The plans you have for your retirement will largely dictate how much money you need socked away before bringing your career to a close. If you hope to travel extensively, dine out often, and frequent the theater and opera, then you'll need a certain level of savings to support that lifestyle. On the other hand, if you plan to spend your time socializing with local friends, volunteering, and bonding with your grandchildren, you can get away with less. Think about what your vision of retirement looks like, and figure out how much money it'll cost to make it a reality.

Assessing your savings

Once you've put some thought into where you want to live, what healthcare might cost, and how you want to spend your newfound free time, see how well your savings stack up. As a general rule, you can plan on withdrawing about 4% of your nest egg annually to ensure that you don't deplete it prematurely, which means that if you're entering retirement with $1 million, that's $40,000 a year in usable income. You don't have to withdraw 4% of your savings each year, but you can use it as a starting point.

Your savings are probably just a portion of your total retirement income. You can most likely count on a nice chunk of money from Social Security, and perhaps additional earnings from a brokerage account. Either way, getting a handle on the above three items will put you in a better position to determine how much retirement income you actually need, and how close you are to that mark.