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7 Costly Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

Here's a scary statistic: More than more than half of retirees surveyed last year by the folks at Global Atlantic said they have retirement planning regrets. Their top mistakes, they reported, included not paying off debts such as mortgages before retiring and not having saved enough for retirement.

Here's a closer look at some other blunders many retirees make -- and then regret. Learn from them so that you don't end up in the same boat.

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Mistake No. 1: Assuming Social Security will be enough

If you're thinking that Social Security will be enough to support you in retirement, think again. It was never meant to replace all of your working income, and the average monthly retirement benefit was recently $1,470. That amounts to about $17,640 per year. If your earnings have been above average, you'll collect more than that -- but not a whole lot more. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit for those retiring at their full retirement age was recently $2,861 -- or about $34,300 for the whole year, while those who delay starting to collect until age 70 max out at $3,770 per month, or $45,240 per year.

To find out how much you can expect from Social Security based on your earnings so far, head over to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website, and set up a my Social Security account. Once you know what to expect from Social Security, develop a plan to build any additional income you'll need.

Mistake No. 2: Not signing up for Medicare on time

One of the worst mistakes you can make as you approach and enter retirement is to be late enrolling in Medicare . Why? Because your Part B premiums (which cover medical services, but not hospital services) can rise by 10% for each year that you were eligible for Medicare and didn't enroll. That increase will then stay with you for the rest of your life. Yikes!

Here's the scoop: You're eligible for Medicare at age 65, and you can sign up anytime within the three months leading up to your 65th birthday, during the month of your birthday, or within the three months that follow. Those seven months are your Initial Enrollment Period.

Fortunately, there's a helpful loophole that saves many people from facing the penalty: If you're already receiving Social Security benefits by the time you reach age 65, you should be enrolled in Medicare automatically. (Don't assume this will happen, though -- take the time to check.) You might also avoid the late-enrollment penalty and be able to skip the deadline if you're still working (with employer-provided healthcare coverage) at age 65, or if you're serving as a volunteer abroad.

Mistake No. 3: Failing to take RMDs on time

This mistake can be even more costly than the last: Failing to take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) on time.

Some retirement accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, feature RMDs, expecting you to withdraw certain sums each year. The deadline to take your distribution each year is December 30, except for the year in which you turn 70 1/2. For that year, you have until April 1 of the following year to take your RMD. (It can be better to take it before the end of December regardless, though, lest you end up taxed on two distributions in one year.) It's a good idea, if possible, to set up your account so that your RMD is sent it to you automatically each year.

If you're late taking your RMD, the penalty is a whopping 50% of the amount you didn't withdraw on time, so if you were supposed to withdraw $7,000, you're looking at forfeiting $3,500! (The IRS does let you appeal for a waiver, so if you do run afoul of the rule one year, do look into that.)

Mistake No. 4: Not considering fixed annuities

It can also be a costly mistake to not look into fixed annuities . If you buy one or more of them, they can provide almost guaranteed regular income, like a pension, for the rest of your life. Here's the kind of income that various people might be able to secure in the form of an immediate fixed annuity in the current economic environment:

Person/People

Cost

Monthly Income

Annual Income Equivalent

65-year-old man

$100,000

$550

$6,600

65-year-old woman

$100,000

$527

$6,324

70-year-old man

$100,000

$627

$7,524

70-year-old woman

$100,000

$599

$7,188

65-year-old couple

$200,000

$929

$11,148

70-year-old couple

$200,000

$1,032

$12,384

75-year-old couple

$200,000

$1,189

$14,268

Data source: immediateannuities.com.

Instead of, or in addition to, fixed annuities, consider a deferred fixed annuity (sometimes called longevity insurance). Instead of starting to pay immediately, it starts paying at a future point, such as when you turn a certain age. For example, a 70-year-old man might spend $50,000 for an annuity that will start paying him $858 per month for the rest of his life beginning at age 80.

Either or both of these kinds of annuities can remove a lot of worry that you'll not have enough money to live on in later years.

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Mistake No. 5: Underestimating the cost of healthcare

Here's another big blunder: failing to take healthcare costs into account when you plan for (and save for) your retirement. Here's why: A 65-year-old couple retiring today will spend, on average, a total of $285,000 out of pocket on healthcare, according to Fidelity Investments. (That doesn't even include long-term care expenses.)

One way to keep healthcare costs under control is to be smart about Medicare , choosing the plan that will serve you best and making the most of all the program offers. For example, if you get applicable screenings and preventive care, you might reduce your overall healthcare costs by staying healthier.

Mistake No. 6: Not factoring long-term care into your plans

An issue that's ignored even more than healthcare costs is that of long-term care . It's easy to assume that you won't need it, but there's a good chance that you will -- and it's not cheap. The insurance that covers long-term care isn't cheap, either -- but again, that's because the care is costly and you may well need it. Consider:

  • 52% of those turning 65 will need some kind of long-term care during their life, per AARP.
  • The average duration that people need long-term care for is 1.5 years for men and 2.5 years for women, per AARP. (But 14% will need it for more than five years.)
  • 57.5% percent of people turning 65 between 2015 and 2019 will spend less than $25,000 on long-term care in their lifetime, while 15.2% will spend more than $250,000, per the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
  • The approximate lifetime cost of care for someone living with dementia in 2018 was $350,174, per the Alzheimer's Association.
  • The median annual cost for an assisted living facility and a semi-private room in a nursing home in 2017 was, respectively, $45,000 and $85,775, per a Genworth Financial survey.

Wealthy people might just pay for long-term care out of pocket, easily, and low-income people may simply not be able to afford long-term care insurance. But if you fall in between, it's smart to at least look into buying long-term care insurance . It will be a lot cheaper if you buy it when you're still in your 50s as opposed to your 70s.

Mistake No. 7: Not having a withdrawal strategy

Here's a final mistake many people make: Not having a plan for how they will draw down their nest egg over time. If you withdraw too much too soon, you can end up running out of money way too soon. And if you withdraw funds too slowly, you may end up not enjoying retirement quite as much as you could have. You need to have a safe withdrawal rate in your plan.

One rule of thumb -- the 4% rule -- has some flaws, but it's still a handy way to start thinking about the withdrawal issue. It suggests that if you withdraw 4% of your nest egg in your first year of retirement and then adjust for inflation in the following years, your money should last 30 years. There are ways to adjust it to fit your needs better, such as withdrawing more or less than 4% each year, or basing each year's withdrawal on how the market is doing.

Remember to consider and plan for the possibility that you might live a very long life, perhaps reaching 95 or even 100. According to the Social Security Administration, "About one out of every three 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of seven will live past age 95." If you retire at 62, as many people do, and live to, say, 95, you're looking at 33 years of retirement. Between Social Security, your savings, and any other income you have, you may need to support yourself for a very long time in retirement.

Read up on retirement and how to plan most effectively for it. The more you know, the more financially secure your future is likely to be.

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