Staying healthy could save you some money.
How healthy a retirement do you think you will have? If you can stay active as a senior and curb or avoid certain habits, you could potentially reduce one type of retirement expense.
Each year, Fidelity Investments presents an analysis of retiree health care costs. In 2019, Fidelity projected that the average 65-year-old couple would spend around $285,000 on health care during retirement, including about $11,000 in the first year. Both projections took Medicare benefits into account.
Could healthy behaviors help you save retirement dollars? Maybe. From another point of view, ceasing unhealthy habits certainly would. For example, the average pack of cigarettes now costs $6.28, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That adds up to $2,292 annually. A decade of pack-a-day smoking therefore projects to $22,920 in expenses (and that does not even consider inflation or the possibility of new state or local cigarette taxes). If you could invest $2,292 a year for 20 years and realize a 7% annual return on that money, your sustained investment would grow to more than $100,000.
Think about joining a senior wellness program. Some communities offer classes developed through the National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging. (NCOA is a nonprofit senior advocacy organization founded in the 1950s.) These physical activity programs are evidence based; the exercise curriculum has been shown to provide discernible health benefits to their participants. Often, they are low cost or free and low impact as well.
Be sure to use your Medicare benefits. Medicare entitles you to an annual free wellness visit with a primary care physician. In this visit, you can have your blood pressure, weight, and overall health checked, and the doctor can also run a check for the possibility of dementia. You can also get free screening for diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, hepatitis B and C, and heart disease under Medicare if your physician classifies you as “at risk” for these conditions. Medicare may even pick up the tab for smoking cessation counseling and obesity counseling for certain people.
If you stay fairly healthy well into your retirement, there could be a nice financial side effect: an exemption, for the present, from expenses that some of your peers could be dealing with.
Are you prepared for the possibility – and expense – of eldercare?
Do you have an extra $33,000 to $100,000 to spare this year? How about next year, and the year after that? Your answer to these questions is probably “no.”
What could possibly cost so much? Eldercare.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, a year of in-home care for a senior costs roughly $33,000. A year at an assisted living facility? About $45,000. A year in a nursing home? Approximately $100,000.
Medicare has limitations. Generally speaking, it will pay for no more than 35 hours per week of home health care and only up to 100 days of nursing home care, following a hospitalization. It may pay for up to six months of hospice care. If you or someone you love happens to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, Medicare will not pay for any degree of room and board for them at an assisted living facility.
Medicaid is another resource entirely. For seniors who are eligible, Medicaid can pick up assisted living facility or nursing home expenses, and even in-home eldercare, in some instances. Qualifying for Medicaid is the hard part. Normally, you only qualify for it when you have spent down your assets to the point where you can no longer pay for eldercare out of pocket or with insurance.
An extended care strategy may factor into a thoughtful retirement strategy. After all, your retirement may be lengthy, and you may need such care. The Social Security Administration projects that a quarter of today’s 65-year-olds will live past age 90, with a tenth making it to age 100.
Insurance companies have modified extended care policies over the years. Some have chosen to bundle extended care features into other policies, which can make the product more accessible. An insurance professional familiar with industry trends may be able to provide you more information about policies and policy choices.
Waiting for federal or state lawmakers to pass a new program to help with the costs of eldercare is not much of a strategy. It is up to you, the individual, to determine how to face this potential financial challenge.
If you lead a healthy and active life, you may need such care only at the very end. Assuming you do require it at some point, you may consider living in an area where you can join a continuing-care-at-home program (there are currently more than 30 of these, essentially operating as remote care programs of assisted living communities) or a “village network” that offers you some in-home help (not skilled nursing care, however).
Those rare and nice options aside, retirement saving also needs to be about saving for potential extended care expenses. If insurance addressing extended care is not easy to obtain, then a Health Savings Account (HSA) might be an option. These accounts have emerged as another solution to extended care needs. An HSA is not a form of insurance, but it does provide a tax-advantaged savings account to which you (and potentially, your employer) can make contributions. You can use these funds to pay for most medical expenses, including prescription drugs, dental care, and vision care. You can look into this choice right away, to take advantage of savings over time.
Once you reach age 65, you are required to stop making contributions to an HSA. Remember, if you withdraw money from your HSA for a nonmedical reason, that money becomes taxable income, and you face an additional 20% penalty. After age 65, you can take money out without the 20% penalty, but it still becomes taxable income.
An HSA works a bit like your workplace retirement account. Your employer can make contributions alongside you. However, the money that you contribute comes from your pretax income and can be invested for you over time, so it may grow as your contributions accumulate.
