For all ages, it's imperative to balance near-term and long-term savings goals, but the makeup of those savings goals has changed dramatically over the past 10 years.
With the continued rise in health care costs, and increased cost sharing between employers and employees, more employees and employers have been migrating to consumer-driven health care (CDH) to provide lower-cost alternatives.
With the increased adoption in these plans for employee cost savings purposes, employers have likewise realized similar cost savings to their bottom line. But what role does CDH play in the long term?
The Greatest Generation was able to rely on their pensions, Social Security, Medicaid, and the like as a means to support them in retirement for both medical and living expenses. However, as the Baby Boomers continue their journey towards retirement, reliance upon future proof retirement funds are fading into the sunset for coming generations. According to a 2015 study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 29% of American’s 55 and older do not have money set aside in a pension plan or alternative retirement plan.
To make matters worse, some experts are forecasting Social Security funding will be depleted by 2034, leaving even more retirees potentially without a plan. As such, Generation X and beyond must look for more creatives measures for savings to make up the difference.
In 1978, 401(k) plans were introduced to provide the workforce with a secondary means for retirement savings while also providing significant tax benefits. However, even when actively funded, with rising health care costs and a depleted Social Security system—the solution this workforce has paid into for their entire career—will not be enough.
According to Healthview Services, the average retiree couple will spend $288,000 for just health care expenses during retirement. This sum could easily consume one-third of total retiree savings. This is a contributing factor to the rise and rapid adoption of tax-advantage health accounts to supplement retirement savings. Introduced to the market in 2003, Health Savings Accounts (HSA) have provided employees with an option to set aside pre-tax funds to either cover current year health care expenses, like the familiar Flexible Spending Account (FSA), or carry over the funds year-over-year to pay for medical expenses later or during retirement. The pretax money employees are able to set aside in these accounts to cover health care expenses, will over time, be on par with retirement savings contributions, such as a 401(k) and 403(b), because of increasing costs and triple-tax savings.
It is important for consumers to understand these retirement options and how they could be leveraged for greater financial wealth. As a result, the Health Care Stack, an analysis authored by ConnectYourCare, acts as a life savings model and illustrates the amount of pretax money consumers can contribute for both their lifestyle and health expenses in retirement.
For illustrative purposes, according to current IRS guidelines, the average American under the age of 50 could set aside up to $24,750 each year pre-tax for retirement to cover their health care and living expenses. In this example, if a worker in his or her 30s starts to set aside the maximum contributions (based on IRS guidelines) for HSA contributions, assuming a rate of return of 3%, they would have $330,000 saved in their HSA to cover health care expenses once they reach the retirement age of 65. This number could be even greater if President Trump’s administration passes any number of proposed bills to increase the HSA contribution limits to match the maximum out-of-pocket expenses included in high deductible health plans. This allocation would not only cover average medical expenses, but also provide a triple-tax advantage for consumers from now through retirement.
In addition to the long-term retirement goals, the yearly pre-tax savings may be even greater if notional accounts are factored in, with approved IRS limits of a $2,600 per year maximum for Flexible Spending Accounts, $5,000 per year maximum for Dependent Care FSA, and $6,120 per year maximum for commuter plans. This equals $38,470 (or $44,820 if HSA contributions increase) of pre-tax contributions that consumers could save by offsetting the tax burden and could invest towards retirement.
For those consumers over the age of 50, the savings potential is even greater as they can contribute to a post retirement catch-up for their 401K plans equaling a total of $24,000, plus they may take advantage of the $6,750 HSA savings, as well as the additional $1,000 catch up. If certain proposed bills are passed, the increase could be $38,100 a year that they could set aside, in pre-tax assets, for retirement.
Not only will an individual’s expenses be covered, but there are other benefits brought forth by proper planning, including the potential to reach ones retirement savings goals early. Let’s say that after meeting with a licensed financial investor it was determined that an individual needed $1.8 million in order to retire, and according to national averages, close to $288,000 to cover health care costs.
Given the proper investment strategy around contributions to both retirement and HSA plans, an individual could - theoretically -save enough to meet their retirement investment needs by the age of 60 for both lifestyle and health care expense coverage, if they started making careful investments in their 20s (assuming the worker is making $50,000 per year with a 3% annual increase).
In comparison, under current proposals, which include the increased HSA limits, retirement savings could be achieved even earlier with the coverage threshold being at 57 for the average worker. This is a tremendous opportunity to transform retirement investment programs for all American workers who would otherwise be left on their own. Talk about the American dream!
While there is not a one-size fits all strategy, it is important for everyone to understand their options and see how these pretax accounts outlined in the Health Care Stack play an important consideration in ones future retirement planning.
Taking the time now to fully understand tax-favored benefit accounts will provide him or her with the appropriate coverage to enjoy life well into their golden years. Retirement is just around the corner, are you ready?