Which Retirement Myth Is Killing Your Financial Security?
- Why you can't rely on anyone else to fund your golden years.
- The cold, hard truth about healthcare costs in retirement
- How increased longevity changes everything about retirement planning.
When it comes to retirement planning, there's no shortage of conventional wisdom – some of it dead wrong.
Beware of formulaic rules of thumb masquerading as truth because it doesn't matter how often they're repeated… they can still be wrong.
For example, it might be comforting to believe that investing in your company retirement plan is all you need to have enough to retire, or that Social Security will take care of your golden years, but the numbers may say differently.
Maybe you were sold a bill of goods that includes the “70% of pre-retirement spending” rule, or the “save enough to cover 10-20 years” myth.
Or could it be that you budgeted your retirement based on average market returns or the safety of an all bond/cash portfolio.
If you're a victim to any of these myths, then it's important you read what follows. Your retirement security could be at stake.
What you don’t know can hurt you in retirement planning. Below are twelve of the most common myths in retirement planning with the facts you need to overcome them.
If you believe any of these retirement planning myths, you could convert your golden years into lead.
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Retirement Planning Myth 1: I’ll Delay Saving For Retirement Until Later When It's Easier
Many people correctly determine that it’ll be easier to save money for retirement later in their careers rather than now, so they procrastinate getting started – but that's asking the wrong question.
The real question is, “What's the easiest and most secure path to a bountiful nest egg?”, not “When will it be easiest to save?”
In other words, it may be easier to save for retirement later, but that's irrelevant if your true goal is to find the easiest way to a secure retirement.
A secure retirement requires you to begin saving now – whether it's easy or not.
The old way of thinking was to pay off the mortgage, pay for the kid’s college, and then save for retirement.
That worked fine when people didn’t live as long, but nowadays you can expect to survive 20-40 years in retirement. You may spend as many years in retirement as you did in your career.
The result is you need a bigger nest egg than previous generations needed to fund those extra years. A bigger nest egg requires a more aggressive approach to retirement savings while you're still working.
If you don’t start saving now, you're throwing away the power of compounding returns which is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for achieving financial security.
The sooner you begin saving, the less you must save each month to reach any given savings goal, making the process easier to accomplish.
The longer you wait, the more you must save each month, making it harder to get started and harder to reach the goal.
“A man who makes a mistake and doesn't correct it's making another mistake.”– Confucius
You may rationalize not saving now because you have lots of time to do it later, or conversely, you don’t have enough time now to plan for later.
Neither of these excuses matters because the mathematics of how wealth compounds doesn't care about excuses – it's inviolable. When you throw away time, you throw away money. The longer you wait, the harder the goal is to achieve.
Procrastination is wealth suicide on the installment plan. The math of growing money doesn’t care about your rationalizations or excuses – it’s just math.
Related: 5 Financial Planning Mistakes That Cost You Big-Time (and what to do instead!) Explained in 5 Free Video Lessons
If you grow your retirement savings at 10% compounded and wait just seven years to begin, you'll end up with half as much money compared to starting today.
Imagine that – half the money for just seven years of procrastination.
That can make the difference between spending your retirement greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart or playing golf at your local country club. Which would you prefer?
So are you going to start to build your retirement security now so you can take the easy and secure path, or are you going to wait until later when saving is easier, but the goal is harder to achieve?
Retirement Planning Myth 2: My Company Or Government Will Take Care Of My Retirement
The old rule-of-thumb was retirement income came from a three-legged stool consisting of Social Security, company pensions, and personal savings. All that's changing.
Unless you're one of the rare few with a secure pension, the new rule is that savings and pensions have been blended into one category called defined contribution plans, while Social Security has declined in relevance.
The result is the solid three-legged stool of your parent’s generation is now a wobbly two-legged stool for you.
Let’s examine the demise of this three-legged stool by first looking at the Social Security leg.
“It's error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”– Thomas Jefferson
Social Security is actuarially unsound – it can't work as promised. The further you are from retirement, the less you should expect to receive from the system in the future.
