Financial Wellness @ Work

Don’t Underestimate Your Life Expectancy

My father-in-law is as tough as nails. For as long as I’ve known him, he has never been afraid to get his hands dirty. Whether it’s working on a tractor, a truck, or just a home maintenance project, he likes to keep himself busy. To show for it, my father-in-law is pushing age 90, and if he keeps it up, he’ll likely live well into his 100’s.

I don’t know about you, but I have mixed emotions about the idea of living to age 100. On the one hand, I suppose if I’m as physically active as my father-in-law, I’d be okay with the idea of living to 100. On the other hand, if I plan to retire at or around 65, that could mean 30+ years in retirement, and I’m not sure if I’d be financially prepared for that possibility.

To determine if I’m at risk of outliving my retirement savings, I’ve decided to test for my longevity risk. Here is what you can do to test for longevity risk, along with tips for how to deal with it:

Review your family history

Your family tree is a great place to start a quest to find out how long you are probably going to live. In her article titled Longevity Genes Predict Whether You’ll Live Past 100, Rachael Rettner notes that “genes play an important role when it comes to living well past the average lifespan.” Consider the age and health history of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Do you have relatives that are living into their 90s? If so, you may have a better chance of living longer than someone whose family has a history of health problems.

Consider your lifestyle

It probably comes as no surprise that healthy living habits like regular exercise and eating your vegetables have been linked to longer living, while other behaviors, such as excessive drinking and smoking, have the opposite effect. Your choice of where you live and what you do for a living can also impact your longevity.

Run a projection

There are a number of websites that incorporate family history and lifestyle choices into longevity projections, including http://www.livingto100.com/ and http://gosset.wharton.upenn.edu/mortality/perl/CalcForm.html. Each asks you a series of questions and uses your responses to predict your mortality age. Run a projection and use this information as a starting point for longevity planning.

Adjust your plans

If you are projected to live longer than you anticipated, the first thing you’ll want to do is recalculate your retirement projections.  If you originally looked at living to 85 but are projected to live until 95, now is the time for course correction. Here is what you can do to combat longevity risk:

1.       Rethink your monthly spending plan (i.e. household budget).

To achieve your retirement goals, you may have to save more for retirement. In order to do so, you will need to spend less now. Look over your budget, and see if you can find ways to spend less so that you can save more.

2.       Contribute more to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or IRA.

If you are not already participating in your employer-sponsored retirement plan, get started. If your employer offers a company match, take full advantage of it. If your plan has an auto-escalation feature, use it. If you are currently saving 6% of your income, try to save 10%. Do whatever you can to save as much as you can.

3.       Plan on working longer, or spending less, in retirement.

Working longer reduces the number of years you will need to cover with your retirement savings, while spending less makes your retirement savings go further.  Just remember, many employees end up being forced to retire because of poor health, so working longer may not be an option for some.

4.       Plan on deferring Social Security benefits in order to take advantage of delayed retirement credits.

You may defer collecting Social Security up to age 70, and the longer you plan to live, the more value delayed credits will have. To calculate the benefit of delayed credits, visit http://www.ssa.gov/estimator/.

5.       If you are eligible for a pension benefit, consider taking it as an annuity (if available).

Much like Social Security, the longer you plan to live, the more value an annuity payment will have. Check with your human resource department to see if they offer a tool for modeling various pension payout options.

We don’t like to think about it, but we all face our mortality at some point. Rather than cringing at the thought of it, begin to plan for it. That way when it comes, you’ll be ready for it.

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