There are also some HSA rules and limitations to consider. You are limited to a $3,500 contribution for 2019, if you are single; $7,000, if you have a spouse or family. Those limits jump by a $1,000 “catch-up” limit for each person in the household over age 55. Your employer can contribute, but the ceiling is cumulative between your contributions and theirs. For example, say you are lucky enough to have your employer put a hypothetical $1,000 into your account in 2019; you may only contribute as much as the rest of your limit, minus that $1,000. If you go over that limit, you will incur a 6% tax penalty, so it is smart to watch how much you contribute.
Alternately, you could do without an HSA and simply earmark a portion of your retirement savings for possible extended care costs.
One thing is for certain: any retiree or retirement saver needs to keep the possibility of extended care expenses in mind. Today is not too soon to explore the financial options to try and meet this challenge.
The important question: Are you prepared?
Addressing the potential threat of long-term care expenses may be one of the biggest financial challenges for individuals who are developing a retirement strategy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 69% of people over age 65 can expect to need extended care services at some point in their lives. So, understanding the various types of long-term care services – and what those services may cost – is critical as you consider your retirement approach.
What Is Long-Term Care? Long-term care is not a single activity. It refers to a variety of medical and non-medical services needed by those who have a chronic illness or disability that is most commonly associated with aging.
Long-term care can include everything from assistance with activities of daily living – help dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, or even driving to the store – to more intensive therapeutic and medical care requiring the services of skilled medical personnel.
Long-term care may be provided at home, at a community center, in an assisted living facility, or in a skilled nursing home. And long-term care is not exclusively for the elderly; it is possible to need long-term care at any age.
How Much Does Long-Term Care Cost? Long-term care costs vary state by state and region by region. The national average for care in a skilled care facility (semi-private in a nursing home) is $85,775 a year. The national average for care in an assisted living center is $45,000 a year. Home health aides cost a median $18,200 per year, but that rate may increase when a licensed nurse is required.
Individuals who would rather not burden their family and friends have two main options for covering the cost of long-term care: they can choose to self-insure or they can purchase long-term care insurance.
Many self-insure by default – simply because they haven’t made other arrangements. Those who self-insure may depend on personal savings and investments to fund any long-term care needs. The other approach is to consider purchasing long-term care insurance, which can cover all levels of care, from skilled care to custodial care to in-home assistance.
When it comes to addressing your long-term care needs, many look to select a strategy that may help them protect assets, preserve dignity, and maintain independence. If those concepts are important to you, consider your approach for long-term care.
Avoid these situations, if you can.
Pursuing your retirement dreams is challenging enough without making some common, and very avoidable, mistakes. Here are eight big mistakes to steer clear of, if possible.
No Strategy. Yes, the biggest mistake is having no strategy at all. Without a strategy, you may have no goals, leaving you no way of knowing how you’ll get there – and if you’ve even arrived. Creating a strategy may increase your potential for success, both before and after retirement.
Frequent Trading. Chasing “hot” investments often leads to despair. Create an asset allocation strategy that is properly diversified to reflect your objectives, risk tolerance, and time horizon; then, make adjustments based on changes in your personal situation, not due to market ups and downs. (The return and principal value of stock prices will fluctuate as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation and diversification are approaches to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation and diversification do not guarantee against investment loss. Past performance does not guarantee future results.)
Not Maximizing Tax-Deferred Savings. Workers have tax-advantaged ways to save for retirement. Not participating in your workplace retirement plan may be a mistake, especially when you’re passing up free money in the form of employer-matching contributions. (Distributions from most employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions.)
Prioritizing College Funding over Retirement. Your kids’ college education is important, but you may not want to sacrifice your retirement for it. Remember, you can get loans and grants for college, but you can’t for your retirement.
Overlooking Health Care Costs. Extended care may be an expense that can undermine your financial strategy for retirement if you don’t prepare for it.
Not Adjusting Your Investment Approach Well Before Retirement. The last thing your retirement portfolio can afford is a sharp fall in stock prices and a sustained bear market at the moment you’re ready to stop working. Consider adjusting your asset allocation in advance of tapping your savings so you’re not selling stocks when prices are depressed. (The return and principal value of stock prices will fluctuate as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation is an approach to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation does not guarantee against investment loss. Past performance does not guarantee future results.)
Retiring with Too Much Debt. If too much debt is bad when you’re making money, it can be especially harmful when you’re living in retirement. Consider managing or reducing your debt level before you retire.
It’s Not Only About Money. Above all, a rewarding retirement requires good health. So, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, stay socially involved, and remain intellectually active.
Breaking down the basics & what each part covers.
Whether your 65th birthday is on the horizon or decades away, you should understand the parts of Medicare – what they cover and where they come from.