It's not politically realistic to forecast the system’s demise, but it's prudent to expect diminished payouts and means testing going forward.
Depending on how conservative you want to be in your estimates, your age, and the level of lifestyle you seek, you should plan on receiving anywhere from 0-30% of your retirement income from Social Security.
What that means is it makes a nice supplement, but not a foundational pillar. So much for the first leg of the stool.
The second leg of the stool, defined benefit pension plans, is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they've declined more than 70% to just over 35,200 plans from a peak of 114,400 plans in 1985.
Expect more of the same going forward. Even if you're one of the lucky few with a corporate pension, it's questionable to rely on it.
The reason is because a surprising number of retirees lose what they thought were secure benefits due to under-funding, corporate bankruptcy, reorganization, and other legal shenanigans that rip-off retirees' earned benefits.
The one exception is government pensions, which remain reliable as of this writing, despite being under-funded and at risk.
While the old-style pension plan system has been decaying, defined contribution retirement plans grew from 12 million in 1974 to 64 million in 2005 (data from Employee Benefit Research Institute).
Most people have effectively shifted their retirement plan from defined benefit to defined contribution, which means they have similarly shifted the responsibility from the employer to themselves.
It's a totally different ballgame. You're now solely responsible for funding the second leg of your stool.
This change toward defined contribution retirement plans in the second leg has subsequently affected the third leg – retirement savings.
In the old pension days, these two legs used to be separate, but now they get commingled in workers' minds because defined contribution plans are a form of personal savings.
Many people stop saving for retirement because they believe they're already taking care of savings through the salary reduction portion of their 401(k) at work.
Where they used to have two separate and distinct legs under their stool (company pension and personal savings), they now have one (defined contribution plan). That leg usually isn't strong enough to carry the entire burden.
This leads to the related myth where people incorrectly believe that maxing out a 401(k) is all that's necessary for retirement planning. There's a chance it might be true, but more than likely, it's not.
Depending on your earnings level and the age you begin saving, many studies show required savings levels to build a secure retirement in excess of the maximum 401(k) contribution.
Because the analysis is dependent on so many personal variables including age, life expectancy, and total financial picture, you'll need to seek individualized, professional guidance to determine the right savings level for you.
You can’t assume maxing out your 401(k) is sufficient because it may not be. You may have to build additional savings in that third leg of the stool to create a financially stable retirement.
And if that weren't enough, we're going to take all these changes that have diminished the three legs of your retirement income stool, and combine them with increased longevity to create a truly stressful picture.
Not only are traditional sources of retirement income drying up, but the savings pool required to fund ever longer retirements is expanding to unprecedented proportions.
Future retirees are being pulled from both directions – more assets required to fund longer lifespans, and traditional sources of income to fund that longer lifespan drying up.
The new reality is you can’t rely on the government or your employer to take care of retirement planning for you.
Instead, you must do it yourself, and plan for a much longer lifetime. If you would like to learn more about these issues and how to solve them, I highly encourage you to get my How Much Money Do I Need To Retire book for the full story.
Retirement Planning Myth 3: My Inheritance Will Take Care Of My Retirement
Some people use the potential for an inheritance as an excuse to not save for retirement.
This could be a major mistake unless your parents are extraordinarily rich and have health so bad you can rely on them dying soon. Otherwise, there are too many unknowns to plan your retirement for this outcome.
“Property left to a child may soon be lost; but the inheritance of virtue… will abide forever. If those who are toiling for wealth to leave their children, would but take half the pains to secure for them virtuous habits, how much more serviceable would they be. The largest property may be wrested from a child, but virtue will stand by him to the last.”– William Graham Sumner
You don’t know if you’re going to retire and need their money before they're ready to die.
You don’t know if they'll outlive their money. They could possibly spend it all at the last minute on health and nursing care.
They could also become victims of investment fraud, or a stock market crash could wipe out their fortune.
Even if all these problems are avoided, your parents may decide to encourage your independence and leave you nothing at all.
They may go on a spending spree late in life figuring this is their last chance to live it up so they might as well make a party of it.
