When you picture your ideal retirement, what do you see? Are you living a life of leisure? Traveling the globe? Honing your golf game? Playing with your grandchildren? For many Americans, these retirement dreams were shaken by the Great Recession and the toll it took on nest eggs, home values and job security.
Going forward, retirement will likely be different than it was for previous generations. We will live longer, have fewer sources of income at our disposal, and face increased costs for medical care and living expenses. To prepare, we need to be fully aware of the challenges we will face at retirement.
Social Security at Risk
Last year, for the first time, Social Security actually paid out more in benefits than it received in payroll tax revenues. This year, it may pay out as much as $46 billion more than it takes in. With our slow economic recovery and extended life expectancies, Social Security can continue to provide full benefits through 2036. Beyond 2036, the program can pay out about three quarters of promised benefits.1
Employee Pensions In Drastic Decline
The traditional company pension has drastically declined over the past 25 years. Back in 1985, there were more than 170,000 company pension plans in place; by 2007, that number had plummeted to less than 50,000 – a 70% decline.2 If a company terminates its pension plan, when its employees retire, they could end up receiving just a fraction of the benefits they were expecting.
Fall in Home Values
For more than 40 years, Americans watched the value of our homes increase exponentially. When it came time to downsize, we expected to make a sizable profit from the sale to tuck away in our retirement fund. Then the real estate bubble burst, leaving many homeowners upside down in their mortgages. Today, even those fortunate enough to have equity left in their homes need to reconsider the role their homes will play in their retirement plans.
Increased Life Expectancies
Thanks to medical advances, we’ve extended our life expectancy by decades. A recent study shows that if you are age 65 and married, there is a 91% chance that either you or your spouse will live to be 80 years old. And there is a 52% chance that one of you will live to celebrate your 90th birthday.3
Skyrocketing Health Care Costs
With longer life spans, affordable health care options become a critical issue in our retirement years. Data shows that just over 25% of retirees retain access to their former employer’s medical coverage. For the rest of us, a recent study estimates that we will need about $200,000 just to fund out-of-pocket health care costs during retirement.4
The New Reality of Retirement
These economic realities are influencing the way we envision and prepare for retirement. With fewer pensions, the uncertainty about Social Security, higher medical costs and smaller nest eggs, many pre-retirees will have to delay their departure from the workforce or continue working at least part-time through their retirement years.
Over the course of the next generation, the average age of retirement could shift by as much as 10 years.5 While many of the early baby boomers were able to retire by age 62, many boomers that follow may continue working well into their 70s.
The question then becomes, if living a life of leisure is no longer an option in our golden years, what will the alternative look like? Will we stay put and spend those extra years working in our current careers? Those who enjoy their line of work may do just that. But what about the pre-retirees who are already burned out on their jobs but still face another 10 – 20 years of work? Is it necessary to cross the finish line into retirement before we can have the chance to do what we want?
To prepare for this new reality, we need to rethink the way we envision our retirement and shift the focus back to achieving life goals – whether we can achieve complete financial independence or not. We need new strategies that help provide financial security for our longer road ahead.
Sources: 1) Status of the Social Security and Medicare Programs: A Summary of the 2011 Annual Reports. 2) Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, “Private Pension Plan Bulletin Historical Graphs and Tables,” March 2010. 3) Society of Actuaries. 4) Employer Benefit Research Institute, December 2010. 5) ‘Classic’ Retirement Becoming Less Likely, Investment News, May 27, 2012.