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The Riskiest Time in Retirement (Are You in the Retirement Red Zone?)

The Riskiest Time in Retirement (Are You in the Retirement Red Zone?)

| December 20, 2023

Just like football fans are familiar with the term “red zone” on the field, indicating the area within 20 yards of scoring a touchdown, the red zone in retirement indicates the 5- to 10-year phase before and after you retire. After years dedicated to the workforce, this period is no doubt an exciting one; but it can also come with stress as you navigate this new life chapter. To ease into a successful retirement, you’ll want to steer clear of 5 common risks that could potentially derail your future plans. Read on to understand what they are and how to mitigate them.

1. Miscalculating Your Retirement Needs

If you’ve managed to amass a significant nest egg, you have reason to be proud of yourself! But even if you have a million dollars saved, it may not be enough. If you plan to retire in your early or mid-60s, your retirement savings will need to carry you through 30 years or more. Not to mention, you will encounter additional expenses along the way, such as healthcare costs, home maintenance, and taxes. 

The best way to avoid financial anxiety in retirement is to map out various retirement scenarios to see what your savings can handle. We routinely review these scenarios for our clients. Knowledge will empower you, especially in this situation. Once you have an idea of what you’ll need for your unique situation, set up contingency funds to cover the unexpected and find ways to maximize your savings to give yourself a cushion.

2. Healthcare Inflation

If you’ve ever held a hefty medical bill in your hand, you aren’t alone. The United States has one of the highest costs of healthcare in the world. And as you age, you will likely require more healthcare services. 

According to the Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate, the average couple at age 65 will require $315,000 to cover healthcare costs in retirement. Most people don’t even have that much in their retirement accounts to live on, let alone to cover medical costs. Even with Medicare, there could be significant out-of-pocket expenses and many conditions and treatments that are not covered.

When choosing your health insurance for retirement, make sure you understand all Medicare options and supplements and work with an experienced professional to help you evaluate your options. For example, many people don’t realize that basic Medicare has no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. A supplement is required to achieve a limit on costs. Comprehensive insurance is more expensive but can cap unexpected expenses. If you plan to retire before age 65, be sure to get a pre-Medicare policy in place.

3. An Inadequate Withdrawal Strategy

Just because you’ve worked hard to save for retirement and build up a nest egg doesn’t mean you can rest easy. Once you start tapping into your savings, you need to develop a strategy to withdraw your funds so they last the rest of your life, however long that may be. 

Since the historical average return of the stock market is roughly 10% per year, you might assume that you can afford to withdraw that much from your portfolio each year. But in reality, to protect against the uncertainty of the market, you may have to limit your withdrawals to 4% - 5% or less. The market volatility of the last couple of years proves just how risky it is to bank on a 10% return every year. Since there is no simple, one-size-fits-all plan, your withdrawal strategy will need to be tailored to your unique needs, taking various factors into account, such as time horizon, risk tolerance, asset allocation, and unexpected living expenses.

Keep in mind that whatever withdrawal strategy you use, you will still need to consider the tax impact of your plan. Many people forget to plan for this crucial component and end up with less than they needed after taxes were paid. Make sure you are structuring your retirement plan in a tax-efficient way to avoid paying more than you have to during your golden years.

4. Market Downturns

With talks of a looming recession, many people in the retirement red zone are fearful about how much downside risk their plans can handle. This is a valid concern given the market volatility of the last couple years. Here’s where tried-and-true investing principles come into play.

Diversification is one of the most talked-about investment strategies for a reason: it helps to reduce the risks your investments experience from market volatility. While you can’t eliminate risk from your portfolio entirely, you can cushion the blow if things go south. If you put too much of your money into one stock or even one sector of the economy, you put yourself in danger of losing your retirement savings. 

It is important to evaluate your portfolio’s current allocation. You may need to rebalance or diversify your positions. Look at the big picture of all your accounts to ensure you are diversified across the board. It may also be helpful to consider a flexible withdrawal strategy which involves withdrawing less (and spending less) in the years where the market underperforms.

5. Unexpected Death of a Spouse

Losing your spouse is devastating, regardless of when it happens. But losing a spouse during the final years of their career can be dangerous for the surviving spouse’s financial plan. Furthermore, retirement and long-term care costs may increase without a spouse to share costs and provide care. Depending on pension benefits selected, a spouse’s pension may not pay out to the surviving spouse in the event of his or her death. An early death may also decrease the spousal Social Security benefits the surviving spouse receives, leaving him or her with little income. 

It’s critical for both spouses to be actively involved in the planning process to avoid a setback if this tragedy occurs. Take the time to consider benefits for the surviving spouse, such as life insurance. Wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations should be reviewed to ensure both spouses are protected financially. You should also create a pension and Social Security strategy to optimize the benefit for the surviving spouse. Examine multiple scenarios and make sure that you are taken care of no matter what happens. 

Partner With a Trusted Professional

Retirement planning can be a stressful and complex process given the unpredictable factors that come into play. However, by taking the time to understand what those risks are, you’ll feel more empowered to plan for the unexpected, which may significantly reduce the chances of your retirement plan falling short

At Premier Planning Group, our goal is to guide our clients through the retirement red zone with confidence. Through my uniquely designed system of strategically organized experiences, I’ve created customized and tax-efficient retirement strategies to assist countless retirees into their retirement journey with ease. If you’re ready to explore further, we invite you to reach out to us by calling our office at (443) 837-2520 or emailing my executive assistant, Talia Grover, at taliagrover@premierplanninggroup.com to set up a complimentary consultation.

About Brion

Brion Harris is the CEO, founder, and managing partner of Premier Planning Group, an independent financial firm specializing in working with pre-retirees and retirees, helping them create customized wealth preservation and retirement distribution strategies. With over 20 years of experience, Brion has developed deep knowledge and skill in helping his clients simplify their finances and find confidence in their financial future. Brion and the Premier Planning team are known for their unparalleled client service and their dedication building long-lasting relationships with their clients. As a result, Brion has been the recipient of the #1 Advisor Leadership Award* at Summit Brokerage Services for eight years running and has a reputation as one of the top retirement advisors in the business. 

Brion is a proud 20-year resident of the Annapolis community, where he resides with his wife, Elizabeth, their three children, Addison, Jay, and Scarlett, and their two dogs, Pepper and Coco. When he’s not working, you can find him boating, skiing, traveling, and enjoying good food and music with his family. If you want to learn more about Brion, connect with him on LinkedIn.

*The #1 Advisor and Leadership Award is based on production data while at Summit Brokerage Services, Inc. Brion Harris received the award in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. This award is not a guarantee of future investment success. This recognition should not be construed as an endorsement of the advisor by any client. No compensation was provided directly or indirectly by the recipient for participation or in connection with obtaining or using the third-party rating or award.