Or maybe one parent will die and the other will remarry and leave it all to the new spouse, thus cutting you out entirely.
In short, you really don’t know what inheritance you can expect because the future is unpredictable. A lot of things can (and do!) change.
According to a report by the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland, only 1.6% of heirs receive $100,000 or more – hardly a secure retirement.
The reality is the odds are against you. It probably isn’t too smart to bet on your parent’s wealth for your retirement. The wiser move is to be self-responsible by putting away a little yourself.
Retirement Planning Myth 4: My Spouse Will Take Care Of My Retirement
It’s a good bet to rely on your spouse’s retirement – but not a sure bet. Small details like divorce and death can get in the way.
For example, did you know that when your spouse elects for a joint survivor option on his/her pension, it will likely decrease the monthly payout during his or her lifetime?
Yet, that's the only way to protect you in the event you outlive your spouse.
The alternative is a higher monthly payout today, but that comes at the price of a lesser or possibly zero benefit for you should your spouse die first.
Make sure to discuss the joint survivor option with your spouse so you aren't left out in the cold.
If you have retirement savings in a 401(k), IRA, or similar account, make sure your spouse names you as primary beneficiary so the money transfers to you upon death.
If your children or someone else is the primary beneficiary, you could end up with zippo-zilch-nada.
Finally, Social Security also has a complex set of rules regarding treatment of spouses that varies based on work history, etc. Contact the Social Security Administration for more details on exactly how it might affect your personal situation.
In short, just because your spouse’s retirement was adequate while he/she was alive doesn't necessarily mean you'll be financially secure in the event of death or divorce.
Before you bet your retirement security on your spouse’s retirement, make sure you understand all the details.
Retirement Planning Myth 5: My Company And Medicare Will Take Care Of My Health Insurance Needs During Retirement
According to the National Retiree Legislative Network, the percentage of employers with 200 or more workers offering retiree health insurance dropped from 66% in 1988 to 29% in 2009.
Employee Benefit Research Institute shows only 13% of all private sector employers offering retiree medical benefits. Are you one of the lucky few?
If you are, then consider a survey by Wyatt Co. showing 38% of corporations with retiree health benefits planning to reduce those benefits in the near future.
Can you really rely on being the freak exception to a clearly developed trend?
Retiree health benefits are diminishing. Businesses are having a hard time coping with increasing health insurance premiums and are aggressively reducing retiree health coverage.
Depending on when you plan to retire and who you work for, you'll probably be on your own for health insurance.
“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”– George Bernard Shaw
No problem, you say, that's why we have Medicare. Unfortunately, most studies show Medicare usually covers less than half a retiree’s medical bills.
A study by Hewitt Associates shows health care expenses can cost retirees 20% of their annual income. Expect this situation to worsen over time as Medicare’s fiscal problems continue.
What this means is you'll need to consider supplemental medical insurance and possibly even long term care insurance as potential additional costs for your retirement budget.
Once again, you're on your own and need to be self-responsible.
Retirement Planning Myth 6: I'll Only Need 70-80% Of My Pre-Retirement Income During Retirement
If only life were so simple…
The truth is estimating the amount you'll spend during retirement is complex and unique to each individual. Oversimplified rules-of-thumb like 70-80% of pre-retirement spending deceive more than they illuminate.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 52% of retirees surveyed spent 95% or more of their pre-retirement income during retirement.
That makes sense given that many retirees replace their work lifestyle with expensive, active lifestyles.
You can expect spending during retirement to decrease over time as your age increases because of diminished activity and consumption levels with aging.
However, you can also expect spending to increase as you age due to inflation and rising healthcare costs.
How these contradictory influences play out to effect total spending is impossible to predict since nobody knows what future inflation will be or what healthcare issues you'll face.
If that weren’t enough to confuse you, then also realize your spending will vary depending on what age you choose to retire at, what your interests are, where you live, and other lifestyle issues.
A fortune to one person’s retirement plan could mean poverty to someone else.
Using a rule-of-thumb like “70% of pre-retirement income” as a retirement budget hardly even qualifies as a ballpark estimate.
