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Your long life could be the death of your retirement savings

(Photo from Flickr user Garry Knight used under Creative Commons license)
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A key part of retirement planning is estimating your life expectancy.

It’s a tough thing to think about. On the one hand, you hope to live a long and healthy life. But what if you live too long? Will you have enough money saved to take care of yourself until the end of your life?

“When you live longer, your money needs to last longer,” writes Mark Fried for the New York Daily News. “But a big problem is many people still hold fast to a retirement model based on a much shorter life span. They don’t consider that their retirement could last three decades or more, and so they don’t plan how to pay for that.”

Read more: Three ways living longer is shaking up retirement planning

Also check out: If you’re expecting a long life, take time to adjust your financial plan

“About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95,” according to the Social Security Administration.

Use the agency’s life expectancy calculator to get a rough estimate of how long you (or your spouse) may live.

In a blog post on longevity and retirement, Fidelity Investments makes this point: “Fifty years ago, most Americans shared a common view of retirement. You left the 9-to-5 job and transitioned into your ‘golden years,’ a period of roughly 10 to 15 years, give or take, to live off your pension plan and enjoy life. Now it’s hard to say what retirement is. For many it can stretch 30 years or more.”

In an interview with Fidelity Viewpoints, Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, says with longer lives we have to reshape our visions of retirement.

“Most people can’t save enough in 40 years of working to support themselves for 30 or more years of not working,” Carstensen said. “Nor can society provide enough in terms of pensions to support nonworking people that long. I’d like to see us move in a different direction: toward a longer, much more flexible working life, with more part-time work, in which people could come in and out of the workforce and have greater opportunities for education throughout their lives.”

If you like a scary story, read actor Albert Brooks’s first novel, “Twenty Thirty: The Real Story of What Happens to America.’’

In this fictional 2030, full retirement age has been pushed to 73. Premiums on Medicare have been raised even though coverage has been cut. There are drugs that cure Alzheimer’s. But there are consequences to having a healthier aging population.

Here’s my review of the book: ‘2030’: This financial horror story could be our future

Brooks imagines an America in which the younger generation is taxed heavily to fund social programs for seniors who, because of medical breakthroughs, are living well past 90. As a result, the young adults resent “the olds,” as they are called. They become the first generation financially worse off than their parents.

Wait. We don’t have to imagine. This is a case of fiction imitating real life.

“While healthy retirees have much lower monthly medical expenses than those with serious conditions such as diabetes or cancer, their longer life expectancies mean that they actually need to save much more to pay health care costs in retirement,” writes Eleanor Laise, senior editor for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report.

Read more: The High Cost of a Healthy Life

One study found that those with long life expectancies need to save more than they might expect to cover health care costs in retirement.

The best thing you can do is save as much as you can in anticipation of a long life.

Read more: You May Live Longer Than You Think. Here’s How to Afford It

Your thoughts
Are you afraid of outliving your retirement savings? Send your comments to

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

In last week’s retirement newsletter, I wrote about the increase in grandparents co-signing for student loans. I asked for your thoughts on the issue.

Julie of Austin wrote, “Grands will do ANYTHING for their beloved grandchildren, they make even the wisest of us lose all reasoning. I will print out this article and FRAME IT as a reminder for the time in the near future when this request comes from one or more of my seven granddarlings. Repairing our retirement savings after a layoff during the recession (& the recession itself) has been impossible enough, more financial hardship we do not need! Love does NOT equal money!”

Denise Keenan wrote, “My husband and I are now retired, and our two boys have fortunately been able to make their payments on their student loans. However, we co-signed on their loans many years ago. I remember the bank/banks threatening higher interest rates for the loans if the parent did not co-sign.”

She wanted to know if they can be removed as co-signers.

Read: Take 4 Steps to Earn a Co-signer Release on Private Student Loans

Also read: How to Remove a Co-signer From a Student Loan

Linda E. had a question about her student loans.

“I’m 71 and have a huge student loan due to high interest rates that they capitalize. If I can’t pay it off, will the loan die when I die? Or, will my family still be responsible for it? No husband or children but have a niece and sister.”

Your estate may be responsible for paying off your student loan (assuming there are enough assets left). But if you did not have a co-signer, family members would not be personally responsible for paying off the loan.

From Student Loan Hero: What Happens to Student Loans When You Die?

Also: Tax on Death and Disability Discharges Is Gone … For Now

Many of you wrote to talk about your fears of rising health-care costs in retirement.

“I worry about the cost of health insurance and health care,” one reader wrote. “I am paying $1,000 a month for health insurance now with a $5,500 deductible. I am barely able to make these payments, but I have a depressed immune system and cannot move to another company. Why doesn’t the federal government allow insurance companies to sell across state lines? This would might give me and others like me a choice.”

For more information on this issue read: Health plans, regulators pan Trump’s plan to allow purchase of insurance across state lines: The idea has failed in several states where it’s been tried.

“I retired last summer at age 60 and am in the midst of waiting for the outcome of my disability claim (for a spinal disorder),” another reader wrote. “I have a state employee pension and a Social Security widow’s pension, so basically I am quite comfortable. I have a nice apartment and can pay all my bills. The downside is that I am paying $400 a month for health insurance and have a $4,000 deductible. I also pay for prescription drugs for high blood pressure. I can afford the generics, for now. But costs are rising. My question is, how can Americans find this even remotely acceptable? I lived in a city outside the U.S. where I could walk into a clinic and get seen for about $10. I wanted a retirement as peaceful as it could get. I worked all my life to be able to sit and read, take vacations, buy gifts for my family, sleep late and consume the occasional shrimp cocktail. I am worried now about my ability to take care of my health.”

I wrote about this earlier this year: Out-of-pocket health-care costs likely to take half of Social Security income by 2030, analysis shows

Read: How to Plan for Health Care Costs in Retirement

I’d like to end on some observations about retirement from Jim Gallagher of Bemidji, Minn.:

“I guess I don’t have any crazed rants or raves about retiring,” Gallagher wrote. “But since you asked, I’ll offer a few insights since pulling the pin in 2011. I was a federal civil service employee and retired at the ripe age of 55. I had met my age and service requirements to collect my pension. I had no good reason to keep working. A federal government office is a community unto itself in rural areas. I rarely socialized outside a group of work associates while working. Since retiring, I have been surprised at how little I see agency employees around town much less at any social event. I just don’t seek out the people I used to work with. This has challenged me to find other friends or social outlets. It really is an ongoing challenge to stay socialized. I live on a lake, but rarely go fishing. I don’t need another thing to do alone. I look for activities where I can be involved with other people.”

On money he wrote: “I have been surprised at how far my retirement income goes month to month. I had mapped it out well, but I am still surprised when I have money left over at the end of the month. This has changed my mind-set about spending. I look at my savings and the monthly pension check and look out ahead at how many more years I have on this earth. I feel like I need to have a spending plan now versus the savings plan I stuck to for 30 plus years. This stability is great, but I need to couple this with greater elements of happiness and socialization as I age.”

If you’re in a similar situation, read: How to live it up in retirement, without burning through savings

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict).

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