Retirement is supposed to be your reward for decades of hard work, the time you can finally kick back and set your own schedule. The trouble is, retirement can bring a new set of stressors into your life even as you let the work-related ones go. And those stressors can prevent you from having the truly relaxing retirement you deserve.
A recent survey by SimplyWise confirms that 59% of Americans are more concerned about retirement security than they were a year ago. More than two-thirds (71%) of Americans over 70 are worried their Social Security benefits will decline. Nearly half (43%) of those receiving Social Security today fear their savings won't last. And 46% of workers aren't sure how they'll cover their medical bills in retirement. Any one of these concerns can push you to delay retirement or downgrade your lifestyle. Sadly, either action could fundamentally change the quality of your retirement.
Fortunately, if you're still working, you have time to calm those worries. And the surest way is to shore up your finances. Here are three tricks that'll help.
1. Save more than you think you need
Social Security does have a looming funding shortage. According to the latest Trustees report, Social Security is projected to run out of surplus funds in 2034. If no changes are made to the program, beneficiaries could see an income reduction of 24% at that time. Don't panic, though. That will only happen if lawmakers don't step in with a fix before then -- which is pretty unlikely.
Even so, the uncertainty around Social Security and what it might look like in the future emphasizes one thing: You need ample savings to retire comfortably. Being wholly dependent on Social Security today makes for a meager lifestyle. Tomorrow, it could be worse.
Ideally, your retirement savings would be enough to support you for 30 years, with an extra cushion built in. The cushion helps you manage through things like lower-than-expected Social Security or extremely high medical bills.
It's no small task to reach that generous savings balance. You will probably need to make some tough choices now -- particularly if you're already behind on your savings plan. Those tough choices involve limiting your discretionary spending so you can significantly increase your retirement plan contributions. Those contributions should be at least 10% to 15% of your income, or higher if you're over 50.
2. Diversify your passive income
You might be in great health today, but at some point you will have to stop working. And when you can no longer earn a paycheck, that's when passive income becomes your savior. Social Security is passive income, but you'll need other sources too.
Real estate rents and dividends are two popular sources of passive retirement income. Both obviously require some level of upfront investment. You can take out a mortgage to purchase residential rental property. But that comes with its own risks. Always have an advisor help you run the numbers to make sure the deal is cash-flow positive. Also think through how you'll handle maintenance and legal issues with your future tenants. If you want your real estate to produce income that's truly passive, plan on hiring a property manager to do the work for you.
Alternatively, you could invest in REITs. These are companies that manage a portfolio of properties and pay out 90% of their taxable income to shareholders as dividends.
Dividend stocks, like REITs, don't require any work from you, beyond picking good companies and keeping tabs on them. It'll take some time to build up enough shares to produce a sizable income -- which means you need to start now. If you don't fancy yourself a stock-picker, try a dividend fund like Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG 0.22%). Reinvest your dividends until retirement so you can keep growing your dividend-producing share count.
3. Plan for your healthcare
The cost of healthcare in retirement is a common worry, and it's no wonder. Healthcare expenses are rising at 4% to 5% every year, which is more than double the general inflation rate. Social Security cost-of-living (COLA) increases don't account for that rate of inflation, and your savings might not, either.
Give yourself a head start on those future medical bills by saving to a Health Savings Account (HSA). You qualify for an HSA as long as you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). In 2021, HDHPs are those plans with a $1,400 or higher individual deductible or $2,800 or higher family deductible.
The HSA has some similarities to a traditional IRA. Contributions are tax-free, earnings are tax-deferred, and you can invest your funds in the stock market to grow your balance over time. The HSA has one tax perk no other account offers, though. You can take tax-free withdrawals from your HSA to cover your medical bills at any time.
Treat your HSA like a long-term investment account, and work to build a pot of cash that's earmarked for those healthcare expenses in retirement. Once you turn 65, you can also withdraw money for non-medical expenses. Those withdrawals will be taxable, similar to your 401(k) distributions.
In 2021, you can contribute up to $3,600 to an individual HSA and up to $7,200 to a family HSA.
Seek wealth for a relaxing retirement
Financial independence is the surest formula for a carefree retirement. And you can get there. It may not be easy, particularly if retirement is within the next 15 years. But the actions you take today could be the turning point. Buckle down and get serious about saving and investing for passive income. You won't regret it.