No matter how close to -- or far from -- retirement you are, you'll get there eventually, and we all hope to be financially independent when that day comes. However, there are a lot of things that can keep that from happening. The good news is that for most of us, there are steps we can take to give us the best chance of living a great retirement.
With that in mind, here are five retirement statistics everyone should know -- and some ways to make sure you're on the right side of those stats when you retire.
Owning a home significantly improves your chances of a quality retirement
While this, quite frankly, is a bit of a "causation versus correlation" issue for those at the lowest income levels, there is a lot of evidence to support the value of home ownership for the aging. Owning a home means you will have at least some built-in wealth and likely lower monthly expenses than most renters. Here is how much owning your home can reduce the odds that you'll be cost-burdened -- that is, not have enough money to cover basic expenses -- in retirement:
According to a Harvard study, the older you get, the more rent and mortgage costs affect your ability to live comfortably.
Unfortunately, the home ownership trend is going the wrong way
From the same Harvard study:
Again, it's hard to say how much of this is cause and how much is simply correlation, but the underlying data is compelling. For those over 50, home equity represents more than $111,000 in wealth for the median household, in addition to a median of $117,000 in other assets. That compares with only $6,100 in total wealth for the median renter.
This is especially significant when the high cost of health care is factored in. If you eventually require long-term care, the wealth tied to your home can go a long way toward providing the necessary funds to access that care. Make sure you're not on the wrong side of this trend.
More older Americans still paying mortgages
According to the Harvard study, the percentage of homeowners over 65 still paying a mortgage more than doubled between 1992 and 2010 to more than 40%, while more than 70% of those between 50 and 64 were still paying a mortgage as of 2010. Not only will a mortgage require higher living expenses in retirement, but it also means those still working have less to save and invest.
The message? Paying off your mortgage should be a goal, and you should have a game plan to help you get there. Part of that game plan should also include funding retirement accounts, as well as making sure you have an emergency fund built up. They're all important to your financial independence.
The home you're in might not be the best home to retire in
As you age, your needs and limitations change. Things that don't get a second thought today -- your ability to climb a flight of stairs and navigate your home in a wheelchair, for example -- can make a big difference in your quality of life in retirement.
According to the Harvard study above, there are five common accessibility features that many retirees -- especially those who have a limitation or disability -- come to need:
- No-step entryway
- Single-floor living
- Wide halls and doorways
- Lever-style handles for doors and faucets
- Accessible electric controls
If your home needs these things, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades. For some, this could be cost-prohibitive. At any rate, it's worth exploring a newer home that already has the features you need in retirement. Considering that many retirees need less space, it might not cost any additional money to transition to a more liveable home when you retire.
Building a nest egg will improve your chances of a quality retirement
Building a portfolio you can retire on is probably a lot cheaper than you think. Here's how much $100 per week can grow over 30 years:
I think most of us would be happy to have a $1.3 million nest egg when we retire, right?
If you can't afford $100 per week, even $100 per month adds up when you diligently invest it without fail. Based on the same historical stock market performance given above, $100 per week would grow to more than $320,000 over 30 years.
It's like eating an elephant
Nobody can see the future, but there are steps we can take today to put us in the best position to retire in comfort. If there's anything the statistics above should tell you, it's that financial discipline -- focusing on paying off debt while committing to saving and investing -- will most pay off.
Sometimes it seems a lot easier said than done, but remember, reaching these big goals is a lot like eating an elephant: You can only do it one bite at a time. Remain patient, stick to your plan, and don't get distracted by short-term results. You'll get there much more easily that way, and you won't drive yourself crazy with worry in the meantime.