A study by the Stanford Center on Longevity points to two troubling statistics for older workers approaching retirement: (1) one-third of them have NO retirement savings, and (2) for those who have savings, the median balance is about $200,000. The harsh reality associated with either of these scenarios is that they demonstrate why traditional retirement is a big stretch for so many Americans. Layer the economic impact of the pandemic on top of under-funded retirement savings and it's easy to see why many Boomers realize they'll need to keep generating income for the foreseeable future.
The average middle-income Boomer can't solve the problem overnight, but a plan developed by the Stanford Center on Longevity in association with the Society of Actuaries -- the "Spend Safely in Retirement Strategy" -- is a practical retirement income-generating strategy. Financial expert Steve Vernon, a research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, discusses it in an article published in the January 2021 issue of Benefits Magazine. He suggests that most pre-retirees need to address the following five decisions:
- When and how to retire, including whether to work part-time for a period of time
- When to start Social Security benefits
- How to deploy retirement savings to generate retirement income
- Which living expenses, including the cost of housing (which is often retirees' largest living expense), to reduce in order to live on less income in retirement
- Whether to deploy home equity by realizing capital gains and and reinvesting the proceeds to generate retirement income or by purchasing a reverse mortgage.
In the article, Vernon describes five possible scenarios as an illustration of how such a strategy might work. The example uses a hypothetical 62-year old married couple with household earnings of $100,000 annually and retirement savings of $350,000. The scenarios are designed to show the differences in retirement income generated by the couple if they follow certain paths: (1) retire at 62, (2) Work part-time until retirement at the full retirement age of 66-1/2, (3) Work full-time until retirement at the full retirement age of 66-1/2, (4) Work part-time until retirement at age 70, (5) Work full-time until retirement at age 70.
Factoring in both Social Security and the drawdown of retirement savings, the illustration shows that the couple can significantly increase initial total income, from $37,585 in scenario 1 to $70,755 in scenario 5. The good news is that, even scenario 2 produces initial total income of $51,526 -- an increase of almost $14,000 over scenario 1. The comparison demonstrates that the increases between working part-time and full-time are not as dramatic as the increase between not working at all and working part-time. In other words, working part-time until age 66-1/2 or 70 can really pay off. As Steve Vernon points out, "These analyses show the potential advantage of a downshifting strategy for older workers who don't want to or can't continue working full-time but haven't saved enough for complete retirement."
The example above offers an optimistic outcome for those individuals who are in a position to at least generate some income even after retiring from full-time work. Most everyone approaching retirement has to be an income juggler. This is where a financial advisor can really help. It's all about understanding the unique combination of work, retirement savings, Social Security benefits and income from other sources offers the best balancing act for you.