45 Things Every 50-Something Should Know About Retirement

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People in their 50s who are nearing retirement have a lot on their plates. Between mortgages, adult-age kids and other responsibilities, it can be hard to prioritize everything.

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1. Have a Retirement Goal Age

You’ll need to decide ahead of time when you will retire. After all, the age you retire will affect Social Security benefits and how you approach your retirement savings strategy. You should also speak with your employer about when you plan to retire so you can work together to form an exit strategy.

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2. Create a Budget — Now

Look at your spending to figure out where your money is going and if you need to start budgeting so you’ll have enough savings for retirement.

“I often see couples unaware of each other’s spending habits until they create a budget,” said Dolph Janis, owner and founder of Clear Income Strategies Group. So have a serious talk with your spouse about establishing spending controls and setting aside funds for your future.

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3. Lengthen Your Long-Term Plan

These days, some people who retire in their 60s live until they’re 90 years old. That’s a 30-year gap of time you’ll need to fill with meaningful experiences and, well, money. Don’t retire without knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life — and how you’ll afford it. Start preparing a retirement plan that will last you decades.

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4. Automate Your Savings

Automate savings each month to increase your retirement contributions without much effort. Not only is it one of the best ways to save for retirement, but automating savings is a less painful way to save — and you’ll hardly notice the money is missing.

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5. Pay Yourself First

You’ll need to decide ahead of time when you will retire. After all, the age you retire will affect Social Security benefits and how you approach your retirement savings strategy. The golden rule of personal finance is to pay yourself first, and it’s especially important when it comes to saving for retirement. It’s the most effective way to build a large nest egg. So before you pay the mortgage or any other bill, put some money directly into your retirement fund.

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6. Put Extra Money Toward Retirement Savings

One important part of retirement planning is figuring out if you have an income gap. To determine whether you have an income gap, estimate how much money you’ll have to spend in retire. Any extra money that comes your way should be put into your retirement savings. Whether it’s a birthday gift or a bonus from work, stow it away in an investment account so it starts building interest.

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7. Figure Out Your Retirement Income Gap

One important part of retirement planning is figuring out if you have an income gap. To determine whether you have an income gap, estimate how much money you’ll have to spend in retirement each year. If you can’t sustain the lifestyle you plan to have in retirement, then you have an income gap and need to find ways to close it.

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8. Consider a Longevity Annuity

Dr. Robert R. Johnson, former president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services, said one way to ensure that you won’t outlive your savings is to purchase a longevity annuity — a payment stream that starts when you reach a certain age, say 85.

“If you buy a longevity annuity that covers your essential expenses, you will have peace of mind that you won’t outlive your savings,” he said.

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9. 70 Is the New 65

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of Americans who were a century or older increased by about 44%, according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With many people living longer, you might find that retiring a few years after age 65 is a better choice for your situation.

“People should no longer look at 65 as the appropriate retirement age,” said Johnson. “In fact, many believe that 70 is the new 65.”

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10. Don’t Dip Into Your Retirement Funds Early

Don’t touch the money you’ve already saved for retirement. Withdrawing from your retirement accounts too early will likely lead to the loss of principal and interest. And, at this point in the game, it’s more difficult for people in their 50s to make up for losses.

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11. Learn From Others

Retirement can be a tough landscape to navigate alone, so talk to family and friends for retirement advice. If you need more professional help, consult a financial advisor who can work with you to put together an individualized, strategic plan to ensure your retirement funds last.

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12. Pay Down Debts Before Retirement

“Focus on paying down all debt and downsizing — if necessary — because living debt-free in retirement means living stress-free,” Janis said.

Of course, don’t focus so much on paying off debts that your retirement contributions suffer. Find a balance between debt repayment and saving money.

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13. Downsize Your Lifestyle

When you retire, chances are you’ll have less income to live off of. Consider downsizing expensive habits, such as eating out daily or taking frequent, pricey vacations, to help your savings last longer, otherwise you might come up short. 

If your adult-age kids have moved out, think about downsizing your home. Moving from a $250K house to a $150K home is a great way to make your nest egg last longer, and such a move will save you an extra $6,250 every year, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That’s a lot of extra cash you can put toward debt repayment and savings.

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14. Build Emergency Savings

Even if you live a relatively safe lifestyle, you need to plan for the unexpected. A car accident, medical emergency or other unfortunate happenstance can derail your finances. Plan for the worst, and save up an emergency fund with three to six months of living expenses.

