If you’ve been scrimping and saving for retirement, you may be hoping to relax when that red letter day finally arrives. But recent developments—such as rock-bottom interest rates on fixed investments, the threat of higher taxes, and economic uncertainty—might give you pause. Could you outlive your assets in retirement?
Perhaps. According to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, about 44% of those born between 1948 and 1978—encompassing most Baby Boomers and those in Generation X—haven’t adequately prepared for retirement. Here are six steps to protect you:
1. Set aside funds for fixed expenses. Consider how much of your retirement money will go for necessities such as food and housing, transportation, health care, and utility bills. Then try to squirrel away enough in safe but liquid assets to pay those costs for three to five years. If you have that kind of cushion, you won’t have to cash out of your other investments during a downturn.
2. Live long and prosper. Medical advances and other trends are helping people live longer than they did just a generation ago, and you’ll need to plan accordingly. One possible hedge is to acquire long-term care insurance to cover at least part of the cost of an extended stay in a nursing home. But these policies vary, so proceed with caution. Another idea is to purchase an annuity that can provide steady income through retirement.
3. Don’t be overly conservative. Naturally, retirement isn’t the time to speculate wildly in the stock market, but relying too much on more conservative investments such as bonds can be detrimental, too. Retirees looking for increased yield may opt for long-term bond funds, but be careful about locking into an investment that could backfire if interest rates start to rise. Consider intermediate bond funds to complement your portfolio.
4. Remember the “i” word. Although inflation hasn’t reared its ugly head in recent years, most financial analysts say it’s only a question of when, not if, it will return in a big way. Take inflation projections into account when figuring out how much you’ll need to sustain you through retirement.
5. Diversify your portfolio. Stock market volatility can be a nightmare for retirees living on fixed incomes. To keep your portfolio on a steadier course, follow the basic investment principle of diversification. And because overcompensating with ultraconservative investments may do more harm than good, seek alternatives that match up well with fixed-income investments and equities.
6. Reduce the tax bite. Although tax planning is especially difficult now, learn to adapt to changing rules and conditions. For instance, it may be sensible to convert savings from a traditional IRA to a Roth to secure future tax-free payouts.