The smarter alternative is to put together a budget based on your personal situation and goals for retirement, then stress test those figures with various inflation assumptions and potential costs for health crises.
This guesstimate will be better than the alternative, but will likely be a far cry from what you actually end up spending during retirement. Ultimately, the future is unpredictable.
In short, your spending during retirement is unknowable and can only be guessed at with serious potential inaccuracy. Relying on any budget over a potential retirement time horizon of 30 years is more fiction than fact.
If you aren't totally clear on this, then look back 30 years ago in your life and honestly assess if you could have even remotely guessed what you would be spending today. It wasn’t likely then, and it isn’t likely now.
If you would like solutions to budgeting for retirement, I recommend the How Much Money Do I Need To Retire ebook.
Retirement Planning Myth 7: Invest In “Super Safe” Bonds and CDs To Lower Risk and Preserve Capital
A retirement portfolio built on bonds and CDs made sense for earlier generations when life expectancies were short and inflation was tame, but that isn’t the situation facing today’s retirees.
The old standard for retirement investing was to preserve capital so it could be spent over a 10-15 year period. Losses couldn't be risked because there wasn’t enough time to recover from them.
But today’s retirees are facing 30+ year time horizons with inflation eating at their purchasing power, making a no-risk portfolio potentially the most risky portfolio of all.
“Observance of customs and laws can very easily be a cloak for a lie so subtle that our fellow human beings are unable to detect it. It may help us to escape all criticism; we may even be able to deceive ourselves in the belief of our obvious righteousness. But deep down, below the surface of the average man's conscience, he hears a voice whispering, “There is something not right,” no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code.”– Carl G. Jung
An inflation rate of just 4% will cut your purchasing power in half every 18 years, meaning you have to double your money just to break even.
If you don’t double your money, it means your nest egg is worth effectively half as much. Imagine living long enough to have that happen twice during your retirement.
It's equivalent to living on one-fourth the portfolio you began with. The rule is clear: today’s retirees must not only preserve capital, but they must grow it as well to preserve purchasing power.
The result is many financial advisors now encourage stock investing to add a growth component to your portfolio to offset inflation.
This introduces a great deal of potential risk, so they’ve also developed elaborate Monte Carlo simulations based on historical data to give you comfort.
For many retirees, the market is simply too risky, so people seek other alternatives like income producing real estate as a way to fight inflation with greater safety.
The truth is no simple answer exists to structuring a retirement portfolio to guard against the ravages of inflation while protecting capital to an acceptable risk level.
Greater longevity combined with government indebtedness has magnified the risk of inflation to equal or exceed the risk of losing principle from fluctuating, growth oriented investments.
Most retirees have no choice but to embrace this new reality with a less traditional portfolio allocation, or they face the potential risk of outliving their assets.
Retirement Planning Myth 8: Retirement Means Not Working
The traditional retirement converted full time work into full time leisure, but all that's changing.
Many people are choosing phased retirement, second careers, and stint work as an alternative to full time leisure.
The reason for the change relates to issues of fulfillment and the other bugaboo facing new retirees – increased longevity.
“Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them.”– Louis Armstrong
Today’s retirees face as much time in retirement as they did in career. Many are realizing 30+ years of full time leisure isn't necessarily a recipe for happiness and fulfillment.
Instead of taking a binary approach to life by working like crazy so they can retire and do nothing constructive at all, they're using these extra years to introduce a third phase to life that balances work and leisure.
In other words, rather than retiring from life, they're building a satisfying life that they never want to retire from.
Besides finding greater fulfillment and connection in work, another motivator for the change is the sheer magnitude of the nest egg required to fund a 30+ year retirement without earning additional income.
Many are realizing their savings have fallen short of perpetual financial security. By adding part-time work, phased retirement, and second careers, new retirees are earning just enough income to afford retirement now so they can lead a more balanced life today.
This gives them the freedom they seek because they aren't stuck in an unsatisfying career just to build a bigger savings account for tomorrow.
Retirement Planning Myth 9: Retire At Age 65
What’s the magic of age 65?