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15. Start Saving For Retirement No Matter How Old

Even at the age of 50, it’s never too late to start saving for retirement. You still have 15 or more years to save.

Consider the following scenario: You have $10,000 saved. You use that $10,000 as your current principal and put it in an account that earns an interest rate of 7%. For 15 years, you let it grow while adding $500 each month. After 15 years, you’ll have $178,364.45 saved. Sure, that’s probably not enough to cover all of your retirement expenses, but it’s better than nothing.

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16. Choose an IRA Based on Expected Income

Many experts say that a traditional IRA is a smart choice if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket when you reach retirement. It can also offer two tax benefits. For one, the contributions you make might be tax deductible. Second, the earnings and gains in your traditional IRA are not taxed until they’re distributed.

Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are often recommended for younger workers who believe they’ll be in a higher tax bracket by the time they retire.

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17. Reduce Your Tax Bill

Even if you have a lot of money saved, taxes can eat into your retirement income. Make sure you use tax-advantaged retirement accounts and other strategies to help reduce or eliminate your tax bill.

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18. Don’t Overlook Your 401(k)

You might be able to save for retirement using a 401(k). Although different from IRAs, 401(k)s have their own tax benefits as well.

For example, the money you put in a 401(k) is considered “pretax dollars,” which can lower your current taxable income. But although contributions from your paycheck won’t be deducted for income taxes right away, you will pay taxes on your withdrawals when you retire.

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19. Take Advantage of a 401(k) Match

Sign up for your employer’s 401(k) match program if it’s offered. It can make you a lot of money.

Let’s say, for example, your employer offers to match 50% of employee contributions up to 5%. If you earn a $50,000 salary and contribute $2,500 to your retirement plan, then your employer will put in $1,250, according to Merrill Edge. That’s free money you can’t pass up.

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20. Contribute More to Your IRA

If you’re 50 or older by the end of 2017, you can contribute up to $6,500 to your traditional or Roth IRA. That’s $1,000 more than the limit for people who are 50 and younger.

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21. Don’t Overlook an Old Pension or 401(k) Plan

“Go through paperwork of old jobs because you may have started a 401(k) or have a pension plan that you are not aware of,” Janis said. This money can be a welcome surprise when you’re trying to get a clear picture of your finances.

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22. Watch Out For Early Withdrawal Penalties

Get to know the 401(k) rules to avoid penalties. For example, when it comes to your 401(k), you might be taxed an additional 10 percent on distributions you receive before age 59 1/2.

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23. Find a Way To Avoid the Tax Penalty

In some cases, you might be able to dodge the additional 10 percent tax. It just comes down to what you’re doing with the money. For example, if you roll over or transfer distributions from one IRA to another, those funds won’t be subject to additional taxes.

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24. Resist the Urge To Check Your Portfolio

As you near retirement, you might start feeling anxious. But don’t start checking in on your investment portfolio every day or week. Stick to the general rule of checking your portfolio once or twice a year and rebalancing as needed. Otherwise, your emotions might kill your investments.

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25. Delay Social Security Now for Higher Returns Later

Johnson said healthy Americans should delay taking Social Security to increase income. The implied return for waiting is 8% per year for those born in 1943 or later.

“In a low-return environment, the 8% a year you ‘earn’ for waiting until you turn 70 is a terrific investment,” he said. “Where else in these markets can you earn 8% on a safe investment?”

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26. Estimate Your Social Security Earnings Online

Social Security replaces about 40% of an average person’s income, according to the Social Security Administration. So it’s important to know approximately how much you’ll be receiving in retirement to plan accordingly. Use the retirement estimator on the SSA’s website for a free estimate.

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27. Get a Part-Time Job

Some retirees can’t stand all the free time that comes with retirement. Working part-time can help keep you and your brain active. If working under someone doesn’t sound ideal, though, look for ways to turn your hobbies into extra income.

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28. Ask For a Raise

Even if you’re nearing retirement, don’t neglect asking for a pay raise every year. Your income needs to increase to keep up with inflation and rising taxes.

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29. Plan For Inflation

Even a low inflation rate can eat away at your retirement savings and purchasing power. According to Fidelity Investments, something that costs $50,000 today will cost $82,030 in 25 years, assuming a 2% inflation rate. With a 4% inflation rate, that expense balloons to $133,292 over the same period.

