People are living longer these days than they did five, 10 or 20 years ago. Of course, that is good news, but it also means that you may have to provide a bigger cushion in retirement than you had initially intended. What’s more, uncertainty over future Social Security benefits as baby boomers continue to swell the rolls adds to the concerns. As a result, you could face a personal shortfall, especially if you incur unforeseen expenses from a medical condition or some other situation.
What should you do? The first thing is not to panic. Even if retirement is imminent, you may be able to make up lost ground quickly or take other steps to protect yourself. Here are several practical ideas to consider.
- Ramp up your retirement savings. For example, if you participate in a 401(k) plan where you work, you can generally defer up to $18,000 to the plan in 2017. This figure is increased to $24,000 for those who are age 50 or older. Just a few years of contributions at or near the maximum level can significantly bolster your account. Don’t be one of the 2/3 of Americans who don’t contribute at all to a 401k.
- Work on the budget. Now that you are aware of a potential shortfall, you might want to dial down your expectations. Make realistic estimates of your expected income and the expenses going out. Although you will likely pay less for housing (see below) and other items such as life insurance—especially if your children are already adults—consider the impact of potential increases in some expenses, such as travel.
- Move to a smaller home. For most people, housing is the largest overall cost, representing on average more than one-third of overall spending. If your children have flown the coop but you’re still living in the large home where you raised them, it may be time to downsize. In addition, you might want to move to a state with a different climate, taking state income taxes into account. Of course, various other factors—such as proximity to family and personal preferences—will come into play.
- Refinance your current home. If you decide to stay put, you should probably refinance your existing mortgage if you’re paying a rate higher than the current rates. At the beginning of 2017, mortgage rates are at near-historic lows. Even if rates rise slightly, as projected, you may save tens of thousands of dollars over time by refinancing. Note that your interest payments will generally continue to be tax-deductible.
- Do not quit for good. Just because you’ve reached retirement age does not mean you have to stop working completely. If needed, you could pursue part-time employment, preferably in a line of work you enjoy. For some individuals, working full time a little longer is also a viable option.
Because everyone’s situation is different, not all of these ideas may be right for you. The most important thing is to assess your financial status and go forward from there.