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Claire Hardwick, USA TODAY
Much of retirement planning focuses on accumulating a certain amount of assets, investing in certain ways and using certain types of accounts.
But other key aspects are more uncertain.
Those include knowing how long you’ll need your money to last and even how long you should keep working. A lot of that relates to life expectancy.
While it’s difficult for individuals to accurately predict how long they might live, it’s not that hard to make assumptions based on the population as a whole. Yet many people don’t seem especially knowledgeable about how long Americans in general live.
In a recent survey, only 37% of respondents came close to correctly identifying what ages women and men live to upon reaching age 60. The correct answers: 85 and 82, respectively. Another 25% of respondents underestimated average life expectancies, 10% overestimated them and the rest didn’t even hazard a serious guess.
Yet accurately estimating life expectancies at retirement ages is important for people who don’t want to outlive their money.
“It rephrases how we think about retirement,” said Surya Kolluri, head of the TIAA Institute. “It’s not just about building up X amount of dollars.”
Kolluri said he considers longevity literacy or awareness an overlooked factor in preparing for retirement. “If you don’t have a realistic understanding of how long you are likely going to live, you are missing one of the most foundational components of any plan: a time horizon.”
The study from the TIAA Institute and George Washington University found that respondents who had a more accurate view of how long they might live also tended to save more for retirement. They also expressed more confidence about making ends meet in retirement and were more likely to have tried calculating the overall amount they need to save.
One interesting finding was that while women scored lower in general financial literacy than men, they were better at estimating longevity. Kolluri said this might reflect women making more healthcare decisions compared to men or having more experience in caregiving.
Transitioning gradually into retirement
Working a bit longer can help prospective retirees shore up their finances. It also might help ease the turnover crunch many businesses are facing.
That’s why some employers are offering various forms of “semi-retirement,” allowing workers to reduce their hours, work a flexible schedule, or both.
And many employees like the arrangement, according to a survey of hiring managers commissioned by Express Employment Professionals.
Of hiring managers whose companies offer semi-retirement, 59% said the number of employees choosing to semi-retire has remained the same over the past two years, and 37% said the number has increased. Roughly 1,000 hiring managers were polled in December.
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Incentives for employees include providing more job income amid a period of heightened inflation and with stock-market portfolios and housing values down from their highs. Semi-retirement often consists of moving valued employees into a consultant role with fewer hours and more flexibility.
“As baby boomers continue to age and consider retirement, the labor shortage is only going to get worse,” said Bill Stoller, CEO of staffing franchisor Express Employment, in a statement. “Semi-retirement is one solution to allow experienced workers time to train their successors, ensuring a seamless knowledge transfer and business continuity.”
Staying employed longer, if possible
Staying employed a while longer can reduce the danger of running out of money in retirement. However, disabilities and other problems are making it a bit more difficult for some people to remain in the workforce, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. This is especially true for lower-educated individuals and some members of certain minority groups.
“Calls for older workers to delay retirement, which have proved successful over the past couple of decades, may be less fruitful going forward,” the study found.
After trending up for decades, improvements in life expectancy have moderated over the past decade and a half, according to the report. So have expectations for how long people can stay employed, resulting from factors ranging from physical disabilities to the effects of incarceration.
More highly educated individuals are best positioned to stay employed longer with the goal of at least reaching Social Security’s full retirement age at 67. Less-educated people are less likely to remain in the workforce that long, according to the same study.
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The issue is especially acute among less-educated Black men, partly because of higher rates of incarceration. Yet Black women showed progress for reasons the study didn’t explain.
At any rate, people unable to work longer would be most vulnerable if Social Security’s looming funding issues necessitate a rise in eligibility ages, benefit cuts or the like.
“In terms of retirement security, this pattern is clearly a step back for low-education workers, since the inability to work to a later age is now accompanied by a need to finance a longer retirement,” the report said.
Avoiding costly employment disruptions
Working a bit longer while approaching retirement age can help shore up your finances, but so can staying employed for most traditional working years. Yet the idea of a long career with a single employer is a myth for most Americans, according to a new study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
It found that career jobs never existed for most workers and still don’t. In fact, job tenure has decreased in recent years, though that was spurred in part by better opportunities arising in a tight labor market.
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If switching jobs frequently results in more pay or better benefits, that can benefit employees. But job disruptions also can impair retirement planning if, for example, workers halt contributions to 401(k)-style programs or, even worse, pull money out of them.
According to the study, which covered the period from 1983 to 2022, five years was the median amount of time that people stay on a job, based on results for wage and salary workers ages 25 and up. The report cited very long-term workers as those staying with an employer 25 years or more.
“Workers will be faced with many decision points about their retirement benefits along their career paths, as workers will most likely not be with one company their entire career,” said Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at the institute.
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