There are so many considerations when planning for retirement that it’s easy to overlook some of them—even some of the most important ones. And others, vital as they may be, might never have occurred to you.
When finally deciding to take the plunge and give up a paying job for days devoted to your own dreams and unfulfilled ambitions, you’ll get a lot further if you avoid making some common mistakes that are all too prevalent among the preretiree population.
It's surprising that people make the mistake of not considering these 10 factors when preparing for retirement.
Consider these factors early enough, and if you find you have ignored one or more of them, you might still be able to fix them.
10. Stay healthy—and take a good hard look at health care costs.
If there’s one thing that’s fairly sure in the midst of all the uncertainty about health care these days, it’s that it’s going to cost you. And it costs older people more as the health problems of age become more prominent.
Do all you can to stay healthy, but remember that health care costs can eat up all your retirement money if you’re very unlucky. Save as much as you can and earmark it for health care needs.
Also look into long-term care insurance and see if there’s a way to afford it—since Medicare doesn’t pay for it, and it and Medicaid look likely to be targets for cost-cutting under the Trump administration, you don’t want to be left out in the cold if the worst happens and you become incapacitated.
9. Remember to consider inflation.
When you’re evaluating your decision on when to retire, don’t forget that inflation will eat up retirement money right along with the grocery bills.
If you’re choosing a date based on how much money you have now, have you figured out how long that money will last you—especially if inflation rises? If you don’t take it into account, you could be in for a very unpleasant surprise around your 80th birthday.
8. Make sure you know how much you have.
Knowing how much you might need to support yourself in retirement is one thing, but knowing how much you have is a different question.
If you have scattered 401(k)s from a jobhopping career, do you know where all the money is? Have you got a handle on how much money is in each account? Do you know how many accounts are tax-advantaged and how many are not? Do you understand the differences between 401(k)s, traditional IRAs and Roths?
Sit down with all your accounts and if necessary, consult an expert so that you know which accounts to draw on first to make the money last the longest—and which ones, in which order, will provide you with the biggest tax advantages. You might even end up converting some to Roth IRAs.
7. Stop spending on the kids.
Especially if they’re grown and gone, it’s time to cut the umbilical cord and let your children pay their own way.
You’ll need that money yourself in retirement—maybe even for medical bills—and if you’ve spent it on them, whether for college tuition, car payments or even letting them live (and eat) at home rent free, you won’t have it when you need it.
And even if you’re healthy, all the more reason to hold onto what cash you’ve got. The longer you live, the more money you’ll need to pay your regular expenses for the rest of your life. After all, you don’t want to have to hunt for a job when you’re 90, do you?
6. Don’t pay off the mortgage yet.
You may be flush with retirement cash and feel prosperous enough to pay off your mortgage so that you’re debt-free in retirement. But don’t—at least not till you’ve fully reviewed your financial situation.
If you have enough income to keep paying the mortgage and if your interest rate is low, you might be better off making those easy monthly payments and letting your retirement savings continue to grow—especially if they’re bringing in more than you’d save by paying off the house.
Plus, remember that you can write off the interest on your mortgage—a tax break you might be very glad to have in retirement.
5. Don’t spend it all in one place.
If you retire and take a lump sum (or even if you don’t), you might be tempted to book that around-the-world cruise you’ve always promised yourself or to decide to go see Kilimanjaro while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.
But the more you spend early in retirement, the less you’ll have left to earn returns and to last you through the rest of retirement—so don’t be hasty, and make sure you consider those expenses carefully before jumping in with both feet.
4. Take a close look at your house.
If you don’t have much money, your house might be the key to your retirement—through a reverse mortgage, which will provide income; through downsizing, which could lessen your expenses; or through outright sale and relocation to a cheaper place to live.
Especially if you find you just can’t wait any longer to retire, whether for health reasons or job loss, your home sweet home could provide the means to keep you going.
3. Consider not retiring yet.
If you don’t have much in the way of retirement savings, you might be better off staying on the job a while longer—not only can you build up the balances in your retirement accounts, but you also won’t be drawing on what you have saved quite so soon.
And that will make your savings last longer.
Even if you can’t stay at your current (full-time) job, consider part-time work. It, too, can help you boost that eventual retirement balance, and postpone the day when you’ll be dependent on savings and Social Security to provide all your income.
2. Check your asset allocations.
Any retirement savings you may already have socked away could be stowed in inappropriate (for your age and risk tolerance) investments. Which assets make up your retirement portfolio? Stocks? Bonds? Target-date funds?
Whatever they are, make sure they’re not so aggressive that you stand to lose a lot if the market takes a nosedive—and see if you can’t rearrange at least some into income-producing returns.
Also check out the expense ratios on whatever you’ve got, and see if they can’t be switched into less expensive investments. You might also want to consider the purchase of an annuity with retirement funds, so that you’ll have lifetime income.
1. Make sure you’ll have enough money.
This is kind of the biggest mistake to make, but considering the toll taken by the Great Recession on retirement portfolios, employment and physical and mental well-being, it’s probably one of the most common.
Check out the numerous online calculators to see how much you might need—bear in mind that medical expenses alone can run the average couple $250,000 in retirement—and then look at your balance.
If it’s nowhere near that, and even if it is, now’s the time to push for greater savings. Even if you have nothing at all saved, start now and put away as much as you can.
According to Money, even though it can’t compare to the savings level you might have had if you’d started saving more earlier, “someone who has nada saved at age 50 but who begins putting away $500 a month would have roughly $144,000 by age 65, assuming a 6 percent annual return.”