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30. Aim For a Balanced Portfolio

As you near retirement, your investment portfolio should be more conservative. But being too conservative can hurt your returns if inflation increases.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, being too aggressive can have a negative effect if markets are volatile. Your goal should be to maintain a balanced portfolio with a blend of stocks, bonds and short-term investments with varying risk levels.

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31. Plan For Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is no small expense in retirement. The average 65-year-old couple who retired in 2017 will need $275,000 to cover future healthcare costs, according to Fidelity Benefits Consulting. This amount is up $15,000 from the previous year’s estimate.

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32. Move To Medicare at 65

Once you turn 65 years old, you are eligible for Medicare. That should take care of most of your medical needs, but certainly not all of them. Look into your healthcare options to determine what kind of coverage you need.

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33. Consider Medigap Insurance

You might want to consider purchasing a Medigap policy to cover some of the costs that Medicare doesn’t. Medigap policies are sold by private companies to fill in the gaps of Medicare coverage.

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34. Look Into Long-Term Care Insurance

A lot of medical expenses aren’t planned, but they can be pricey. For example, long-term care is pricey, but its costs can be mitigated with long-term care insurance. This type of insurance can help cover personal and custodial care costs, including daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and eating.

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35. Pay For Healthcare With a Reverse Mortgage

Seniors age 62 and older can get a reverse mortgage to turn their home equity into cash. If you suspect you’ll have trouble covering certain expenses in retirement, keep this option in mind. Of course, talk to a professional before taking the plunge.

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36. Add Up the Costs of Traveling

Being retired means you’ll have extra time to travel, but traveling costs do add up. Opt to travel during the off-season to cut costs, and research the top vacation spots for retirees for low-cost options.

Have friends or family members who are also retired? Consider taking a trip with them rather than by yourself. You’ll likely save money on housing, transportation and more.

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37. Don’t Overlook Senior Citizen Discounts

Before you make any type of purchase, you should always check to see if you qualify for a senior or retiree discount. Or consider becoming an AARP member. Membership costs just $16 and gives you access to exclusive discounts.

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38. Have a Hobby

Retirement is the perfect time to pick up old hobbies. Plus, the right ones can even save you money. For example, taking on DIY projects can help you save money on gardening expenses or home renovation costs.

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39. Make Fitness a Priority

For the first time in many people’s lives, retirement is an opportunity to make fitness a priority. Regular physical activity is directly correlated to happiness and quality of life, and staying healthy will help you save on medical costs in retirement.

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40. Mentally Prepare for Retirement

Retirement can be a tough shift for Americans who are used to long days in the office. If you think adapting to a retirement lifestyle will be difficult for you, talk to a mental health professional now to find ways to mentally prepare for the next phase in your life.

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41. Answer These Questions Before You Retire

Yasmin Musani, head of retirement at Retirement Research Centre at the University of Waterloo, encourages people to ask themselves these important questions before retiring:

  • What do I want to do when I retire?
  • What kind of life do I want to live in retirement?
  • How important is it to have family and friends nearby?

Your answers can help you better plan for fulfilling retirement.

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42. Focus on What’s Important

If you’re working with a financial planner, make sure your investments suit your needs — not your advisor’s. Have a clear idea of what you want in retirement, whether it’s traveling or spending more time with family, and then communicate that to your planner.

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43. Delay Your Retirement

If you and your financial planner find that you need to accumulate more savings before you enter retirement, it might be a good idea to delay your retirement, if possible. This can give you some much-needed extra time to catch up on your retirement savings.

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44. Don’t Let Your Children Ruin Your Retirement

Saving for retirement should come before paying for your adult kid’s college tuition, mortgage or other expenses. Remember: Your children can always take out loans for college, cars and houses, but you can’t do the same for retirement. Don’t let your kids become a financial burden in your golden years.

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45. Make a Retirement Bucket List

You’ve worked your entire life for retirement, so create a bucket list of everything you want to do in your golden years. Whether it’s seeing the pyramids in Egypt, taking up a dance class or buying the yacht you’ve always wanted, it’s important to have goals and plans in retirement that will keep you excited — and motivated to save.

Discuss your bucket list with your spouse, and pin it up somewhere in your home to remind you of your upcoming adventures.

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