This Retirement Expense Could Cost You $335,000

Everyone will face this expense to some degree during retirement.

Katie Brockman
Katie Brockman
Aug 12, 2019 at 6:00AM
Investment Planning

Retirement is incredibly expensive, and most workers aren't nearly prepared enough to cover all the costs. The average worker expects to need around $1.7 million to make it through retirement, according to a survey from Charles Schwab. And yet half of adults over the age of 55 don't have any retirement savings at all, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Most of the costs you'll face in retirement are everyday living expenses -- your mortgage or rent, groceries, transportation costs, etc. Then if you plan on traveling or trying out new hobbies, those are additional expenses you may face. But there's one cost many workers don't consider when planning for retirement, and it comes with a hefty price tag: Healthcare.

A doctor speaks with a patient

Image source: Getty Images

Preparing for healthcare costs in retirement

Once you turn 65 years old, you become eligible for Medicare. But even with Medicare coverage, you're still responsible for a significant number of healthcare-related costs.

You'll still need to pay all premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Original Medicare (or Parts A and B) doesn't cover everything. Part A will cover hospital expenses and Part B covers doctor visits and lab tests, but routine care -- such as dental and vision -- isn't covered. Prescription drug coverage also isn't covered, and enrolling in Part D coverage is an additional cost. You can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan for greater coverage, but it comes at a steeper price.

All these costs add up, and workers currently in their 40s can expect to spend roughly $335,000 on healthcare expenses alone during retirement, according to an Urban Institute study. And the more years you spend in retirement, the higher these costs climb; if you live until age 90 or beyond, your expected healthcare costs increase to approximately $500,000, according to the study.

Aside from premiums, deductibles, and other routine out-of-pocket expenses, one major healthcare expense most people will face in retirement is long-term care. Around 70% of today's retirees will need long-term care at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the average person who needs this type of care needs it for around three years. It's not cheap either, with a semi-private room in a nursing home costing an average of $6,800 per month -- or $81,600 per year. Over three years, that amounts to nearly $250,000.

If you're not preparing for these costs ahead of time, they can quickly knock the wind out of your sails in retirement. There are a few things you can do, though, to set your savings up for success.

How to avoid letting healthcare expenses drain your savings

Healthcare costs can be challenging to prepare for since you can't predict exactly how much you need to spend. You can estimate your costs based on your current health and family history, but it's impossible to say what your healthcare expenses will look like a few decades down the road. For that reason, it's safer to save more than you think you need -- after all, it's better to have more money than you need in retirement than risk running out of cash when you need it the most.

One way to prepare yourself for these costs is to establish a health savings account (HSA). An HSA is like a mini retirement fund just for healthcare expenses. Your contributions are tax-deductible upfront, your money grows the longer you let it sit in the account, and then your withdrawals are also tax-free as long as the money is spent on eligible medical expenses. The funds in an HSA never expire, rolling over year after year until you need to draw on them. You can even invest the balance to get more savings for your future healthcare expenses.

However, there's a caveat: You aren't eligible to open an HSA unless you're enrolled in a high-deductible healthcare plan. That means your health insurance plan must have a deductible of at least $1,350 for individuals, or $2,700 for families. If you are eligible for an HSA, individuals can contribute up to $3,500 per year, and families can contribute $7,000 per year. HSAs are a great option when saving for healthcare costs because of the tax break and because you'll have a dedicated fund just for medical expenses.

To prepare for expensive long-term care costs, one option is to purchase long-term care insurance. Because Medicare doesn't cover long-term care, those costs will likely need to be paid for out-of-pocket. If you have long-term care insurance though, it can help cover those expenses. The kicker is that long-term care insurance itself is usually expensive, with the average 55-year-old couple paying around $2,500 per year in premiums, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. But if you end up facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-term care costs down the road, those premiums may not seem so bad.

As you're preparing for retirement, healthcare costs are likely not at the top of your priority list. But they are one of the most significant expenses you'll face in retirement. By preparing for them early, you can make sure they don't take you by surprise.