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Here's Why Middle-Aged Workers Need to Worry About Healthcare in Retirement

By Maurie Backman - Jul 16, 2019 at 6:39AM

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High costs plus inflation equals a potentially unpleasant surprise for future retirees.

Of the various expenses retirees face, healthcare is among the most substantial. In fact, many older workers worry about paying their healthcare expenses once their careers end, and given some of the projections out there as to what medical care in retirement will cost, that concern isn't unfounded.

Fidelity estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring this year will spend $285,000 on medical expenses during retirement. However, HealthView Services, a cost-projection software provider, has a higher and more daunting number: $387,644. These figures account for costs like Medicare premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and supplemental insurance.

Closeup of middle-aged man with serious expression

Image source: Getty Images.

But it's not just today's near-retirees who need to worry about senior healthcare costs. Thanks to healthcare inflation, today's 40- and 50-something workers are looking at even higher numbers for their later years: $455,866 for a couple aged 40 today, and $405,241 for a couple aged 50, according to HealthView.

If you're in your 40s or 50s, you may not be all that concerned about paying for healthcare in retirement just yet. But you should know that you could be looking at some pretty serious numbers, and need to plan accordingly.

Save now, stress less later

Senior healthcare may not be on your radar when you're in your 40s or 50s, and you're focused on saving for you kids' college, keeping up with your mortgage, and grappling with existing debt. But if you don't try to save for this major expense sooner rather than later, you risk falling short during retirement.

There are a few different ways you can set aside funds to cover your senior healthcare costs. If you're already saving in an IRA or 401(k), boosting your contribution rate could make a big difference. Currently, you can save up to $6,000 a year in an IRA if you're under 50, or up to $7,000 if you're 50 or older. And 401(k) plans have even higher limits: $19,000 for those under 50, and $25,000 for those 50 and over.

If you're putting in a lot less at present, aim to do better. Try cutting back on expenses to set aside an extra $200 a month on top of what you're already saving. If you're 45, and you uphold that habit until age 65, that extra $200 a month over 20 years will leave you with almost $100,000 more than you'd otherwise save, assuming that money is invested at an average annual 7% return (which is a few percentage points below the stock market's average).

Another smart savings strategy: Open a health savings account, or HSA. Not everyone is eligible, but if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan -- $1,350 for single coverage or $2,700 for family coverage -- you can open one of these accounts and contribute money that will be earmarked for healthcare. Contributions are made with pre-tax dollars and grow tax-free until you're ready to withdraw your money, at which point it's also tax-free, provided you use it to pay for qualified medical expenses.

For the current year, you can contribute up to $3,500 to an HSA as an individual, or up to $7,000 a year if you have family coverage. If you're 55 or older, you get a $1,000 catch-up on top of whichever limit is applicable to you.

It's never too early to start setting funds aside to pay for healthcare in retirement, and given the way inflation is driving that expense up, the sooner you save, the better. If you're not eligible for an HSA, try increasing your IRA or 401(k) contributions.

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