Parts A & B: Original Medicare. There are two components. Part A is hospital insurance. It provides coverage for inpatient stays at medical facilities. It can also help cover the costs of hospice care, home health care, and nursing home care – but not for long and only under certain parameters.
Seniors are frequently warned that Medicare will only pay for a maximum of 100 days of nursing home care (provided certain conditions are met). Part A is the part that does so. Under current rules, you pay $0 for days 1-20 of skilled nursing facility (SNF) care under Part A. During days 21-100, a $170.50 daily coinsurance payment may be required of you.
Part B is medical insurance and can help pick up some of the tab for physical therapy, physician services, expenses for durable medical equipment (hospital beds, wheelchairs), and other medical services, such as lab tests and a variety of health screenings.
Part B isn’t free. You pay monthly premiums to get it and a yearly deductible (plus 20% of costs). The premiums vary according to the Medicare recipient’s income level. The standard monthly premium amount is $135.50 this year. The current yearly deductible is $185. (Some people automatically receive Part B coverage, but others must sign up for it.)
Part C: Medicare Advantage plans. Insurance companies offer these Medicare-approved plans. To keep up your Part C coverage, you must keep up your payment of Part B premiums as well as your Part C premiums. To say not all Part C plans are alike is an understatement. Provider networks, premiums, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket spending limits can all vary widely, so shopping around is wise. During Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (October 15 - December 7), seniors can choose to switch out of Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa; although, any such move is much wiser with a Medigap policy already in place.
How does a Medigap plan differ from a Part C plan? Medigap plans (also called Medicare Supplement plans) emerged to address the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage. If you have Part A and Part B already in place, a Medigap policy can pick up some copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles for you. You pay Part B premiums in addition to Medigap plan premiums to keep a Medigap policy in effect. These plans no longer offer prescription drug coverage.
Part D: prescription drug plans. While Part C plans commonly offer prescription drug coverage, insurers also sell Part D plans as a standalone product to those with Original Medicare. As per Medigap and Part C coverage, you need to keep paying Part B premiums in addition to premiums for the drug plan to keep Part D coverage going.
Every Part D plan has a formulary, a list of medications covered under the plan. Most Part D plans rank approved drugs into tiers by cost. The good news is that Medicare’s website will determine the best Part D plan for you. Go to medicare.gov/find-a-plan to start your search; enter your medications and the website will do the legwork for you.
Retirement is undeniably a major life and financial transition. Even so, baby boomers can run the risk of growing nonchalant about some of the financial challenges that retirement poses, for not all are immediately obvious. In looking forward to their “second acts,” boomers may overlook a few matters that a thorough retirement strategy needs to address.
RMDs. The Internal Revenue Service directs seniors to withdraw money from qualified retirement accounts after age 70½. This class of accounts includes traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans. These drawdowns are officially termed Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).
Taxes. Speaking of RMDs, the income from an RMD is fully taxable and cannot be rolled over into a Roth IRA. The income is certainly a plus, but it may also send a retiree into a higher income tax bracket for the year.
Retirement does not necessarily imply reduced taxes. While people may earn less in retirement than they once did, many forms of income are taxable: RMDs; investment income and dividends; most pensions; even a portion of Social Security income depending on a taxpayer’s total income and filing status. Of course, once a mortgage is paid off, a retiree loses the chance to take the significant mortgage interest deduction.
Health care costs. Those who retire in reasonably good health may not be inclined to think about health care crises, but they could occur sooner rather than later – and they could be costly. As Forbes notes, five esteemed economists recently published a white paper called The Lifetime Medical Spending of Retirees; their analysis found that between age 70 and death, the average American senior pays $122,000 for medical care, much of it from personal savings. Five percent of this demographic contends with out-of-pocket medical bills exceeding $300,000. Medicines? The “donut hole” in Medicare still exists, and annually, there are retirees who pay thousands of dollars of their own money for needed drugs.
Eldercare needs. Those who live longer or face health complications will probably need some long-term care. According to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services, the average American who turned 65 in 2015 could end up paying $138,000 in total long-term care costs. Long-term care insurance is expensive, though, and can be difficult to obtain.
One other end-of-life expense many retirees overlook: funeral and burial costs. Pre-planning to address this expense may help surviving spouses and children.
Rising consumer prices. Since 1968, consumer inflation has averaged around 4% a year. Does that sound bearable? At a glance, maybe it does. Over time, however, 4% inflation can really do some damage to purchasing power. In 20 years, continued 4% inflation would make today’s dollar worth $0.46. Retirees would be wise to invest in a way that gives them the potential to keep up with increasing consumer costs.
As part of your preparation for retirement, give these matters some thought. Enjoy the here and now, but recognize the potential for these factors to impact your financial future.