This myth began because traditional pensions and Social Security were paying full benefits at age 65.
When people became eligible for full benefits, it created a disincentive to work, so most people naturally chose retirement as a response.
Since everyone else retired at that time, it became an expected standard. But those times, they are a changin’.
“Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.”– George Burns
Pensions are going the way of the dinosaur and Social Security is hardly significant enough to be a decision breaker in your retirement plans.
The truth is retirement begins in an ideal world when you're ready and can afford it. In a less than ideal world, it begins when your health fails so you can no longer work, or your employer forces it on you through a layoff or downsizing.
Some people “retire” in their 30s (myself included) and some people never retire. The magical age of 65 as a secession point for career and the beginning of life on the pro-leisure circuit is a myth.
You're free to choose to retire – or not – at any age. The earlier you begin retirement planning and the more aggressively you build wealth, the more flexible and free you'll be to make the right choice that's most fulfilling for you.
Retirement Planning Myth 10: My Expected Lifespan Is 75-85 Years
This fact is a statistical truth and a retirement myth simultaneously.
If you look at an actuarial table used by the IRS or an insurance company, you'll see the statistical facts are true: the average life expectancy is in this range. However, this fact is totally irrelevant to any one person – including you.
Half the people will live longer than the median, and you'll do everything in your power to be part of that group. The chances of you dying promptly at an average age are close to zip. It makes no sense to build a financial plan based on it.
For example, if you make it to age 65, you're expected to live much longer than average because the averages include the 21% of the population who died before age 65.
How would you feel if you budgeted to run out of money after 15 years only to live for 30 instead?
This outcome is all the more likely given that average life expectancies are trending higher. In fact, life expectancy has increased 100 days per year for the last century. That's a lot.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”– Soren Kierkegaard
The truth is the fastest growing population age group is 85+, and living to age 100 may become relatively common with all the developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and health care.
It's equally possible that you could die tomorrow – but you can’t build your retirement plan around that outcome because you would have a financial disaster if you were wrong.
The key principle here is your retirement plan must provide income to support your life until you die – no matter when that occurs. It could be much longer than average or it could be less.
Here’s the rub: if you die early and leave money behind, it's doubtful you'll regret the extra cash; however, if you live longer than average and don’t plan for it, you're guaranteed to deeply regret running out of money.
You simply have no real choice but to manage for that risk by assuming you'll live for 90-100 years unless genetics or current health argues otherwise.
The risk of the alternative is simply too great to accept. Financial planning based on average life expectancy is a dangerous myth.
Retirement Planning Myth 11: I Can Plan The Growth Of My Savings Based On Long-Term Historical Average Returns
Most computer models for retirement planning assume long-term historical average returns to determine the expected asset growth in a portfolio going forward.
It would be nice if the process was that simple, but it’s not. The past isn't the future. Average returns deceive just like average life-spans deceive.
The only average return you care about is the one that happens to your money once it’s invested – not what happened in some historical past that extends to before your grandparents' birth.
The future is unknown and unpredictable. The required disclosure for financial documents is true and should be respected: “past results may not be indicative of future results.” Take this warning to heart.
High tech financial planners attempt to improve on blind historical models by applying Monte Carlo simulations that randomize historical returns to give computer generated confidence intervals.
It's still historical returns no matter how you slice them up, and you can still end up running out of money even if the historical odds are low.
“I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages.”– William H. Mauldin
The computer may claim a 90% confidence interval, but it doesn’t mean you won’t live through the 1 out of 10 chance that results in failure.
It doesn’t say anything about how the future could be totally different from the past, invalidating the premise of the model altogether.
Either of those scenarios could equal “broke” for you, even if the odds were low based on historical extrapolation.
For example, the historical returns from stocks may average anywhere from 7% to 11% over the very long-term, depending on assumptions and time period analyzed.
Interspersed within those long-term averages are 15 year periods with negative real returns after adjusting for inflation.
If you just happened to retire in the mid-1960s, the odds based on history were low that your portfolio would do so poorly, but it would have done poorly nonetheless.
