How Retirees Can Tackle Longevity Risk

Ensuring a steady paycheck for your lifetime after you retire is not the same as it was for your parents. So much has changed requiring you to adapt to the new paradigm. Here is what you need to know.

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Medical advances and better awareness of nutrition and fitness are helping us all to live longer, healthier lives. This is, indeed, great news. But comes with an important caveat: Longevity has become the biggest risk when you are planning for retirement.

So, how do you manage this longevity risk and ensure you do not outlive what you saved for retirement?

That, indeed, is a million-dollar question, sure to be on minds of many. While the best recommendation is to seek professional advice, here are three ways that could help.

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1. Have a realistic expectation of how long you might live

Recently, I was talking to a 50-year-old friend about retirement planning. I asked her how long she expects to live. She was so ready with the answer: 85.6 years. When I followed up how she knew so precisely, she said 85.6 is her life expectancy according to this calculator from the Social Security website.

Here is what is wrong with the expectation. The calculator gave her an “average” life expectancy for a 50-year-old female, not a realistic expectation of how long my friend might actually live. Put it another way, if my friend planned her retirement funds based on these expectancy numbers, she has a 50% probability to outlive her savings. Not a financially secure way to plan for retirement!

So, what are the alternatives? Here are a couple of options.

One option is to make your best judgment of your life expectancy projection based on your health, family history, etc. After all, no one knows your situation better than yourself! Otherwise, use tools such as the livingto100 calculator, which takes your ethnicity, family history, health habits, etc., into consideration and generates a more customized life expectancy for you.

In either case, the more accurate your life expectancy projection, the more accurate your retirement plan will be, and the less likely you will outlive your assets!

2. Maximize Social Security benefits

If you anticipate an extended retirement period and are afraid you could outlive what you saved, the best way to protect is: 1) to have income sources that last for however long you live, 2) to ensure the income source is protected against inflation.

Social Security as a retirement income source fits this paradigm perfectly – the benefits are for life for you and your surviving spouse, and the benefits are adjusted for inflation each year.

On top of this, Social Security offers you a way to increase your payout 8% each year you postpone drawing benefits. For example, if your full retirement age (aka FRA) is 67, and you postpone drawing benefits until 70, you have a guaranteed increase of 24% of your benefits. Yes, permanently – for the rest of your life – for however long you live! Moreover, if you die, your surviving spouse is eligible to receive the increased benefit as well - for her or his life.

So, putting aside the concerns that the system could go under, if your focus is to hedge against longevity, maximizing Social Security is an excellent way to do it.

3. Consider gradually phasing into retirement

Retirement planning in the 21st century is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you expect to live till 100, and if you fully retire at 65, you’d end up having 35 years of retirement! That is a long period of spending while not earning. Not ideal for your financial well-being or your personal well-being!

So, here is something to consider: Phase into retirement gradually. In other words, do not turn on the full-stop retirement switch yet. See if you can scale back and work fewer hours in your current job. Alternatively, consider working part-time at a lower-stress job. Or pick up consulting work. Or be your own boss and start a business, as I did in my late 40s.

So, what do you think? Does this make sense? Are you ready to face the modern-day retirement planning challenges? If so, hope this article gave you some food for thought. For a customized solution, please consult with your financial adviser. Good luck!


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Vid Ponnapalli, CFP™, MS, EA
Founder & President, Unique Financial Advisors
Vid Ponnapalli is the founder and president of Unique Financial Advisors. He provides customized financial planning and investment management services for Generation X professionals. Ponnapalli is a Certified Financial Planner™ with an M.S. in Personal Financial Planning. He is an Enrolled Agent (EA), licensed to prepare tax returns and represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. Ponnapalli is a current active member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), the Financial Planning Association (FPA), XYPN (a financial planners network focused on Generation X and Generation Y clients) and National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).