Similarly, the odds generated by Monte Carlo models are based on a time period when the United States was the dominant global economic force with an increasing number of workers as a percentage of population, adding to GNP growth.
All of these facts are changing in the future, which casts any historical extrapolation into doubt.
In other words, the investment returns during your retirement may be way above average or way below average – nobody knows because the future is unknowable.
What we do know is if your retirement budget is based on average expectations, and you get less than average results, you could be in for a real problem.
You need a better plan, and that's what we provide in our step-by-step wealth planning course as you'll create a custom plan that's engineered for your life so a secure retirement is certain.
Retirement Planning Myth 12: I'll Be In A Lower Tax Bracket When Retired
As you already learned from Myth 6, you may need as much income during retirement as you did before retirement. If your income isn’t going to drop, then there’s not much credibility to the idea your taxes are going down.
Similarly, top tax rates have been cut by more than half in recent decades. Additionally, the country has a serious debt and spending problem, so the odds are just as good that tax brackets will be rising instead of falling.
If that wasn’t enough, then consider how all the tax deductible money you socked away in 401(k) contributions during your working years will become fully taxable at ordinary income rates during retirement.
Rather than hoping to be so impoverished in retirement that your tax bracket drops, it would be far wiser to build a retirement plan that's so successful you actually increase your tax burden.
Retirement Planning Myth Bonus: Retirement Planning Is All About Money
Money is an important and essential element of retirement planning, and that's why most information about retirement focuses on it – but it's not the ultimate goal. It's a means to an end, but not the end itself.
Retirement is a lifestyle choice with the objective of creating a more fulfilling, satisfying, and happy life. The money is just a means to support the lifestyle.
“Twenty years from now, you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”– Mark Twain
Numerous studies show that unless you're facing abject poverty, your happiness during retirement will result more from your relationships with friends, family, and a sense of connection and purpose in life than how much money you have.
Money is just a tool for living that fulfilling life, but it won’t create it for you.
When planning your retirement, make sure to plan a fulfilling lifestyle for yourself. Spend as much time developing your life plan as you do your financial plan.
Putting the two together is what makes the golden years truly golden, and Financial Mentor is here to help you achieve that goal.
Finally, most of the issues raised in this article are fully answered in the ebook How Much Money Do I Need To Retire and the full course on wealth strategy here.
Anybody can learn to build a secure retirement -- and you don't need a financial advisor.
My course, Expectancy Wealth Planning, has been called "the best financial education on the internet" and provides all the knowledge you'll ever need to build the life -- and retirement -- of your dreams.
This is a very conservative view of the “myths”! Having just retired, it is really worse than you think and “governments” think they can reduce pensions…. More and more people are single women and have late children. This will get worse. what it means is that when you want to put money into the retirement plan but there isn’t any because you are funding the most expensive part of your children’s education. Pension funds are cutting, trimming even and as a result are providing less certainly. I’m not sure what country you are from but in some countries, once you hit 65, that’s it. don’t try to look for a job because you wont find one. I’m actually pretty peeved about this type of commentary because it it so far away from reality.
Everybody has an opinion. You’ve expressed yours. I don’t share it, but I’ve given it space here so it can add to the discussion.
I agree that the single income female perspective was not represented in this article. But then it was addressing myths and not focusing on this well deserved neglected audience. As a woman and mother, I believe that a good retirement is an attainable goal for most women. It takes a strong commitment and and a selfish attitude to make it a reality. Like the airlines teach us, we have to Put on our oxegon mask on first. Funding children’s education Is not part of anyone’s retirement plan. Funding a grandchild education could be. But compounding is not a myth, and since the focus was on myths, this fact wasn’t included. As for employment past a specific age: not finding a job past 65 is the myth. Jobs Are readily available to those who seek, have the required skills, and an attitude of self worth and service.
Biased view from an investment promoter.
Huh? Your comment makes no sense. What “investment” am I “promoting” (except an investment in yourself through financial education?) In fact, this site was founded on the principle of separating financial education from investment advice. We all have our own bias, but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with promoting any investments. I hope that helps clarify whatever misunderstanding you may be operating under.